- How black-owned banks redefined risk in America Johnny Fulfer, Economic Historian
- Consistency: What everyone needs to know Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
- Mao’s secret factories in Cold War China Lorenz M. Lüthi, War on the Rocks
- The irresistible rise of of the civilization-state Aris Roussinos, UnHerd
- 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
- 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
- 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 Scholars once pointed to the polycentric governance structures of medieval Europe, but this explanation has been replaced by arguments favoring state capacity.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
Since 1932, when Justice Louis Brandeis remarked that in a federal system states can serve as “laboratories” of democracy, political decentralization has been thought to stimulate policy experimentation. We reexamine the political economy behind this belief, using a simple model of voting in centralized and decentralized democracies. We find the electoral logic suggests the opposite conclusion: centralization usually leads to “too much” policy experimentation, compared to the social optimum, while decentralization leads to “too little”. Three effects of centralization—an “informational externality”, a “risk-seeking” effect, and a “riskconserving” effect—account for the different outcomes.
By Hongbin Cai & Daniel Treisman. Here’s the whole thing (pdf). This is probably more right than wrong, but you gotta wonder: what’s “the social optimum”?