Holiday reading

As usual, news is a bit thin at this time of the year, but for those who are looking for holiday reading in the political sphere I’ve put together some links to interesting stuff that I’ve come across recently.


Crikey last week published my summary of the year’s top ten elections (it may or may not be out from behind the paywall by now). It was only when I was compiling it that I realised what a dreadful year it had been for incumbents – much worse than at the height of the global financial crisis. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues into 2016.

Australian politics

My friend Andrew Elder at Press Gallery Reform (formerly Politically Homeless) has a lovely piece on the media’s love of bipartisanship, specifically in the context of offshore processing of refugees. As he says, “Almost all bad policy is bipartisan,” but it takes a lot less work to just count up the number of supporters it has than to actually investigate whether it will work.

Britain and the polls

Anthony Wells and Doug Rivers, from British pollster YouGov, have put out a report on their company’s abject failure (and that of its competitors as well) to pick the result of this year’s UK election – and on what they can do to avoid similar failures in the future. It makes fascinating reading, although I would have liked to see a discussion of the extent to which this is more than just a British problem, given poor polling performance around the world during 2015.

Russia and Ukraine

Perry Anderson in New Left Review has a very thorough dissection of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, so even-handed that it will probably infuriate both pro- and anti-Putin lobbies about equally. Those looking for a more hostile treatment can get it from John Besemeres at Inside Story; personally I found it so relentless that I started feeling sympathy for Putin in spite of myself.

Porn and the death of intellectual property

Scott Sumner at TheMoneyIllusion admits that his title, “Does the porn industry point the way to a more equal America?“, is partly intended as clickbait, but it’s still a really interesting read. Drawing on an analysis in Wired magazine, he argues that profits in the pornography industry have collapsed because technology has made it impossible to preserve the monopoly rents of intellectual “property” – and that other industries would go the same way if the government let them. “[I]t’s not so much market power that is key, but rather political power. Some industries have it, and the porn industry does not.”

American politics

Don’t miss a great pair of articles at the Atlantic: Peter Beinart on “Why America is moving left,” and David Frum on “The great Republican revolt.” Each author has his particular blindnesses – Beinart is deeply confused about economic policy, and Frum is much more indulgent than he should be towards the racism at the heart of the Trump caravan – but they complement each other well. Essential background as we head into election year.

Religion in America

There’s a new Pew Research Centre report out on the importance of religion in America. I haven’t had time to read it all yet, but they’re always interesting, and the graph of religiosity against GDP per capita is wonderful. Incidentally, as Noam Sheizaf points out, it also argues against the idea that religion is particularly important to the Middle East conflict: Israel and the Palestinian territories are both pretty much right on the curve, whereas the US is an extreme outlier.

Religion in Rome

And for something a bit different, have a read of Tom Roberts at National Catholic Reporter on Pope Francis’s latest musings about Catholic doctrine, specifically the church’s murderous ban on artificial contraception. He gives the impression of a man who disagrees comprehensively with his predecessors’ teaching, but is very carefully probing the political limits of how explicitly he can say that – and doing so quite effectively. So much so that Roberts, despite laying it all out clearly, still doesn’t seem to get it.


That’s it for this year. Enjoy the rest of your holidays, and best wishes for a very happy 2016.


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