10. Economics as Strategy

11. Economics as Strategy



بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى ءاله وصحبه أجمعين وسلّم




Title: Economics as Strategy

Author: Uthman Ibrahim-Morrison

Publication date: 7th December 2014

Assalamu alaykum. Welcome to the Civilisation & Society Programme of the Muslim Faculty of Advanced Studies and the second of the 2 weekends that comprise Module 7: The Question Concerning Economics. This is the eleventh of 12 lectures delivered over the 2 weekend sessions which make up the module. The lecture will last approximately 70 minutes during which time you should make a written note of any questions that may occur to you for clarification after the lecture. 


In this lecture it will be our aim to make what I hope will be a useful survey of the matter of economics as strategy that will be of immediate use and relevance to us in terms of providing essential contextual considerations first, for this evening’s symposium, and second, as a simple, preliminary point of reference for any serious attempt to evaluate the global politic-economic terrain with eyes wide open, intending to enter into or engage with it on anything other than its own  all encompassing terms. In other words, it is not my purpose this afternoon to to put forward or offer potential strategies by which to confront, overturn, displace or otherwise circumvent the dominant global economic structures and mechanisms, but rather, to enable us to take proper account of the more recent history of the strategic manoeuvres that have defined the character of the international macroeconomic environment as we find it, and to be quite aware of the operational nature and the strategic implications  of  the economic and political modalities that ultimately dominate and govern the territory. 


Given the very specific nature of the Muslim world view deriving from the fundamentals of our ‘Aqida, our reliance upon what we find in the Book of Allah, and the guidance we derive from the example of the Messenger of Allah (saws) and his Companions (ra), as well as our conception of our role and responsibility in the world to recover and establish the Deen of Allah for the universal benefit of mankind in general and the poor and the weak in particular, as the ‘Middle Way’ against which every other way is destined to be measured, however dominant or permanent they may appear to be at present, as far as any strategic options may be concerned, we must also be prepared to conclude that these special factors place us beyond the ordinary purview of the standard strategic parameters, mechanisms and expectations, in such a way as to exclude ourselves from the ‘game’ altogether given our degree of sincere reliance upon the insuperable efficacy of trust in the unseen and ineffable workings of Divine Providence in our favour. In other words, there is a convergence between moral choice and strategic choice that emerges from the notion of choosing simply to do what is right (in the eyes of Allah and His Messengers), however unpromising this may appear to be in overtly strategical terms, as opposed to committing ourselves to the preparation for adversarial combat based upon the logistical reckoning of superior material resources and geopolitical advantages. The matter is neatly illustrated by Freedman in the following passage:


An alternative account of the origins of strategy–indeed, of the origins of everything–

comes from the Hebrew Bible. […] Many of the stories revolve around conflicts (sometimes 

internecine and often with the enemies of Israel) in which trickery and deception are

regularly employed. Some stories (David and Goliath being the most obvious example)

still influence the way we think and talk about strategy. The best strategic advice in the

Bible, however, is to always trust God and obey his laws. God might allow others to 

shape the game, but he was always the biggest player. When he withheld support the result

was often disaster. When he came in on the side of his people the result was never in doubt.1


Also:


There are two possible explanations for the latitude allowed by God in human behaviour. 

The first is that there is nothing in the end to be learned from all of this because all actions

are subject to a higher manipulation. The second is that humans are able to make their own

calculations, but in the end only one strategic judgment matters: whether or not to obey 

God.2


This is the ‘strategic positioning’ that one frequently heard reflected by way of response to any doubt or scepticism expressed with regard, for example, to the practical effectiveness of the great effort invested by our communities in gestures such as the minting of a negligible quantity of new gold Dinars and silver Dirhams, as a means of confronting the overwhelming global dominance of the usurious banking system and the greed and aggression of the military-industrial ‘corporatocracy’ that benefits from it. Frequent reference would be made to key Qur’anic episodes and specific ayats such as the following, intended to give heart and reassurance to Musa and Harun (as) and the believers in general in the face of tyrannical power. The Bewley translation of the Qur’an renders the English meanings as follows:


Musa experienced in himself a feeling of alarm.

