October 24: Hyman Minsky and Financial Stability

heres-what-prophetic-economist-hyman-minsky-would-say-about-todays-crisisEconomist Hyman Minsky, who analyzed the links between financial instability and speculative bubbles and presciently opposed government deregulation of financial markets, died at 77 on this date in 1996. Minsky was born in Chicago and studied at the University of Chicago and at Harvard. From 1957 to 1965 he was an associate professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, where he developed his major theories, as explained in John Maynard Keynes (1975) and Stabilizing an Unstable Economy (1986). From 1965 until his retirement in 1990, Minsky was professor of economics at Washington University in St. Louis, and for the final six years of his life he was a distinguished scholar at the Levy Institute at Bard College. “Many of Minsky’s colleagues regarded his ‘financial-instability hypothesis,’ which he first developed in the 1960s, as radical, if not crackpot,” wrote John Cassidy in the New Yorker in 2008, but “with the subprime crisis seemingly on the verge of metamorphosing into a recession, references to [the hypothesis] have become commonplace on financial Web sites and in the reports of Wall Street analysts.”

“As a boom leads to euphoria, Minsky said, banks and other commercial lenders extend credit to ever more dubious borrowers, often creating new financial instruments to do the job. During the 1980s, junk bonds played that role. More recently, it was the securitization of mortgages.” —John Cassidy


October 23: The Holocaust in Odessa

2000px-Razboiul_Sfant_Contra_Bolsevismului_(1941_stamp).svgOn this date in 1941, only a week after the German and Romanian armies had seized control of Odessa, some 5,000 Jews in the city were publicly hanged and shot, and more than 19,000 Jews in the city were assembled in nine gunpowder warehouses at the port and shot dead before the warehouses were set on fire. Following that, an additional 20,000 Jews were led out of the city and massacred in ditches and buildings. The 40,000 Jews who remained in Odessa were moved into a compact ghetto in which most buildings were destroyed. Left outdoors for ten days, many died of exposure to wintry conditions. On October 28, additional massacres took 5,000 more Jewish lives, and by the end of December, 50,000 Jews imported from concentration camps were killed. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum determines that “Romanian and German forces killed almost 100,000 Jews in Odessa during the occupation of the city,” which came about after a two-month siege. Some 15,000 Roma people were also killed.

12f8e8d20176e8c3d4b2ce0f20d084af_w885_h600“When the first Jews reached Dalnik, they were bound to one another’s arms in groups of between forty and fifty, thrown into an anti-tank ditch and shot dead. When this method proved too slow, they were pressed into four large warehouses, which had holes in the walls. Machine gun nozzles were pushed into the holes, and in this manner, mass murder was committed in one warehouse after the other.” —The Nizkor Project



October 22: The Duel

13667922_1Jules Rosenberg, described by the Paris Figaro as “one of the lights of the Hungarian Bar,” killed Count Etienne de Battyani in a duel on this date in 1883. The duel was fought over the affections of young Mlle. Ilona de Schosberger, “the daughter of a rich manufacturer.” She had spent the past year courting with Rosenberg, but Baron Bornemisza, described as “a poor Hungarian nobleman” who served as tax collector, had married Mlle. Schosberger’s elder sister and then “did everything in his power to break the relations that his new family kept up with the plebian Rosenberg.” Ilona and Jules secretly married, however, and were preparing for a public wedding when Rosenberg was “warned that the Baron repeated everywhere that ‘he would never have a Jew lawyer for a brother-in-law.’ Singular disgust,” the  Figaro writer continued, “on the part of a man who had accepted as father-in-law a Jewish millionaire!” Nevertheless, Ilona was virtually kidnapped off to Paris and baptized at Notre Dame. Her marriage was nullified, and then she was married off to Comte de Battyani, a member of the Hungarian Chamber of Lords. Rosenberg challenged the count to a duel with pistols and shot him dead. Rosenberg was sentenced to nine months in prison, which was shortened to three by royal clemency. Ilona, in the interim, was married off by her father to Baron Victor Offerman. According to Kevin MacAleer’s Dueling: The Cult of Honor in Fin-de-Siecle Germany, while Jews were “banished from the major dueling societies, Jews formed their own fraternities, and on the eve of World War I, in an undoubted attempt to obliterate the ‘coffee house Jew’ stereotype, they had carved out a ferocious reputation as duelists.”

“Cher Ami: My kindred are as powerful as they are wealthy. Fear everything. They wish to separate me from you, and I know that they will try to make you break off by force of intrigue. . . I know that I shall be disinherited if I persist in loving you, but I am happy in sacrificing riches to your love.” —Ilona de Schosberger to Jules Rosenberg


October 21: Designer of the Trimline Phone

ZJ1DNRS4MLF8K96Industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss’ Trimline telephone was put into service (in Michigan) for the first time on this date in 1963. The Trimline moved the dial and a hang-up button away from the phone’s base and onto the handpiece, which made it possible to make calls without hovering near the phone. In 1977, Fortune magazine selected it as one of the country’s 25 best-designed products. Dreyfuss, born in Brooklyn in 1902, was responsible for the Big Ben alarm clock by Westclox (1939), the Twentieth Century Limited train (1938), the John Deere Model A and Model B tractors (1938), the Honeywell T87 circular wall thermostat (1953), two American steamships, and various telephones, vacuum cleaners, typewriters, cameras, and other appliances of the mid-20th century. He was also the first president of the Industrial Designers Society of America. In 1972, after his wife, Doris Marks, was diagnosed with a terminal illness, the couple committed suicide through carbon monoxide poisoning in their car.

henrydreyfuss02“I have washed clothes, cooked, driven a tractor, run a Diesel locomotive, spread manure, vacuumed rugs, and ridden in an armored tank. I have operated a sewing machine, a telephone switchboard, a corn picker, a lift truck, a turret lathe, and a linotype machine. . . . I wore a hearing aid for a day and almost went deaf.” —Henry Dreyfuss


October 20: The African Explorer

220px-Schnitzler,_Edward,_Emin_Pacha,_par_Carletti,_BNF_GallicaMehmet Emin Pasha, born Eduard Schnitzer to German Jewish parents who baptized him in the Catholic Church at the age of 2, died on this date in 1892, age 52, after a career as a physician, explorer, and colonial governor of Turkish-controlled northern Albania and British-controlled Equatoria (now South Sudan). He “contributed vastly to the knowledge of African geography, natural history, ethnology, and languages,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “. . . made extensive and valuable surveys, and also brought an end to slavery in the region.” During the Islamic jihadi uprising known as the Mahdi (in the 1880s), Emin was “rescued” by Henry (“Dr. Livingstone, I presume”) Stanley, whose expedition went up the Congo River and  through the Ituri Forest, an arduous journey that resulted in the loss of two-thirds of Stanley’s expedition. According to the New York Times, however, “Emin Pasha didn’t actually want to be rescued at all. Remote as his situation was, he was much better equipped than Stanley, who more or less had to force him to come out.” Emin spoke Turkish, Albanian, and Greek as well as other European languages, and was widely regarded as a Muslim, although his actual conversion is in doubt. His death came at the hands of Arab slave-raiders in the Congo.

“Though Emin Pasha published no books, he wrote many valuable papers on Africa for German journals and forwarded rich and varied collections of animals and plants to Europe.” —Encyclopedia Brittanica