Print Story Shoot him again, his soul is still dancing
Diary
By TheophileEscargot (Sat Apr 11, 2015 at 09:06:04 AM EST) Reading, Politics, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "61 Hours", "The Confidence Trap", "Joyland". Politics. Links.


What I'm Reading
61 Hours by Lee Child. The fourteenth Jack Reacher novel. This time he gets a ride on a tour bus which breaks down in a town where the police are trying to protect a witness from assassination by gangsters. Another high quality entry in the series: in this one things aren't too easy for him as sometimes happens.

Only annoyance: what's clearly described as a Boeing 737 in the text is a 747 on the cover.

What I'm Reading 2
The Confidence Trap by David Runciman. Book about the problems of democracy. Takes a look at a series of crises, starting with the First World War and ending with the recent banking crisis. Runciman then tries to draw out patterns in how democracies work and fail. He thinks that a fundamental problem of the democracy is the "confidence trap" of the title: believing that their democracy is adapatable enough to solve any crisis, politicians defer solving crises until the last minute, thus putting things under threat.

I'm not that convinced by the "confidence trap" itself. It could just be that compared to autocracies, democracies find it difficult to make short-term costs for short-term gain.

However, a lot of his other points are interesting. As an aside he points out that leaders who present themselves as great transformers: Woodrow Wilson, Barack Obama, rarely make great changes. Instead it's often grizzled, uncharismatic career politicians like Lyndon Johnson who use their skills to get changes made.

As ever the problem with these generalisations is that the true ones tend to be a bit obvious, and the non-obvious can seem dubious. He points out that democracies are more adaptable than autocracies, paradoxically sometimes less sensitive to public opinion since they know what it is, less capable of drastic action. There are a few statistics: democracies are apparently 75% likely to win a war, but unlikely to go to war against another democracy. No democracy with a per capita income over $7000 has ever returned to autocracy. Democracies are prone to panic over small issues and ignore big ones, perhaps because the signal is lost in the noise.

The best parts though are the detailed descriptions of the crises, and the illuminating references to how other people have thought about democracy, like de Toqueville, Francis Fukuyama etc.

Overall, an interesting read, but not revolutionary. Perhaps all democratic political theory is a series of footnotes to de Toqueville: democracy is chaotic but surprisingly successful.

Review, review, review, review.

What I'm Reading 3
Joyland by Stephen King. Short (!!!) supernatural crime novel about a college student in the 70s who takes a job working at a theme park. Good book, well balanced between nostalgia and sentimentality and a few bits of horror. Surprisingly compulsive considering so little happens: Stephen King still has the skills to keep you reading. Entertaining but not a classic.

Politics
With the election coming up, went through the depressing experience of looking back through my Politics diaries. Immediately after the last election I was "reasonably happy with the election results" believing that the Conservatives would "be forced to be more moderate". Then I noticed "a couple of worrying little signs". Then the first budget was "worse than I expected" "more hardline, more Thatcherite". Then I realised "The Lib Dems have been bought off with a voting change ... the coalition has resulted in more extreme policies than a majority government could get away with."

In one of the little ironies of politics, after selling out their country in the interests of their party, the Lib Dems never actually got their silver. They lost the AV referendum, and a convenient backbench rebellion meant they never got the PR-elected House of Lords that was going to be their MPs' lifeboat. They now face heavy losses in the election. Weirdly, their MPS might have had a better chance of keeping cushy jobs if they'd actually tried to do what their voters wanted.

So with the parties close together in the polls, it looks like again that we're going to be faced with a coalition. I've never been that keen on coalitions, and after reading "In It Together" and "5 Days in May" I'm even less so now. The coalition negotiations last time were not a struggle between parties valiantly trying to get as much of their manifestos in as possible, but parties gleefully abandoning their manifesto commitments in favour of private ideologies and self-interest.

That said, I don't think we'll see exactly the same failure mode next time: knowing that you can't rely on promises from the larger party will surely put some pressure on the smaller to get something for their base. Or the reaction might be against coalitions and back to weak minority governments.