We said, ‘Have no fear. You will have the upper hand.

Throw down what is in your right hand.

It will swallow up their handiwork.

Their handiwork is just a magician’s trick.

Magicians do not prosper wherever they go.’3


The message here being, of course, that our innocuous seeming Dinars and Dirhams, far from being impotent, are analogous to the staff thrown down by Musa (as) which instantly devours the impressive trickery of the magicians, who, in keeping with the analogy, we equate with the false, usurious and unjust financial system constructed and managed by banks, corporations, governments and their highly paid cadre of expert economists (or ‘magicians’ in this context).


Also we have:


Say: ‘My Lord hurls forth the Truth – the knower of all unseen things.’

Say: ‘The Truth has come. Falsehood cannot originate or regenerate.’4


Here the indication is that the falsehood of the usurious financial system will never stand up to the forceful and energetic impact upon it of the Deen of Truth as embodied in the full recovery of the fallen pillar of Zakat, a return to the real money of the Muslims in the form of the gold Dinar and the silver Dirham, and an effective reactivation of the Sunna forms of trading contracts, transactions and market conditions most conducive to the implementation of the mu’amalat, as best preserved in the Muwatta of Imam Malik (ra).


Also:


They desire to extinguish Allah’s Light with their mouths

but Allah will perfect His Light, though the kafirun hate it.

It is He who sent His Messenger with guidance and the Deen of Truth

to exalt it over every other deen, though the mushrikun hate it.5


Finally we have:


The metaphor of those who take protectors besides Allah is that of a

spider which builds itself a house; but no house is flimsier than a spider’s

house, if only they knew. Allah knows what you call upon besides Himself.

He is the Almighty, the All-Wise.6


With these ayats the indication is that we should not be deceived by the apparently awesome web-like sophistication and complexity of the global usury banking system that the kafirun have built for themselves, as it is analogous to a spider’s house and in reality is just as weak and flimsy. Therefore, (strategically speaking) there is no need to call upon anything besides Allah in order to perceive this clearly and to achieve its destruction. This sample is by no means comprehensive and represents only some of those most commonly resorted to, of course, the Qur’an is replete with many more relevant examples. Indeed, there is one more example that is worthy of inclusion here, even though it is somewhat different in tone and emphasis to those cited so far:


Allah never changes a people’s state until they change what is in themselves.7


Here the ‘strategic’ focus is quite explicitly switched away from the direct preoccupation with 

external obstacles and threats towards the internal condition of the self as the key to success. The clear indication being that our ongoing socio-economic predicament somehow constitutes a proper reflection or manifestation of our inward state and that until we resolve sincerely to come to grips with these personal shortcomings, whether that be in terms of damaging diseases of the heart such as conceit, pride, false hope, envy and lack of anger towards the haram. Or whether it be in terms of subtle and dangerous forms of hidden shirk, such as self-reliance and turning to other than Allah for one’s needs, feeling greater fear of created beings than for Allah, preferring what is with you of this world (wealth, power, children, spouses, possessions, skills, fame, status) over that which is with Allah, having greater concern or awe for the powers that be in the world than for the power of Allah, or directing one’s ultimate gratitude for benefits received towards created beings while neglecting that which is due to Allah, and every other habitual tendency towards forgetfulness of Allah whilst instead remembering other than Allah, or attributing to other than Allah what is rightfully due to Allah, over attachment to this world and excessive fear of poverty. The suggestion being that as difficult and challenging as it may be to tackle such issues, the prospect of becoming a better and worthier human being, as well as avoiding the strategically daunting alternative of testing oneself against the gathered ranks of overwhelmingly superior external enemies, is no small incentive to take the approach on offer, namely, to get to work on changing what is in ourselves while leaving the ‘heavy lifting’ to Allah when it comes to changing our predicament. [With respect to the question of how we might respond to the recommendation indicated in this ayah, it is well for us to bear in mind that Allah does not invite us, much less so, command us, to any course of action for which He has not already provided us with the means or methods to achieve, either in the clear example of His Messenger (saws) and the Salafi generations, or within the body of the core sciences and practices of the Deen as evinced, preserved and elaborated by the great Imams of our madhhabs and learned traditions. The question which arises, therefore, is to which of our sciences or learned traditions do we turn in order to achieve the goal of ‘changing what is in ourselves’ in the way intended by Allah in the ayah].


