Alan Greenspan Calls The Battle of Bretton Woods “Excellent”

Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, recently recommended The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order in an interview for the Associated Press, calling it “excellent”. The author of the book, Benn Steil, was delighted to see this tweet from Liberty News a few days ago, spreading the news of this exciting endorsement. You can read the full article from the Associated Press here.

Liberty News

Benn Steil Wins the 2013 Spear’s Book Award

Steil_Bretton Woods_author photoBenn Steil – The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order
Winner of the 2013 Spear’s Book Award in Financial History

The Spear’s Book Awards, which cover everything from finance to fiction, were presented on Tuesday at a luncheon in London. Caroline Priday accepted the prize for Benn Steil—a leather-bound edition of his book with gold-embossed inscription naming the award.
To read more about the award luncheon and the other winners, click here.

The Battle of Bretton WoodsWhen turmoil strikes world monetary and financial markets, leaders invariably call for ‘a new Bretton Woods’ to prevent catastrophic economic disorder and defuse political conflict. The name of the remote New Hampshire town where representatives of forty-four nations gathered in July 1944, in the midst of the century’s second great war, has become shorthand for enlightened globalization. The actual story surrounding the historic Bretton Woods accords, however, is full of startling drama, intrigue, and rivalry, which are vividly brought to life in Benn Steil’s epic account.

A remarkably deft work of storytelling that reveals how the blueprint for the postwar economic order was actually drawn, The Battle of Bretton Woods is destined to become a classic of economic and political history.

Benn Steil is senior fellow and director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. His previous book, Money, Markets, and Sovereignty, was awarded the 2010 Hayek Book Prize.

“Fighting for the Speakership” Named One of CHOICE’s Editors’ Picks for 2013

Jeffery A. Jenkins & Charles Stewart III – Fighting for the Speakership: The House and the Rise of Party Government
One of Choice’s Editors’ Picks for 2013

The editors of CHOICE Review Online rave over , saying: “An excellent look at the history of majority party leadership in the House. Summing Up: Highly recommended.”

Fighting for the SpeakershipThe Speaker of the House of Representatives is the most powerful partisan figure in the contemporary U.S. Congress. How this came to be, and how the majority party in the House has made control of the speakership a routine matter, is far from straightforward. Fighting for the Speakership provides a comprehensive history of how Speakers have been elected in the U.S. House since 1789, arguing that the organizational politics of these elections were critical to the construction of mass political parties in America and laid the groundwork for the role they play in setting the agenda of Congress today.

Jeffery Jenkins and Charles Stewart show how the speakership began as a relatively weak office, and how votes for Speaker prior to the Civil War often favored regional interests over party loyalty. While struggle, contention, and deadlock over House organization were common in the antebellum era, such instability vanished with the outbreak of war, as the majority party became an “organizational cartel” capable of controlling with certainty the selection of the Speaker and other key House officers. This organizational cartel has survived Gilded Age partisan strife, Progressive Era challenge, and conservative coalition politics to guide speakership elections through the present day. Fighting for the Speakership reveals how struggles over House organization prior to the Civil War were among the most consequential turning points in American political history.

Jeffery A. Jenkins is associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia. Charles Stewart III is the Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Andrew Delbanco Wins the 2013 O.L. David, Jr. Book Award

Andrew Delbanco – College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be
Winner of the 2013 O.L. Davis, Jr. Book Award, American Association for Teaching and Curriculum

Each year, the American Association for Teaching and Curriculum (AATC) acknowledges an Outstanding Book in Education.  AATC, as a recognized major society in the common fields of curriculum and teaching, selects a book that merits high praise and recognition. The award is given in recognition of scholarship that adds substantively to the body of knowledge about the practices and theories of curriculum and teaching.