So where are we now?

A combination of weak global demand and excessive spending cuts has given us five years of desperately low growth. Low growth means less tax money received which makes it harder to reduce deficits. The "structural" deficit was allegedly going to be eliminated by now: instead it's roughly halved, because the spending cuts that were supposed to eliminate it, worsened it. We have a catastrophic collapse of productivity: as the Economist pointed out, with 20% higher productivity, a Frenchman can take Friday off and produce as much as a Briton in a week. The silver lining was that this has actually helped with unemployment: since it takes 5 Britons to do the work of 4 Frenchmen we have more Brits in work, albeit earning less money. We have a low-growth, low-productivity, low-wage, low-skill economy.

None of the parties seems to have any kind of clue what to do about it. Nor do they have any plausible solutions to the problems of spiralling housing costs in the parts of the countries with jobs, apart from the brilliant idea of pumping more state money into already overheated markets. There are no modern day Harold MacMillans ready to build 300,000 houses per year.

I'm in what should be a safe Lib Dem seat where they had a 20% majority over the Tories with Labour a very distant third. Apparently a local poll had the Tories slighly ahead which has the Lib Dems doing a lot of campaigning: they must be expecting a near-wipeout if they're piling resources into constituencies like this. So I'll be voting Green, since all I can do here is send messages. For the government itself, I don't see much hope.

Links
Little evidence that diversity is bad for social cohesion, PDF. Plutocracy 1.0. The end of asymmetric information? Dani Rodrik interview

Politics. Fearful of a Mrs Duffy moment, party leaders are taking every precaution to avoid an unscripted encounter with members of the public. There is something really wrong with David Cameron. Locking the SNP out of government at Westminster would only fuel nationalism. Don't blame rising inequality on technological change. England’s arrogant nationalism has been a gift to the SNP: "For two years, we have been told that the key force in British politics was Ukip".

Pics. Cutesy "handmade in San Francisco" store Flavor has anti-homeless spikes shaped like flowers .

Video. A380 cuts clouds. Women Self Defense - 1947.

Random. Best 70s vests.

Articles. Men & Dating: Why the Pick-Up Scene Gets it Wrong. The Ghost of Grindr. Heinlein's politics. For Homeless Women, Having a Period Isn't a Hassle - It's a Nightmare. Bathing in the Middle Ages. Animal matriarchy.

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Shoot him again, his soul is still dancing | 15 comments (15 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
democracy vs. autocracy by lm (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat Apr 11, 2015 at 03:07:46 PM EST
The closer I'm getting to finishing my MA thesis, the more I'm convinced that Farabi (and Plato before him) were correct in assessing that the outward forms of regimes (democracy, aristocracy, etc.) are less important than the intent of the people running the regime. Whether a democracy is nimble in arising to challenges depends more on the people doing the voting than the fact that they've got a democratic form of government. Same with the autocrat. That she's an autocrat matters less than what drives her to be an autocrat.

Also history is littered with democracy vs. democracy wars going back to the days of ancient Greece. The war of 1812 is a good example unless you don't consider Britain a democracy in those days. The US civil war is another. More recently there's Lebanon's involvement in the 6 day war, the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, and the Bosnian/Croatian war.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
intent of people running the regime by wumpus (4.00 / 1) #3 Sat Apr 11, 2015 at 08:05:43 PM EST
This assumes that we are either talking about a republic instead of a democracy (or that the democratic citizens simply follow a limited set of leaders, likely the only way possible to have a job/life/whatever and still do the necessary voting). Also, I'd be curious to know which requires more propaganda, bread, and circuses: the autocrats to keep the subjects in line or the democrats to keep the citizens voting the "proper" way.