It is not my intention at this point to offer an evaluation of the strategic implications raised by these ayats or to make specific recommendations, I would rather hope that this evening’s symposium might provide a more suitable setting in which to consider these matters further.


I should now like to continue by first making it clear that what I intend by the word Economics as it appears in the title to this lecture, is mainly confined to macroeconomic policy and to a lesser extent, where relevant, selective industrial policy as practised by modern nation states with various national and international implications. Second, we will immediately proceed to examine the other key concept in the title, that of Strategy.


Strategy, Tactics and Planning


The Concise OED gives the following definitions of strategy:

n. 1 a plan designed to achieve a particular long-term aim. 2 the art of planning and directing 

military activity in a war or battle. Often contrasted with tactics. a plan so devised.

– origin C19: from Fr. stratégie, from Gk. stratēgia ‘generalship’, from stratēgos

As for the meaning of tactic:

n. 1 an action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a specific end. 2 (tactics) the art of 

disposing armed forces in order of battle and of organising operations, especially during

contact with an enemy. Often contrasted with strategy.

– origin C18: from mod. L. tactica, from Gk. taktikē, (tekhnē) ‘(art) of tactics’, fem. of 

taktikos, from taktos ‘ordered, arranged’.

It is well to bear in mind the subtle technical distinctions between strategy and tactics (i.e. long-term aim/specific end; in a war or battle/especially during contact with an enemy).


As for planning there are no specific technical meanings for us to consider here and we may safely take it to signify what we generally understand it to mean in everyday usage. The following passages are helpful as a means of holding the business of strategy in its proper perspective:


Everyone needs a strategy. Leaders of armies, major corporations, and political parties

have long been expected to have strategies, but now no serious organisation could imagine

being without one. Despite the problems of finding ways through the uncertainty and 

confusion of human affairs, a strategic approach is still considered to be preferable to one

that is merely tactical, let alone random. Having a strategy suggests an ability to look up

from the short term and the trivial to view the long term and essential, to address causes

rather than symptoms, to see woods rather than trees. Without a strategy, facing up to any

problem or striving for any objective would be considered negligent. Certainly no military

campaign, company investment, or government initiative is likely to receive backing unless

there is a strategy to evaluate. if a decision can be described as strategically significant, then

it is obviously more important than decisions of a more routine nature. By extension, people

making such decisions are more important than those who only offer advice or are tasked

with implementation.8


Further:


By and large, strategy comes into play where there is actual or potential conflict, when 

interests collide and forms of resolution are required. This is why a strategy is much more

than a plan. A plan supposes a sequence of events that allows one to move with confidence

from one state of affairs to another. Strategy is required when others might frustrate one’s

plans because they have different and possibly opposing interests and concerns […] As the

quote from Mike Tyson illustrates9, a well-aimed blow can thwart the cleverest plan.10


It is generally expected that strategy begins with a clear statement of the targeted goal, which is then pursued in an orderly and systematic manner via a series of stages through to completion and success. In reality, the process is rarely, if ever, quite so neat and is much more likely to result in a progression of different scenarios, each presenting unexpected or unforeseen factors, that will require a measure of reassessment and/or readjustment to be made to the initial strategy. Also, the military roots of the art/science of strategy means that it is often projected as a confrontation between two adversaries, each struggling to overcome the other. The application of oversimplified models derived from ‘game’ or ‘rational choice’ theory have also failed to reflect the real world complexities of strategic circumstances and considerations:


So the realm of strategy is one of bargaining and persuasion as well as threats and 

pressure, psychological as well as physical effects, and words as well as deeds. This

is why strategy is the central political art. It is about getting more out of a situation than

the starting balance of power would suggest. It is the art of creating power.11


Although the term strategy only came into use in Britain, France and Germany during the late eighteenth century, as we have seen, its etymological roots go back via the Middle Ages to classical Greece and was primarily concerned with the ‘art of war’, whereas its appearance in Europe in the eighteenth century was principally  as a response to the enthusiastic drive of the Enlightenment towards the beneficial application of reason to the business of war, as it sought to subject every other realm of human activity and conduct to the light of reason:


The French Revolution of 1789 was a source of great energy, innovation, and destruction.