“At a time when vast changes in higher education are happening, author Andrew Delbanco of Columbia University calls attention to the purpose of college education (historic origins to the present). It is a very good read.”- Chara Bohan, Committee Chair

 
College: What It Was, Is, and Should BeAs the commercialization of American higher education accelerates, more and more students are coming to college with the narrow aim of obtaining a preprofessional credential. The traditional four-year college experience–an exploratory time for students to discover their passions and test ideas and values with the help of teachers and peers–is in danger of becoming a thing of the past.

In College, prominent cultural critic Andrew Delbanco offers a trenchant defense of such an education, and warns that it is becoming a privilege reserved for the relatively rich. In arguing for what a true college education should be, he demonstrates why making it available to as many young people as possible remains central to America’s democratic promise.

In a brisk and vivid historical narrative, Delbanco explains how the idea of college arose in the colonial period from the Puritan idea of the gathered church, how it struggled to survive in the nineteenth century in the shadow of the new research universities, and how, in the twentieth century, it slowly opened its doors to women, minorities, and students from low-income families. He describes the unique strengths of America’s colleges in our era of globalization and, while recognizing the growing centrality of science, technology, and vocational subjects in the curriculum, he mounts a vigorous defense of a broadly humanistic education for all. Acknowledging the serious financial, intellectual, and ethical challenges that all colleges face today, Delbanco considers what is at stake in the urgent effort to protect these venerable institutions for future generations.

In a new preface, Delbanco addresses recent events that threaten the future of the institution.

Andrew Delbanco is the Mendelson Family Chair of American Studies and the Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. His many books include Melville: His World and Work (Vintage), which won the Lionel Trilling Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times book prize in biography. He is a recipient of the 2011 National Humanities Medal for his writing that spans the literature of Melville and Emerson to contemporary issues in higher education.

What The Pros Have To Say About Higher Education

It seems as though having a college education is becoming more and more necessary in today’s job search, and with the high price of getting that degree and the constant changes in our modern higher education system, something’s got to give. With some wisdom on exactly what is giving and who is being affected, here is a list of some of our top books on higher education:

Higher Education in America1) Higher Education in America
By: Derek Bok

This book is an analysis of the current condition of our colleges and universities and the strengths and weaknesses of modern American higher education.  At a time when colleges and universities have never been more important to its students or to our nation as a whole, Bok provides a thorough examination of the entire system and determines which criticisms of higher education are unfounded or exaggerated, which are issues of genuine concern, and what can be done to improve matters.
College2) College: What it Was, Is and Should Be
By: Andrew Delbanco

As the commercialization of American higher education accelerates, more and more students are coming to college with the narrow aim of obtaining a preprofessional credential. The traditional four-year college experience–an exploratory time for students to discover their passions and test ideas and values with the help of teachers and peers–is in danger of becoming a thing of the past. College demonstrates why making education available to as many young people as possible remains central to America’s democratic promise.
3) HighHigher Education in the Digital Ageer Education in the Digital Age
By: William G. Bowen

Two of the most visible and important trends in higher education today are its exploding costs and the rapid expansion of online learning. Could the growth in online courses slow the rising cost of college and help solve the crisis of affordability? In this short and incisive book, Bowen explains why he believes technology has the potential to help rein in costs without negatively affecting student learning.
4) The Great BThe Great Brain Racerain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World
By: Ben Wildavsky

This book presents the first popular account of how international competition for the brightest minds is transforming the world of higher education–and why this revolution should be welcomed, not feared. Every year, nearly three million international students study outside of their home countries, a 40 percent increase since 1999. Wildavsky shows that as international universities strive to become world-class, the new global education marketplace is providing more opportunities to more people than ever before.