Wumpus

[ Parent ]
there is no difference by lm (4.00 / 1) #5 Sat Apr 11, 2015 at 09:09:35 PM EST
Classically speaking a republic (res publica) and a democracy (demos cracy) are the same thing. One word comes from Latin and the other from Greek. It is true that the Greek word commonly translated as "republic" (politea) differs from "democracy" and that Plato differentiated between two forms of democracy (one the worst of the good regimes and the other the best of the bad regimes).

But that is neither here nor there to my point. One democracy does not necessarily have anything in common with another other than the outward forms of organization.

Consider it this way. The democratic actions of a group of people intent on serving the common good will differ from the actions of a group of people intent on serving their own self interest.

Both might require the same amount of propaganda. Propaganda, after all, is only a tool for persuasion. One can use it regardless of one's intent.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Democracy by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #7 Sun Apr 12, 2015 at 03:33:26 PM EST
He doesn't say that they never go to war against other democracies, just that it's comparatively rare. Surely the intent of the people running the machine will depend on the character of the people running the regime, which is likely to be differ (on average) between autocracies and democracies.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Is it really comparatively rare? by lm (4.00 / 1) #10 Sun Apr 12, 2015 at 08:15:50 PM EST
Once one accounts for how many fewer democracies there are compared to other sorts of regimes, I'm not sure it's really comparatively more rare.

I'm not certain that it is obvious that intent varies between autocracies and democracies. Rather it seems to me that in both cases there is room for advisers, technocrats and others of that sort to be pulling the strings regardless of whether or not the general populace gets to vote.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
As always by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #11 Mon Apr 13, 2015 at 12:29:09 AM EST
People can argue about it but it seems plausible to me.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
The McDonalds Peace Theory seems more plausible by lm (2.00 / 0) #15 Wed Apr 15, 2015 at 06:50:23 AM EST
http://www.romeconomics.com/the-mcdonalds-peace-theory/

Or at least it has a better track record. All of the exceptions that I know of involve Russia.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
the end of asymmetric information links by the mariner (4.00 / 2) #2 Sat Apr 11, 2015 at 06:37:05 PM EST
were disappointing. i thought they were going to say that megan mcardle was going to stop blogging. then i realized i hadn't heard of her blogging for a long time, so it probably didn't matter.

The whole premise seemed odd. by wumpus (4.00 / 1) #4 Sat Apr 11, 2015 at 08:09:24 PM EST
Google is mind-bogglingly rich by having more information than anyone else. It seems to refute things a bit. Then there is the whole field of denialism: create your own information asymmetry for fun and profit.

Wumpus

[ Parent ]
there's also the fact that information available by the mariner (4.00 / 1) #8 Sun Apr 12, 2015 at 04:45:12 PM EST
via the internet is infinitesimal compared to the amount of information that exists, especially as it relates to matters of actual economic importance. search engines do nothing to address that. maybe hacking chips away at information asymmetry, but that's about it. also worth remembering that having information and being able to use it are radically different things.

[ Parent ]
I keep an eye on her blog by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #12 Mon Apr 13, 2015 at 06:43:59 AM EST
For trolling opportunities, and the cooking entries.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

[ Parent ]
rip, internet food association by the mariner (4.00 / 1) #14 Mon Apr 13, 2015 at 12:17:07 PM EST


[ Parent ]
I just don't understand by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #6 Sun Apr 12, 2015 at 09:31:41 AM EST
why Zoe didn't simply use her socialised medicine to get the Pill and terminate her monthly flow. With that sort of obvious solution right in front of her, I have to wonder about her attention-seeking behaviour.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

From where I'm sitting by Herring (4.00 / 2) #9 Sun Apr 12, 2015 at 06:51:55 PM EST
There seem to be two big upcoming problems for any government: I get the feeling that nobody really wants to govern. The whole situation is so shit and so complicated. This is probably why nobody clever goes into politics anymore. 

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky
Dalek invasion as solution to housing crisis? by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #13 Mon Apr 13, 2015 at 11:18:06 AM EST
I like your ideas and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

[ Parent ]
Shoot him again, his soul is still dancing | 15 comments (15 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback