Nightcap

  1. A conservatism that’s multiethnic, middle class, and populist Ross Douthat, NY Times
  2. Most legal commentary is dumbed down and misleading Ken White Popehat
  3. A social-democratic federation in a multiethnic state Branko Milanovic, globalinequality
  4. The radical leftist origins of the “self-help” movement Jennifer Wilson, the Nation

Nightcap

  1. Latin America’s democratic-imperial roots Cañizares-Esguerra & Masters, Not Even Past
  2. Ayn Rand, Roman Catholics, and the American federalists David Gordon, Modern Age
  3. Austro-Hungarian-Americans during World War I Nicole Phelps, IEFWW
  4. France and Islam, secularism and religion Andrew Hussey, New Statesman

Nightcap

  1. Will robots make humans valueless? E Glen Weyl (interview), Asahi Shimbun
  2. Gods and robots Adrienne Mayor, Noema
  3. On robots and personal identity Federico Sosa Valle, NOL
  4. Regrets, race, and surviving Hollywood Ethan Hawke (interview), Guardian

A couple of post-election thoughts

  1. The left has not learned the right lesson.
  2. What the hell is up with Predictit?

Trump was the perfect Madisonian teachable moment. A horrifying figure who I wouldn’t trust to watch my drink while I got up to hang my coat. The lesson should have been clear: scale back the power in the Oval Office. But now that the pendulum has swung the other way, they “are urging him to follow President Trump’s example”. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Meanwhile, in a world where people are putting their own money on the line, people are still holding out hope that Trump will win the election he just lost. The market for predicting the winner of the presidential election has 10’s of thousands of transactions and places the probability that Trump or Biden wins at 103%. As an economist I find it disconcerting that I can still buy contracts of “Biden to win” at 88 cents. The lesson I’m taking away is that (at least when Trump is involved) there’s a wide margin of error on how accurate the prediction market estimate is.

Nightcap

  1. Israel, Palestine, and Joe Biden Michael Koplow, Ottomans & Zionists
  2. The myth of ancient hatreds Jo Laycock, History Today
  3. The hypocrisy of the Democrats Tyler Cowen, MR
  4. Back to liberal American hegemony Josef Joffe, Project Syndicate

Nightcap

  1. The politics of self-esteem Mikko Tolonen, Liberty Matters
  2. Between Allah and America Farzana Shaikh, Literary Review
  3. A history of the Russian bathhouse Rachel Polonsky, NYRB
  4. But when will Conor Friedersdorf leave the Atlantic?

Nightcap

  1. The beguiling, troubling future of work Diana Pho, Wired
  2. “College is a distraction for most kids” Rick Weber, NOL
  3. Indonesia in the Cold War Ben Bland, War on the Rocks
  4. Pandemics in the Ottoman Empire Isacar Bolaños, Origins

Nightcap

  1. How American couples are struggling through the pandemic Rafael Nam, NPR
  2. The thing party (GOP) vs. the idea party (Dems) Scott Sumner, EconLog
  3. Karl Marx was right (pretty much) Jacques Delacroix, NOL
  4. Does Max Weber’s theory hold up today? Corey Robin, New Yorker

Nightcap

  1. The self-made British working class Helene Guldberg, spiked!
  2. India and the Mughal Empire William Dalrymple, Literary Hub
  3. On decolonization in Africa Sindre Bangstad, Africa is a Country
  4. Federalism in Europe, America, and Africa (pdf) Jörg Broschek, F&D

Nightcap

  1. What’s wrong with “libertarian environmentalism”? Ed Dolan, Open Society
  2. European empire, fractured? Theodore Dalrymple, Law & Liberty
  3. On democracy and the “liberal world order” Manuel Reinert, Duck of Minerva
  4. Why I am a socialist Sam Adler-Bell, Hedgehog Review

Nightcap

  1. Migraines, operating rooms, and the common good Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
  2. Zheng Guanying’s democratic trade war Gabriel Groz, JHIBlog
  3. World War I and the ideology of empire Andrew Bacevich, Cato Unbound
  4. The curse of being a Bhutto Isambard Wilkinson, Spectator

Nightcap

  1. An insomnia epidemic? Katherine Lucky, Commonweal
  2. Childhood: facts versus fads John Simmons, LARB
  3. The many lives of Túpac Amaru Miguel La Serna, Age of Revolutions
  4. The legacy of Yevgeny Zamyatin Jacob Howland, New Criterion

On Joe Biden and America’s relationship with Iran

One of the important foreign policy priorities of President-elect Joe Biden, which will have an impact not just on the US but a number of its allies in the West – such as the UK, Germany, France (the E3), India, and Japan – is Washington’s ties with Iran. 

It will be interesting to see the ultimate shape which Biden’s Iran foreign policy takes place. Days before the announcement of the election result, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stated, in an interview to CBS news, that Iran viewed the statements emanating from the Biden camp positively, though Iran would have to wait and watch. 

While commenting on the Biden-Harris victory, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged the US to return to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Said Rouhani

Now, an opportunity has come up for the next U.S. administration to compensate for past mistakes and return to the path of complying with international agreements through respect of international norms 

Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA – Iran/P5+1 agreement in 2018, had been criticized by allies, including the E3, who were signatories to the agreement. 

