- Islamic State, Facebook, and vigilante archaeologists Jenna Scatena, Atlantic
- Hoffer-esque essay on totalitarianism. Refreshing. Brent Holley, Quillette
- The STEM cycle Nick Nielsen, Grand Strategy Annex
- Vietnam and America’s Indo-Pacific narrative Derek Grossman, Diplomat
- The guilty pleasures of studying Western Civilization LD Burnett, S-USIH Blog
- China’s new philosopher: Not Marx, nor Hayek or Smith, but Carl Schmitt Chris Buckley, NY Times
- The color of colonialism is now green Carl & Fjellheim, Al-Jazeera
- The right kind of reparations (for slavery) James Hankins, Law & Liberty
- The lost history of socialist Yugoslavia’s DIY computer Michael Eby, Jacobin
- Darkness that illuminated the world: Italy by Braudel Branko Milanovic, globalinequality
- Making the world safe for weird teachers since the 1980s Rebecca Onion, Slate
- The only housing project devoted to Native Americans Krithika Varagur, New York Review of Books
So, my granddaughter – 12 – says I am “sexist.” She is not completely sure what it means but she knows it’s pretty bad. So, I drop the two boogey boards I am carrying across the beach for her. I think she gets it.
I don’t know how many of you noticed but the more rights women conquer, and the more recognition of women in all areas of life receive, the more angry the average woman seems to be. I know, I know, that correlation is not causation but it’s a good reason to wonder about causation. And how about the surging number of bad and aggressive female drivers? Is it just me making things up in my mind?
My wife Krishna says women are vaguely unhappy because, even if unconsciously, they miss the animals, the catcalls and the wolf-whistles, and a broad variety of bird sounds.
- This is your US Constitution on drugs Ilya Shapiro, National Affairs
- The early years of Communist Party rule Ian Johnson, NY Times
- Why Leftists prefer and even encourage “cancel culture” Chris Bertram, Crooked Timber
- The rumour about the Jews Francesca Trivellato, Aeon
- New light on the dark interwar years Tony Barber, Financial Times
Libertarians understand these two big ideas:
- A system of individual rights can allow widespread cooperation and human flourishing.
- The world is full of emergent orders, like markets, with aggregate outcomes that are more than the sum of their parts.
But commitment to the first idea often blinds us to the full implications of the second.
Complex adaptive systems involve an infinity of illegible signals involving cooperation and competition in networks so complex that it would be impossible to replicate their success in any conceivable top-down system. The market is a discovery procedure. But the “it” that is the market is a collective thing. It’s a jointly produced phenomenon and it’s impossible to split it up without fundamentally changing it.
Likewise, a system of rights (including the rights underlying a functioning market) is a jointly produced common good.
Why does it mean anything to say that I own my laptop? Because when push comes to shove (if I’m willing to shove hard enough), other members of my community are willing to act in ways (formal and informal) that enforce my property right. (Interesting aside: If I reported my laptop stolen to the local police, they wouldn’t do anything about it. Perhaps this reflects the median voter’s level of regard for other people’s property rights…)
Ownership is not as simple as “I own this piece of property, period.” Instead, to own something is to have some bundle of rights to make particular decisions. I can decide what to plant in my garden, but I can’t decide to build a nuclear reactor in my front yard. I don’t need to go through some elaborate chain of natural rights reasoning to argue that your negative right to avoid externalities supersedes my positive right to do a thing. Doing so might be a useful exercise to see how (in)consistent our ruleset is. But the real system is much simpler (and much more ad hoc). Rights are as rights are enforced.
What am I driving at here? First, that we should be dealing with
property decision rights as they are more than we deal with them as they ought to be. Second, individual rights require collective support. This puts constraints on how we move towards our Utopias.
Debating/convincing our intellectual opponents is necessary, but it’s really just a negotiation tactic. Discounting idiotic opponents is reasonable in the intellectual sphere, but we can’t just overlook the fact that those opponents are part of the environment we’re trying to shape. We don’t necessarily have to throw them a bone, but when we don’t make some group part of our coalition, we have to expect someone else will.
