Talent, humanity, charm, sophisticated humor, creativity and vitality: the sudden departure of an excellent American-Hungarian theoretician…
Peter Pogany was one of the most undervalued authors and economic theoreticians in the United States. Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1936 and passed on recently in Staunton, Virginia in 2014, his brilliance was manifested in his writings and studies that he completed as an international economist at the U.S. Government in Washington, D.C. He was a member of the International Gebser Society and The Alliance Francaise of Charlottesville. As an Adjunct Professor at George Washington University, Mr. Pogany taught International Economics. He was the author of two major books; “Rethinking the World” and the soon to be published, “Twenty-first Century, Thy Name is Havoc”.
How can I suggest that Peter Pogany was a brilliant author and theoretician? Well, it is easy. He was one of my closest associates, a colleague at the U.S. International Trade Commission and a mentor in both my professional and my personal life. Peter was like an older brother with whom I spent hundreds of hours discussing world events, Hungary’s past and future prospects and our daily lives in the Washington area.
The reason PP’s departure is so shocking because there are very few people like him on either side of the Atlantic. Peter was a nostalgic Hungarian patriot who also learned to be loyal to his new host country, the United States. I got acquainted with him in 1988 at the U.S. international Trade Commission, in Washington, D.C. He was in his 50s then, playful and full of live and energy, with a colorful personality. He loved soccer and was a huge Ferencváros fan. Once I gave him a copy of the movie “The Golden Team” (Aranycsapat) and he watched it maybe a dozen times before he gave it back to me. We spoke daily and had frequent lunches at the Department of Housing and Urban Development cafeteria or at the Federal Aviation Administration cafeteria close to our workplace at E Street SW. Peter was also very pleasant socially. He was a good conversationalist and excellent at telling anecdotes. Last, but not least, he was a masterful pianist who was able to keep an entire group of listeners mesmerized.
When he retired and moved to Staunton, Virginia, he began to write profusely – articles, essays, books and economic analysis – and soon published one of his major works, Rethinking the World. The book was a New York Times best seller for weeks and was a superb mind-opener. Pogany built his theory to focus on human history as a thermodynamic process, which he thought always moves towards global systems and integration to the detriment of the nation state. The two (globalism and the nation state), however, do not necessarily negate each other, in fact, they could prosper in harmony alongside. Live and let live is the motto that could accomplish such harmony. Pogany’s theory is that human history moves along in predetermined steps and it does not have a choice but to follow these steps. There will always be stable and peaceful periods followed by chaotic times. After the second World War, countries throughout the world have been mapping out new ways to develop and prosper, while creating international organizations to secure peace, eliminate poverty and feed the hungry in less developed regions of the world. The next step was integration, of which the European Union is the most significant such cross-border experiment.
According to PP’s theory, human history created three major global systems: global system 1 (GS1), global system 2 (GS2) and global system 3 (GS3). Modern history has recorded two distinct global systems thus far: “laissez faire/metal money,” which spanned most of the 19th century and lasted until the outbreak of World War I, and “mixed economy/weak multilateralism,” which began after 1945 and exists today. The period between the two systems, 1914-1945, was a chaotic transition. This evolutionary pulsation is well known to students of thermodynamics. It corresponds to the behavior of expanding and complexifying material systems. The exhaustion of oil and other natural resources is pushing the world toward a third global system that may be called “two-level economy/strong multilateralism.” It will be impossible to get there without a new chaotic transition.
Pogany surmised that we currently are in GS2. This era is characterized by maximizing profit and pushing for the elimination of trade barriers, regional integration, multinational business ventures, as well as the promotion of prosperity and cross-border development. However, PP adds that we still have another step to complete. This new higher step, the GS3 period will be filled with the renewed importance of culture and socio-cultural thinking, which requires a higher level of commitment by humanity. PP reiterated that reaching this next step is a challenge similar to when the homo erectus began to walk on two legs instead of four. It will require a lot of effort, coordination and discipline.
The new global system will have to be based on ecology, sustainable development, environmental consciousness and the re-emphasizing of the importance of the nation state. One of the most prominent Hungarian writers Sándor Márai stipulated that: „These fantasies about global governance are actually childish ambitions. People do not want a global homeland. What common folks want are typically smaller, more humane, clearly delineated homelands, which may be imperfect, petty and fallible, but they (the people) can at least identify with those smaller homelands.”
Peter Pogany’s favorite quote was featured the end of his book. It was Immanuel Kant’s vision that: “Although the stars are above and the Earth is below us, we should not worry because we possess the ladder, which will enable us to reach up to those stars some day if we want to.” It is up to us what kind of impression we will make on the rest of humanity. Peter will never leave us without a trace. A great friend is gone, but his lasting memory, his teachings and thoughts are cherished by all us us who believed in him.