State Building by Francis Fukuyama. Short book on the practicalities of establishing and improving state institutions.
There wasn't that much that was new to me from my other reading, but I did find it interesting to have everything rounded up and lucidly explained in one place.
A few concepts did seem interesting. One is the distinction he draws between the scope of state power, and the strength of state power, which he frequently draws on an axis. For instance, the US constitution limits the scope of state power to a fairly small domain, but within that domain the strength is very great: the US is relatively effective at enforcing its laws and projecting its power.
At the other corner might be a heavily socialist third world state, where the scope of state power is great, since it theoretically controls at lot, but it is actually very weak rather than strong, since it's not able to enforce its policies.
Fukuyama describes the basic pattern of the last few decades is that international institutions and economists believed that they could increase development by "shrinking the state", but failed to realise this distinction. The aim was to make developing nations more like America, with a smaller scope for the state, but more power within it. The actual effect was that the scope shrank, but so did strength, often making the states worse off than before.
Fukuyama also rounds up other good points. Institutional effectiveness is very important for development, something that was ignored in the mid to late Twentieth Century. There's no one-size-fits-all way to improve institutions: what works in one place might fail in another. In democratic institutions there's a trade-off between representativeness and governability: sometimes the more accurately an governing body reflects the actual opinions of the people, the harder it is for it to get anything done.
Fukuyama doesn't offer any pat solutions to development problems though, and there isn't anything radically new here.
The book was written in 2005, not long after the September 11th attacks, and Fukuyama buys rather uncritically into the notion that state building has become a matter of national security since failed states can breed terrorists. This looks less plausible today: the Madrid and London bombings show that home-grown terrorists from the same organizations can be effective: training and planning in failed states doesn't seem to be that critical to the success of terrorism.
Overall, fairly interesting, worth a look if you want an overview.
What I'm Reading 2
Incompetence by Rob Grant. Comedy thriller by one of the Red Dwarf writers, set in a future Europe where discrimination on ability has been forbidden, so almost everyone is incompetent at their job, and pointless politically-correct bureaucracy makes life tough.
Didn't really get into it. It might have been fresher back when the book was written but this kind of thing seems pretty cliched now. Already feels a bit dated for the future, for instance the wacky description of how absolutely everyone had a mobile phone and absolutely everyone was talking into it.
Overall, didn't make me laugh, but it might just be that I can't get into the hyperbolic descriptions that are the main source of humor.
What I'm Reading 3
Also read another old science fiction book, On the Beach by Nevil Shute. Written in 1957 but set in the early sixties, this one feels a lot less dated.
This is a short post-apocalyptic novel. Cobalt bombs have poisoned most of the world after a nuclear war: Australia has survived for a couple of years, but now the radiation is gradually moving south, killing as it goes.
It's a very low-key book. There not much riot or panic here: the characters mostly accept their fate fairly calmly: some continuing with their lives, some trying frantically to achieve lifetime goals, some sinking into hedonism.
That gives it a very plausible feel: this is the most realistic-feeling book I've read about the end of the world.
Very well-done and very moving: definitely worth reading. However it's not exactly cheerful, might leave you pretty depressed if you're in the wrong mood.
Gradually moving into the new property. Girl B moved her stuff in last weekend. I moved in some essentials last week, and I'm moving most of the rest of my stuff in on Sunday, I spent the last few nights there.
It's been pretty stressful, but we seem to be getting things sorted a bit now.
Socioeconomics. Fewer prison breakouts.
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