President-elect Joe Biden has also unequivocally stated that he is open to the US rejoining JCPOA, subject to the fact that Iran returns to compliance with the nuclear agreement. Biden, who also served as Vice President under Obama (who had fervently backed the JCPOA), has been critical of the Trump Administration’s approach towards Iran, dubbing it as a failure. During the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Biden, along with many US allies, had also advocated that the US relax Iranian sanctions temporarily on humanitarian grounds. 

In recent months, Washington has imposed more sanctions on Iran, the latest instance being sanctions imposed days before the election on Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum, the National Iranian Oil Company, and its oil-tanker subsidiary. The reason cited for sanctions is the financial support provided by these companies to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). It would be pertinent to point out that the US was unable to snapback Iranian sanctions which had been removed under the JCPOA – UNSC members blocked US attempts. While there is skepticism with regard to the revival of the deal given that incumbent Iranian President Hassan Rouhani himself is likely to face elections soon, and there is limited room for manuevre given that hardliners in Iran (whose clout has increased as a result of Trump’s Iran policy), are averse to any engagement with the West. Senior Iranian officials have also stated that they will not accept any conditionalities from Washington.

Biden may have fundamental differences in his approach vis-à-vis the Middle East as compared to Trump for a variety of reasons. 

First, Biden is likely to be less confrontationalist vis-à-vis Iran as has already been indicated by him. 

Second, Donald Trump had a far better relationship with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, like UAE, Saudi Arabia, and others like Turkey and Egypt. Trump made no qualms about getting along with authoritarian leadership of these countries, and turning a blind eye to human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.  

Trump touted agreements between Middle Eastern countries Bahrain, the UAE, and Israel as one of his major achievements. To be fair, even his critics would grant him credit for the same. What puzzled many was his flexibility vis-à-vis North Korea and his obduracy in engaging with Iran. Former President Obama while commenting on the US withdrawal from JCPOA had remarked: 

Indeed, at a time when we are all rooting for diplomacy with North Korea to succeed, walking away from the JCPOA risks losing a deal that accomplishes – with Iran – the very outcome that we are pursuing with the North Koreans

Third, a more flexible engagement will prevent Iran from further swaying towards China, something Washington would want to prevent. One of the key factors cited for the Iran-China 25-year agreement (which will bolster economic and strategic relations between both countries) is the approach of the Trump Administration vis-à-vis Iran. 

Apart from this, Biden, who has repeatedly reiterated the point about engaging with allies, is likely to take their advice. The US President-elect has already proposed a global democracy summit where common challenges confronting the world will be discussed and it is expected that the US will seek the views of allies. 

UK, France, and Germany (E3), and Japan and India, are likely to be in favor of a different approach vis-à-vis Iran, given their economic and strategic interests.  

It is not necessary that Biden is likely to follow a policy identical to Obama’s given that global geopolitical dynamics in general and the situation in the Middle East have witnessed a significant shift. Yet a more flexible and pragmatic US approach towards Iran could prevent Tehran from veering further towards Beijing. It is also important for the US to give more space to its allies to strengthen economic linkages with Tehran. Joe Biden has numerous other challenges, and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani too has a number of problems to cope with but there is a limited window for at least getting back to the dialogue table and reducing tensions.

The politics of The Expanse

I am rewatching The Expanse, which is a deservedly popular science fiction show on Amazon Prime. It’s very good. As I said, I am rewatching it, mostly in anticipation of the new season, which comes out next month.

It’s good because I like my science fiction to be science-y. I prefer realistic scenarios. So Star Wars is not really my thing (even Star Trek is a stretch, to be honest, but DS9 is amazing).

One thing that strikes me as wrong in The Expanse is the politics. In the storyline, there are three political units: Earth, Mars, and the Belt. Earth and Mars are sovereign, and the Belt (based out of the asteroid belt) is semi-sovereign with a distinct and viable “nationalist” movement there. This is a sophisticated storyline for television. It’s better than DS9, which bore the standard for great science fiction television until The Expanse came along.

But I can’t stop thinking: why would the political alignment of the solar system be based on planets? If it were to be truly realistic, then Earth would not be a sovereign political unit. Instead, we’d have a dozen or so political units from Earth, some political units from Mars, and several from the Belt. Factions in the form of sovereign political units would dominate the political landscape, not planets.

Now, The Expanse does a good job confronting the issue of faction. Earth’s democratically-elected dictator has to deal with several factions, and Mars and the Belt both have factions, too. And several excellent subplots deal significantly with the issue of faction. But there’s not enough sovereignties in The Expanse. It doesn’t mean the series isn’t the best science fiction television series of all time (it is), but it does leave me wanting more.

Nightcap

  1. How would Wolf Blitzer respond to Savannah Guthrie on a road trip? Ryan Davis, 200-Proof Liberals
  2. What we owe to Donald J Trump Branko Milanovic, globalinequality
  3. Japan’s fragile monarchy Kenneth Ruoff, Japan Times
  4. Amy Coney Barrett on Lochner and the 14th Amendment Damon Root, Reason