Strategy & Business Gives “Mass Flourishing” A Thumbs Up

Mass FlourishingTheodore Kinni of Strategy & Business reviewed Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change this week, saying:

“I…find his values-driven view of national prosperity fascinating—and applicable to corporate and personal prosperity. If innovation and the prosperity it yields stem from the values to which we subscribe as individuals, organizations, and nations, it stands to reason that we should be paying a great deal of attention to the particular values we adopt and espouse.”
― Theodore Kinni, Strategy-Business.com

To check out the full article, click here.
In this book, Nobel Prize-winning economist Edmund Phelps draws on a lifetime of thinking to make a sweeping new argument about what makes nations prosper–and why the sources of that prosperity are under threat today. Why did prosperity explode in some nations between the 1820s and 1960s, creating not just unprecedented material wealth but “flourishing”–meaningful work, self-expression, and personal growth for more people than ever before? Phelps makes the case that the wellspring of this flourishing was modern values such as the desire to create, explore, and meet challenges. These values fueled the grassroots dynamism that was necessary for widespread, indigenous innovation. Most innovation wasn’t driven by a few isolated visionaries like Henry Ford; rather, it was driven by millions of people empowered to think of, develop, and market innumerable new products and processes, and improvements to existing ones. Mass flourishing–a combination of material well-being and the “good life” in a broader sense–was created by this mass innovation.

Yet indigenous innovation and flourishing weakened decades ago. In America, evidence indicates that innovation and job satisfaction have decreased since the late 1960s, while postwar Europe has never recaptured its former dynamism. The reason, Phelps argues, is that the modern values underlying the modern economy are under threat by a resurgence of traditional, corporatist values that put the community and state over the individual. The ultimate fate of modern values is now the most pressing question for the West: will Western nations recommit themselves to modernity, grassroots dynamism, indigenous innovation, and widespread personal fulfillment, or will we go on with a narrowed innovation that limits flourishing to a few?

A book of immense practical and intellectual importance, Mass Flourishing is essential reading for anyone who cares about the sources of prosperity and the future of the West.

Edmund Phelps was the 2006 Nobel Laureate in economics. He is director of the Center on Capitalism and Society at Columbia University. His many books include Designing Inclusion, Rewarding Work, and Seven Schools of Macroeconomic Thought.

Joseph Nye Speaks at “How The Light Gets In” Festival

Presidential Leadership“How The Light Gets In” advertises itself as a philosophy and music festival at Hay on Wye. The event just had its fifth year, with over 30,000 people in attendance, many of whom saw and heard Joseph Nye’s talk about his book, Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era, which examines the foreign policy decisions of the presidents who presided over the most critical phases of America’s rise to world primacy in the twentieth century, and assesses the effectiveness and ethics of their choices.

Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is University Distinguished Service Professor and former dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His books include Soft Power, The Powers to Lead, and The Future of Power. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Academy of Diplomacy.

Now, check out his speech in the video below:

Special Excerpt from “The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It”

The Bankers' New ClothesYesterday marked the fifth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy in 2008, sending our economy into a tailspin. To note this occasion, we posted a list of some of our Top Banking Books to help people try to figure out what in the world is going on with our economy.
Along that same thread, today we have a special excerpt of The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It by Anat Admati & Martin Hellwig posted below. In this excerpt (pages 11-12 to be exact), Admati and Hellwig address the Lehman Brothers fall and the ripple affect it had on America and even other countries abroad.
As a whole, the book addresses how risks in banking can impose significant costs on the economy. Many think that a safer banking system would require sacrificing lending and economic growth, but Admati and Hellwig  argue that we can have a safer and healthier banking system without sacrificing any of the benefits of the system, and at essentially no cost to society.
Check out the excerpt below!

In the run-up to the financial crisis, the debts of many large banks financed 97 percent or more of their assets. Lehman Brothers in the United States, Hypo Real Estate in Germany, Dexia in Belgium and France, and UBS in Switzerland had many hundreds of billions of dollars, euros, or Swiss francs in debt. Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in September 2008. The other three avoided bankruptcy only because they were bailed out by their governments.


The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy caused severe disruption and damage to the global financial system. Stock prices imploded, investors withdrew from money market funds, money market funds refused to renew their loans to banks, and banks stopped lending to each other. Banks furiously tried to sell assets, which further depressed prices. Within two weeks, many banks faced the prospect of default.


