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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
|< 888.com | It's been a long time since I"ve diaried >|