It unleashed political and social forces that could not be contained in their time and whose 

repercussions continued to be felt in the succeeding centuries. In military affairs, the Revolution led to large, popular armies whose impact was enhanced by the developing

means of transporting them over long distances. There was a move away from limited wars

of position, bound up with quarrels between individual rulers and shaped by logistical 

constraints and unreliable armies, to total wars engaging whole nations. With Napoleon,

wars became means by which one state could challenge the very existence of another.12


I will now come to the main purpose of this lecture, which is to provide a useful picture of the operational realities of economics as strategy. Therefore, I can think of few better places to begin than a brief look at the economically pragmatic tradition of Developmentalism and its earlier predecessor Mercantilism, given the extent of its historical impact on the economic shape of the real world as we know it, in particular, the commonly understood and accepted distribution of economic power between the world’s advanced economies and the rest, variously described as ‘backward economies’, ‘developing nations’, ‘less developed countries’ or ‘third world’ economies.


Developmentalism and Mercantilism


The central idea behind the Developmentalist tradition is how to address the very practical matter of enabling backward or struggling economies to catch up with the more advanced ones by improvements in their productive capacities. The Developmentalists recognise that this process of transition from backwardness to productive advancement cannot be left to the free market, as economic activities such as high-tech manufacturing cannot develop spontaneously in backward economies since they are stifled by competition from firms in advanced economies. Therefore, the governments of less developed countries are expected to intervene with special tariffs, subsidies and various regulations designed to protect the internal market and encourage the growth of high productivity manufacturing activity and diversification away from traditional low productivity activities based on the exploitation of natural resources and plentiful cheap labour. 


Going back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, what we now refer to as Developmentalists would have been known as Mercantilists. Wikipedia provides a quite

adequate summary of the concept:


Mercantilism was an economic theory and practice, dominant in Europe from the 16th 

to the 18th century, that promoted governmental regulation of a nation's economy for 

the purpose of augmenting state power at the expense of rival national powers. It is the economic counterpart of political absolutism. Mercantilism includes a national economic policy aimed at accumulating monetary reserves through a positive balance of trade, especially of finished goods. Historically, such policies frequently lead to war and also motivate colonial expansion. […] Mercantilism was the dominant school of thought in Europe throughout the late Renaissance and early modern period (from the 15th to the 

18th century). Mercantilism encouraged the many intra-European wars of the period 

and arguably fuelled European expansion and imperialism – both in Europe and 

throughout the rest of the world – until the 19th century or early 20th century.13


During much of this key period the principal exponents of mercantilism were England and France. Under King Louis XIV France, as the major economy in a Europe subject to constant warfare, was determined to consolidate the strength of the state and to pursue economic policies that would strengthen the French economy at the expense of its foreign enemies. In the case of England, the pursuit of colonies saw the convergence of interests between government and merchants so that they became partners in the drive to increase both political power for the one and private wealth for the other. The goal was to produce large trade surpluses so that gold and silver would flow back into the metropolis, while the colonies were forced to supply the colonial masters with valuable raw materials and other goods on advantageous terms whilst being confined to this activity as well as being prevented from trading with competitors. These and other provocative practices eventually led to the American Revolution beginning in 1765. Wikipedia contains an accurate characterisation:


Mercantilism was economic warfare and was well suited to an era of military warfare. 

Since the level of world trade was viewed as fixed, it followed that the only way to 

increase a nation's trade was to take it from another. A number of wars, most notably 

the Anglo-Dutch Wars and the Franco-Dutch Wars, can be linked directly to 

mercantilist theories. Most wars had other causes but they reinforced mercantilism by 

clearly defining the enemy, and justified damage to the enemy's economy.