To prevent a complete meltdown of the system, governments and central banks all over the world provided financial institutions with funding and with guarantees for the institutions’ debts. These interventions stopped the decline, but the downturn in economic activity was still the sharpest since the Great Depression. Anton Valukas, the lawyer appointed by the bankruptcy court to investigate Lehman Brothers, put it succinctly: “Everybody got hurt. The entire economy has suffered from the fall of Lehman Brothers . . . the whole world.”


In the fall of 2008, many financial institutions besides Lehman Brothers were also vulnerable. Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) that “out of maybe . . . 13 of the most important financial institutions in the United States, 12 were at risk of failure within a period of a week or two.” Some or all of the major banks in Belgium, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom failed or were at significant risk of failing had their governments not bailed them out.


Accounts of the crisis often focus on the various breakdowns of bank funding between August 2007 and October 2008. Much bank funding consisted of very short-term debt. Banks were therefore vulnerable to the risk that this debt would not be renewed. The deeper reason for the breakdowns, however, was that banks were highly indebted. When banks suffered losses, investors, including other financial institutions, lost confidence and cut off funding, fearing that the banks might become unable to repay their debts.


The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy itself heightened investors’ concerns by showing that even a large financial institution might not be bailed out, and therefore that default of such an institution was a real possibility.


The problem posed by some banks being regarded as too big to fail is greater today than it was in 2008. Since then, the largest U.S. banks have become much larger. On March 31, 2012, the debt of JPMorgan Chase was valued at $2.13 trillion and that of Bank of America at $1.95 trillion, more than three times the debt of Lehman Brothers. The debts of the five largest banks in the United States totaled around $8 trillion. These figures would have been even larger under the accounting rules used in Europe.


In Europe, the largest banks are of similar size. Because European economies are smaller than that of the United States, the problem is even more serious there. Relative to the overall economy, banks are significantly larger in Europe than in the United States, especially in some of the smaller countries. In Ireland and Iceland before the crisis, the banking systems had become so large that, when the banks failed, these countries’ economies collapsed.


The traumatic Lehman experience has scared most governments into believing that large global banks must not be allowed to fail. Should any of these large banks get into serious difficulties, however, we may discover that they are not only too big to fail but also too big to save. There will be no good options.


The consequences of letting a large bank fail are probably more severe today than in the case of Lehman Brothers in 2008, but saving them might cripple their countries. The experiences of Ireland and Spain provide a taste of what can happen if large banking systems have to be saved by their governments. In both countries, the governments were unable to deal with their banking problems on their own, so they had to ask for support from the International Monetary Fund and from the European Union.

The Fifth Anniversary of the Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy

The Fifth Anniversary of the Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy and Our Top 10 Books on Banking

Since the economic downturn in America, people have been paying much more attention to what is going on with their government, their spending, and most certainly their banks. As today is the fifth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy (the largest bankruptcy filing in the history of the United States), we here at the Press thought we would help you all out a little by suggesting some of our best publications on bank failures, economic regulations, and financial crises. Fun topic for a lazy Sunday, right?
Click on the titles below to learn more about them, and don’t forget to check back tomorrow for an exclusive excerpt from our newest banking book this year: The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It by Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig.

The Banker's New Clothes1) The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It
By: Anat Admati & Martin Hellwig
What is wrong with today’s banking system? The past few years have shown that risks in banking can impose significant costs on the economy. Many claim, however, that a safer banking system would require sacrificing lending and economic growth. The Bankers’ New Clothes examines this claim and the narratives used by bankers, politicians, and regulators to rationalize the lack of reform, exposing them as invalid.

2) DeDebt's Dominionbt’s Dominion: A History of Bankruptcy Law in America
By: David A. Skeel Jr.
David Skeel provides the first complete account of the remarkable journey American bankruptcy law has taken from its beginnings in 1800, when Congress lifted the country’s first bankruptcy code right out of English law, to the present day.