Our normative theories will convince us that group A can’t make group B’s lives worse for the sake of A’s ego. But if A perceives the subjective value of that ego boost to be high enough, and if A has the relevant rights, then B had better look out.
Improving the world isn’t simply a matter of making the right arguments well. We have to be entrepreneurial, and keep an eye out for how others might do the same. Political entrepreneurship means looking for the under-priced voters which is exactly what Trump did in 2016. He found a group A full of low-status voters who had been discounted by the political establishment. And because their rights to shape the collective outcome went unexercised so long, it was that much more disruptive when they were finally brought to the table. Likewise, BLM protests reveal that there is a group B that is ready to throw their weight around.
That leaves a big pile of questions. What is the cost of pride? How can we ensure people have enough dignity that they won’t want to destroy what a functioning (if imperfect) society? How do we account for potential political energy (particularly when we remember that voting is only a tiny part of political participation)?
I don’t know the answers, but I know this: we can’t escape getting our hands dirty and engaging in some political exchange. I don’t like it, but I’m not the only one deciding.
- Searching for consolation in Max Weber’s Work Ethic George Blaustein, New Republic
- Keep doing what you love Federico Varese, Times Literary Supplement
- The conservative origins of British socialism Johnathan Rutherford, New Statesman
- The question that tormented Søren Kierkegaard Morton Jensen, American Interest
It is widely accepted that good institutions caused the massive increase in living standards enjoyed by ordinary people over the past two hundred years. But what caused good institutions? Scholars once pointed to the polycentric governance structures of medieval Europe, but this explanation has been replaced by arguments favoring state capacity. Here we revitalize the ‘polycentric Europe’ hypothesis and argue it is a complement to state capacity explanations. We develop a new institutional theory, based on political property rights and what we call polycentric sovereignty, which explains how the medieval patrimony resulted in the requisite background conditions for good governance, and hence widespread social wealth creation.
By Alexander Salter & Andrew Young. Read the whole excellent thing here. I wonder how much the author’s conception of “polycentric sovereignty” has in common with Madison’s compound republic?
Salter & Young do a great job bringing decentralization back into the overall “economic growth and political freedom” picture. Over the past two decades, political centralization as a good thing has been making a comeback under the guise of “state capacity.” This isn’t a bad trend, but it has left several large gaps in understanding how economic development and political freedom works. (For example, how to prevent centralized states from pursuing illiberal ends, or using illiberal means to pursue supposedly liberal ends.)
This article brings decentralization back into the picture, using Elinor and Vincent Ostrom’s conception of polycentricity as a model. However, I don’t think they spend enough time on Vincent Ostrom’s understanding of the American compound republic. The American federalists were concerned with exactly the same thing that we are concerned about now: how to maintain a proper balance of centralized power and decentralized power so that liberty may flourish. I’ve emphasized the important part with italics. The liberty aspect gets de-emphasized to make room for the sexier “economic growth” aspect, but political freedom is still paramount when it comes to thinking through matters of politics.
The American federalists, and especially Madison, came up with the compound republic to address the centralized/decentralized debate. Scholars continue to underrate its genius and usefulness for capturing humans as they are. Ostrom’s book on the Madisonian compound republic is worth your time and money. Read it in tandem with this book on the Federalist Papers and this book on the formation of the American republic and this short paper on the continued viability of the compound republic to today’s world. Once you’ve done the readings, start writing (or better yet: blogging!).
- How the anti-communist alliances of the Cold War have ended David Goodhart, Literary Review
- The end of interest (and capitalism) John Quiggin, Crooked Timber
- The democratic road to socialism Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
- Masks, pollution, and implied consent Johnathan Pearce, Samizdata
Dina Murad, a journalist with the Malaysia-based The Star, has a really insightful article out on Malaysia’s colonial history and the current name-changing, statue-crashing phenomenon happening around the world. Murad gives a voice to several different factions, and all of them are honest, competent, and informative.
The world is not yet falling apart!
- Attention, fashion, and false consensus Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
- In praise of negativity Henry Farrell, Crooked Timber
- My only complaint: this should be anti-Communist Party rather than anti-China Shashank Bengali, LA Times
- The Belt and Road Initiative as an anti-imperialist discourse (pdf) Ying-Kit Chan, CJAS