Mercantilism fuelled the imperialism of this era, as many nations expended significant 

effort to build new colonies that would be sources of gold (as in Mexico) or sugar 

(as in the West Indies), as well as becoming exclusive markets. European power spread around the globe, often under the aegis of companies with government-guaranteed 

monopolies in certain defined geographical regions, such as the Dutch East India 

Company or the British Hudson's Bay Company.14


As I am sure that we are all aware, Britain as a whole did rather well out of its energetic application of the principles of mercantilism during the eighteenth century, which with its world wide empire, led to it becoming the world’s dominant trading force and the greatest global superpower since the collapse of the Roman Empire. What we may not be aware of is another very local consequence of these policies, which demanded that in order for a nation to maximise its potential it was necessary to fully exploit all available land resources; this resulted in the undertaking of projects such as the draining of the Fens.


It had been my original intention to bring us back to the present at this stage by taking some time to look at the impact of the Bretton Woods institutions (IMF, World Bank) on macroeconomic strategy and the imposition of SAPs (Structural Adjustment Programmes) on Third World economies; as well as the B.W. Conference’s insistence upon the notion of ‘open trade’ (the elimination of barriers to trade) and the full convertibility of all participating national currencies and the many subsequent bouts of ‘currency wars’ and crises. Also of great interest in this context is the dismantlement of the Russian economy by economic ‘carpetbaggers’ in the 1990’s as an exercise in economic ‘shock treatment’, as brilliantly documented in the great investigative opus of Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine (highly recommended reading) in which she exposes to full view and in comprehensive detail, the destructive path carved through the world (both developed and underdeveloped) by economic ‘shock therapy’ and the rise of what she calls the ‘disaster capitalism complex’ (“the radical privatisation of war and disaster”), as the ‘golden age’ of the mixed economy gave way to the era of rampant neoliberalism we associate with the Thatcher-Reagan partnership operating under the flag of the Nobel Prize winning free market ideology of Chicago School guru Milton Friedman. As all of this is rather a tall order for a single lecture such as this, I have decided to follow the example set yesterday by Hajj Abdassamad, and invite you to participate in a session of ‘reading together’ from key texts which provide a picture of the ground we need to cover. However, these texts are of a very different nature to those we heard yesterday and very far from the world of Imam al Ghazzali (rahimahullah)! I had also intended to look specifically at strategic moves such as the imposition of economic sanctions as currently being applied against countries such as Russia, Iran and Cuba; and the kind of examples that have been or are being provided by alleged challenges to the dominant order coming from quarters such as Libya, Iraq, Bitcoin and ISIS (particularly their recent declaration for the adoption of the gold Dinar and silver Dirham as their new currency). However, it is my hope that these issues are current enough to be discussed spontaneously, if they happen to arise during this evening’s symposium.


Reading Together


The texts I have chosen are intended to bring us face to face with the unsavoury operations of economics as strategy upon two political, historical and economic icons of the Muslim world: Saudi Arabia and the Osmanli Caliphate.

  

We will begin by entering the dark world of the ‘economic hit man’ a phenomenon whose name is derived from the title of the best-selling non-conspiratorial exposé by John Perkins of the unsavoury underbelly of the unconscionable economic modalities employed by the advanced economies of the North (read N. America and W. Europe) in order to mercilessly exploit the developing economies of the global South (read S. Asia, E. Asia, Africa, M. East, L. America, C. America).


1. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man15


Whether in the hands of governments, large corporations or very powerful individuals, economic strategy, given how much is often at stake, is ever ready to stoop to the most morally dubious levels of ‘pragmatism’ in order to gain or preserve a commercial advantage. In order to leave you in no doubt as to what might be involved, I should inform you in advance that the material we are about to examine, though knowingly shocking, does not need to resort to gratuitous hyperbole, which is the most shocking thing of all! The cover blurb makes the following announcement in bright red ink:


economic hit men are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe

out of trillions of dollars. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections,

payoffs, extortion, sex and murder. They play a game as old as Empire but one that has

taken on terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization.16


In the book’s opening paragraph he refers to the birth of this statement:


I wrote that in 1982 as the beginning of a book with the working title, Conscience of an

Economic Hit Man. The book was dedicated to the presidents of two countries, men who

had been my clients, whom I respected and thought of as kindred spirits - Jaime Roldós,

president of Ecuador, and Omar Torrijos, president of Panama. Both had just died in fiery

crashes. Their deaths were not accidental. They were assassinated because they opposed

that fraternity of corporate, government, and banking heads whose goal is global empire.

We EHMs failed to bring Roldós and Torrijos around, and the other type of hit men, the

CIA-sanctioned jackals who were always right behind us stepped in.17 


The book describes in the most unsparing terms the ruthless strategies that have and are being employed to build and maintain the new global empire, described as follows:


It is self-centred, self-serving, greedy, and materialistic, a system based on mercantilism.

Like empires before, its arms open only to accumulate resources, to grab everything in 

sight and stuff its insatiable maw. It will use whatever means it deems necessary to help

its rulers gain more power and riches.18


Key Excerpts for ‘reading together’

1. On the operational modalities of the EHM in modern empire building: 

    a) Prologue p. xvii

    b) Prologue pp. xx-xxi

2. On the question of conspiracy theory: Prologue p.xii; p.xiii

3. On the decisive historical moment for the implementation of the new strategy:

     a) Chap.2 pp. 18-19

4. A major Middle Eastern case study: Chap.15 pp.81-92 


2. Technique of the Coup de Banque (Shaykh Abdalqadir As-Sufi)19

    Chap VI The Camondo (banking family) pp.105-119


That brings us to the end of the lecture. The subject of the next lecture is ‘Order and Location: What Can We Actually Do?’ which will be presented shortly by MFAS Chancellor, Hajj Abu Bakr Rieger. Thank you for your attention. Assalamu alaykum.












Bibliographical References


As-Sufi, Shaykh Abdalqadir. Technique of the Coup de Banque. Editorial Kutubia, Mayurqa 2000

Bewley, A. and Bewley, A. The Noble Qur’an - A New Rendering of its Meaning in English. Bookwork, Norwich 1999.

Clarke, A. and A. Orr (eds.) Banking: The Root Cause of the Injustices of Our Time. Diwan Press, London 2009

Freedman, L. Strategy - A History. OUP, 2013 

Ha-Joon Chang. Economics: The User’s Guide. Penguin Books, London 2014

Klein, N. The Shock Doctrine. Penguin/Allen Lane 2007

Perkins J. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Ebury Press, UK 2006


Recommended Reading


As-Sufi, Shaykh Abdalqadir. Technique of the Coup de Banque

Clarke, A. and A. Orr (eds.) Banking: The Root Cause of the Injustices of Our Time. Diwan Press, London 2009

Klein, N. The Shock Doctrine. Penguin/Allen Lane 2007

Perkins J. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Ebury Press, UK 2006




1 Ibid. p.10

2 Ibid. p.11

3 Bewley, A. and Bewley, A. The Noble Qur’an - A New Rendering of its Meaning in English. Bookwork, Norwich 1999. Sura Ta Ha [20: 67-68]

4 Ibid. Sura Saba’ [34: 48-49]

5 Ibid. Sura As-Saff [61: 8-9]

6 Ibid. Sura Al-’Ankabut [29: 41-42]

7 Ibid. Sura Ar-Ra’d [13: 12]

8 Freedman, L. Strategy - A History. OUP, 2013 p. ix 

9 ‘Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.’ Cited in Freedman, L. ibid. p. ix

10 Ibid. p. xi

11 Ibid. p. xii

12 Ibid. p. 70

13 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercantilism

14 Ibid.

15 Perkins J. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Ebury Press, UK 2006

16 Ibid. p. Back cover

17 Ibid. p. ix

18 Ibid. p.128

19 As-Sufi, Shaykh Abdalqadir. Technique of the Coup de Banque. Editorial Kutubia, Mayurqa 2000