 

3) HowHow Big Banks Fail Big Banks Fail and What to Do about It
By: Darrell Duffie
How Big Banks Fail and What to Do about It examines how large dealer banks (like J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs) collapse and how we can prevent the need to bail them out.

 

4) UnWhysettled Account: The Evolution of Banking in the Industrialized World since 1800
By: Richard S. Grossman
In Unsettled Account, Richard Grossman takes the first truly comparative look at the development of commercial banking systems over the past two centuries in Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, and Australia. Grossman focuses on four major elements that have contributed to banking evolution: crises, bailouts, mergers, and regulations.

 

Rochet_Why11115) Why Are There So Many Banking Crises? The Politics and Policy of Bank Regulation
By: Jean-Charles Rochet
Almost every country in the world has sophisticated systems to prevent banking crises. Yet such crises–and the massive financial and social damage they can cause–remain common throughout the world. Jean-Charles Rochet, one of the world’s leading authorities on banking regulation, makes the case that, although many banking crises are precipitated by financial deregulation and globalization, political interference often causes–and almost always exacerbates–banking crises.

6) AppAppeasing Bankerseasing Bankers: Financial Caution on the Road to War
By: Jonathan Kirshner
The financial world values economic stability above all else, and crises and war threaten that stability. Appeasing Bankers shows that, when faced with the prospect of war or international political crisis, national financial communities favor caution and demonstrate a marked aversion to war.

 

7) CodCodes of Financees of Finance: Engineering Derivatives in a Global Bank
By: Vincent Antonin Lépinay
Codes of Finance takes readers behind the scenes of the equity derivatives business at one of the world’s leading investment banks before the crisis, providing a detailed firsthand account of the creation, marketing, selling, accounting, and management of these financial instruments–and of how they ultimately created havoc inside and outside the bank.

 

Balancing the Banks8) Balancing the Banks: Global Lessons from the Financial Crisis
By: Mathias Dewatripont, Jean-Charles Rochet & Jean Tirole
Translated by: Keith Tribe
Bringing together three leading financial economists to provide an international perspective, Balancing the Banks draws critical lessons from the causes of the crisis and proposes important regulatory reforms, including sound guidelines for the ways in which distressed banks might be dealt with in the future.

 

9) BankBanking on the Futureing on the Future: The Fall and Rise of Central Banking
By: Howard Davies & David Green
Banking on the Future provides a fascinating insider’s look into how central banks have evolved and why they are critical to the functioning of market economies. The book asks whether, in light of the recent economic fallout, the central banking model needs radical reform.

 

10) Banksprincetonlogo and Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War
By: Bray Hammond
Bray Hammond investigates into the role of banking in the formation of American society. Hammond, who was assistant secretary of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System from 1944 to 1950, presents this 771-page book with a definitive account of how banking evolved in the United States in the context of the nation’s political and social development.

Jill Lepore is Runner-up for Art of the Essay Award

Jill Lepore – The Story of America: Essays on Origins
Runner-up for the 2013 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, PEN American Center

“The 2013 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay will be awarded “…to a book of essays published in 2012 that exemplifies the dignity and esteem that the essay form imparts to literature.”

“Award winners and runners-up will be honored at the 2013 PEN Literary Awards Ceremony on Monday, October 21, 2013, at CUNY Graduate Center’s Proshansky Auditorium in New York City, featuring Master of Ceremonies Andy Borowitz.

For more information about the award, check out: http://www.aesonline.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=15&Itemid=13

The Story of AmericaIn The Story of America, Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore investigates American origin stories–some moving, some painful, and all of them fascinating, from John Smith’s account of the founding of Jamestown in 1607 to Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural address–to show how American democracy is bound up with the history of print. Over the centuries, Americans have read and written their way into a political culture of ink and type.

Part civics primer, part cultural history, The Story of America excavates the origins of everything from the paper ballot and the Constitution to the I.O.U. and the dictionary. Along the way it presents fresh readings of Benjamin Franklin’s Way to Wealth, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, and “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as well as histories of lesser-known genres, including biographies of presidents, novels of immigrants, and accounts of the Depression.

From past to present, Lepore argues, Americans have wrestled with the idea of democracy by telling stories. In this thoughtful and provocative book, Lepore offers at once a history of origin stories and a meditation on storytelling itself.

Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at the New Yorker. Her books include The Mansion of Happiness, The Whites of Their Eyes (Princeton), and Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin.

Working for the (Labor Day) weekend: PUP’s holiday reading recommendation

It’s been an American tradition for over a century. Here in PUP’s home state of New Jersey, we started celebrating the working man and woman more than 120 years ago. This year, readers can observe Labor Day with a look back at how the workforce has developed in that time.

Nelson Lichtenstein’s State of the Union: A Century of American Labor surveys the history of the American workforce and examines how trade unionism has waxed and waned in the nation’s political and moral imagination, among both devoted partisans and intransigent foes. From the steel foundry to the burger-grill, from Woodrow Wilson to John Sweeney, from Homestead to Pittston, Lichtenstein weaves together a compelling matrix of ideas, stories, strikes, laws, and people in a streamlined narrative of work and labor in the twentieth century.

PUP has j9780691160276ust released a revised and expanded edition of this award-winning book, which includes a new preface and two new chapters by the author. Lichtenstein engages with many of those who have offered commentary on State of the Union and evaluates the historical literature that has emerged in the decade since the book’s initial publication. He also brings his narrative into the current moment with a final chapter, “Obama’s America: Liberalism without Unions.”

Here’s more on this thought-provoking read:

The “labor question” became a burning issue during the Progressive Era because its solution seemed essential to the survival of American democracy itself. Beginning there, Lichtenstein takes us all the way to the organizing fever of contemporary Los Angeles, where the labor movement stands at the center of the effort to transform millions of new immigrants into alert citizen unionists. He offers an expansive survey of labor’s upsurge during the 1930s, when the New Deal put a white, male version of industrial democracy at the heart of U.S. political culture. He debunks the myth of a postwar “management-labor accord” by showing that there was (at most) a limited, unstable truce.

Lichtenstein argues that the ideas that had once sustained solidarity and citizenship in the world of work underwent a radical transformation when the rights-centered social movements of the 1960s and 1970s captured the nation’s moral imagination. The labor movement was therefore tragically unprepared for the years of Reagan and Clinton: although technological change and a new era of global economics battered the unions, their real failure was one of ideas and political will. Throughout, Lichtenstein argues that labor’s most important function, in theory if not always in practice, has been the vitalization of a democratic ethos, at work and in the larger society. To the extent that the unions fuse their purpose with that impulse, they can once again become central to the fate of the republic. State of the Union is an incisive history that tells the story of one of America’s defining aspirations.

 

For a look at the history of Labor Day, including facts about its start, visit http://www.dol.gov/opa/aboutdol/laborday.htm.

More from Gabriella Coleman on the NSA Leaks

Today in a final post in our ongoing NSA debate between authors Gabriella Coleman and Rahul Sagar,  Professor Coleman, author of Coding Freedom, responds to Professor Sagar’s recent post, offering a historical perspective on intelligence agencies and raising the potential for grave abuse in an era of increased technological capabilities. Read the wrap up post in this fascinating series here:

Gabriella Coleman:

Rahul Sagar’s thoughtful response has prompted me to think through a few troubling questions which have been plaguing me since Snowden’s bombshell revelations. It is without question that intelligence agencies require secrecy to effectively work.  I agree that this issue is not new. But if history is any guide, it also shows that secrecy, while necessary, is also a breeding ground for abuse. In a prior era, a dramatic leak by the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI helped put an end to a 40 year reign of outrageous abuses, such as COINTELPRO, at the helm of J. Edgar Hoover who ruled the FBI with an secretive iron fist.

But this surveillance apparatus strikes as technologically and thus historically distinctive. It can be gravely abused with or without a Hoover. Never in our history have we had in place a surveillance infrastructure as extensive and powerful as we do now, nor administrations who have refused so systematically to declassify information. (One does wonder what Nixon could have done with the surveillance methods that the government has at its disposal today).  With enough computer power, it is frighteningly easy for the government to gather data. This ease will likely push them to seek questionable or ex post de facto justifications for their actions. This was put rather cogently and succinctly by civil liberties lawyer Jennifer Granick when “Of course, we see mission creep – once you build the mousetrap of surveillance infrastructure, they will come for the data.” It is not only that they have this power, but as sociologists and others, have noted, secrecy is alluring and really hard to give up/ This state of mind was put best by physicist Edward Teller who wrote, “secrecy, once accepted, becomes an addiction.”

There might be a very good reason to have the surveillance methods that the NSA has now, but until that reason is disclosed, there is no reason for them to have such awesome technical (and questionable) legal powers currently at their disposal. The problem is we have these programs and our government could use them as a tool of oppression (in fact the mere fact of their existence serves to stifle dissent). Even if abuses are not so grave today, what is so troubling is how these programs enable any future person who might gain control of them to utilize these tools for serious oppression.

We as a society have to ask whether this is a gamble we are willing to take. Since the stakes for the future are so high, the decision about the scope and depth of eavesdropping cannot and should not be an undertaking that is decided by the President, the FISA court, or even all the three branches of government acting in agreement. Only we as a people, who hold the truths described in the constitution as self-evident, are allowed, by that very constitution, to make changes to these rights. “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men [and Women et al.], deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government” At some point, the actions of the government go too far, and it is up to us to sound the alarm. The Pentagon Papers, the COINTELPRO leaks, the Tet Offensive, these are many instances when citizens have not trusted our elected officials and with good reason.

It is our responsibility to hold our elected officials accountable, although we  can only effectively do so with the aid of a free press. Journalists help keep whistle-blowers accountable. Snowden worked with journalists, from independent film maker Laura Poitras to Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post. The fact that respected news organizations accepted the leaks, filtered the information, and wrote extensive and thoughtful stories demonstrates the validity and responsibility of Snowden’s actions. If his leaks posed such a grave threat to the state of security, I trust these media establishments would not gone public with them.

Finally, I would like to clarify Snowden’s statements on Nuremberg. He is not equating the NSA with Nazi Germany, he just simply referencing a principle. He is also not saying that this principle exonerates him in any US court, but simply that it justifies his actions on a moral level. Snowden is saying that there are times where it is not only moral to break the law, but that it is immoral and wrong to not break the law. Further, it might be interesting  engage  in a thought experiment about how Snowden’s actions also might relate to the Nuremberg Principles.  For the purposes of this experiment, we would submit some undisputed facts about The United States. The United States continues to torture and cause substantial suffering to 44 people who are still held against their will in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, via forced nasal intubation twice daily. In the past, they were tortured by electrocuting their genitals, and simulated drowning through waterboarding. The US has forcibly rendered people to other countries for purposes of torture, and deprive them of their liberty without charge or due process, calling them “detainees”. If we look how Nuremberg Principles defines a “crime against humanity” the United States has committed over half of the abuses on that list. The programs that Snowden has revealed likely were involved in the capture and detainment of many of these people.

In the end I, like everyone else, wants to live in a state of security. This means not only  thwarting terrorism—though it invariably includes it—but means having the security to engage in dissent, thus the security to call out the grave human rights abuses—such as those at Guantanamo Bay—which our elected officials have allowed to transpire and to raise red flags about programs, such as Prism, which might lead to grave abuse in the future.