Sunday reading

I hope everyone’s enjoying their weekend. If you’re looking for something to read, here are some suggestions taken from things that I’ve come across on the internet recently.

Peter Beinart in the Atlantic revisits the links between right-wing authoritarianism and misogyny – the basic idea is well known, but this is a good up-to-date presentation of it with some interesting data.

If you want to feel depressed, read Tyler Cohen at Bloomberg on the travails of Emmanuel Macron. He seems convinced that Macron is getting it wrong, but is conspicuously short on suggestions for how he could do better.

Also at Bloomberg, but more encouraging, is this story from Noah Feldman on how Brett Kavanaugh is already disappointing the hard-line conservative bloc on the US Supreme Court, and how he may stop the court from drifting too far from the mainstream.

A very interesting Harvard University study looks at online media’s role in the 2016 presidential election, quantifying some of the free kick that the Trump campaign was given and the way that media ideas of “neutrality” played into the hands of liars.

Alexander Hurst in the New Republic treats Trumpism – reasonably enough – as a new type of cult, and looks at some of the literature on cult deprogramming for hints as to how it might ultimately be dealt with.

Batya Ungar-Sargon at Forward has a very clear explanation of how it is that Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters can align themselves with far-right antisemites: because they and their critics have different ideas about what being Jewish means, which leads them to adopt completely different definitions of antisemitism.

For fans of the shifting fortunes of “neoliberalism”, Phillip Magness at the American Institute for Economic Research has done some digging into European debates of the 1920s, although the contemporary relevance is less than clear.

The Economist has a long but important read on the shifting fortunes of Deng Xiaoping, who unleashed China’s economic miracle, and how under Xi Jinping the country is turning its back on reformism in favor of dogma and government control.

The best thing I’ve read on this week’s Brexit developments is this piece by Gary Younge in the Guardian, which eviscerates both Theresa May and her hard-Brexiter opponents.

Mark Lila in the New York Review of Books dives deep into the competing currents of the French hard right: I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, but there’s lots of fascinating material, and I think the basic idea of a split between “classical organic conservatism” and “reactionary Christian nationalism” is pretty much right.

Coming back to Australia, Norman Abjorensen at Inside Story has a very sensible presentation of how the Liberal Party got to where it is and the difficulties it faces in sorting out its future.

And to put our country in a slightly better light, Michael McVeigh in Eureka Street retells the inspiring story of William Cooper on the eightieth anniversary of his protest against Kristallnacht.

3 thoughts on “Sunday reading

  1. Tx for the pointer to Tyler Cowen, but you have the wrong link. Here is the correct one:
    https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-12-12/macron-is-the-wrong-man-for-france-right-now

    I agree that his piece is typical of what I keep reading: all kinds of complaints about Macron “not getting it” and his low popularity, blah, blah, yet absolutely zip in the way of meaningful solutions. Cowen complains that Macron’s concessions were “abject financial pandering” (and that it will only lead to more demands; I can agree to that part), yet before long he writes “More income redistribution is necessary”. Voila. The tricky part, that Cowen admits, other than a bit of libertarian handwaving, is that no one really has a good idea of how to do it (and not bust government budgets or debt etc). Varoufakis had a shot last week, while he tried to shoot down Piketty MkII (or is it 3) version of something similar: they all involve more taxes by a more-central authority and redistributing it in essentially ‘make-work’ schemes by the state.

    In a Guardian article about the fifth gilets jaunes protests this weekend, one of the protestors (from the provinces) says: “For 40 years I have worked and have had a hatred of the state. As a freelancer, I have the right to pay taxes and get nothing back in return. The state has crushed us. When this movement started I saw it as a means of expressing that hatred,” she said.”

    This highlights one of the contradictions many global travellers note when in France (even more so when one has lived there, ie. like me): the French don’t know how lucky they are! Of course this is from the eyes of the global elite which I reluctantly have to admit I must be part of (but alas, if only it meant I had the wealth that implies!). The French who say these kinds of complaints actually don’t know, or more important have never experienced other nations, to make the comparisons (and those who have, by definition are not the ones to experience the bottom of the SES in France). Though they are kind of aware of, but unable to fully appreciate, France’s world-beating healthcare system, arguable best transport system (city transit, inter-city rail, road) and actual low (if rising) inequality, not to mention all the quality of life issues too easily taken for granted. Cowen writes:

    “The French have an amazing country: high labor productivity, a quality civil service, incredible vacations, and perhaps the most refined level of cultural taste in the world. Yet all that, sadly, is not enough.”

    To jive off de Gaulle, and to put Macron’s dilemma in perspective, how can you govern such a people with 360 different types of cheese?

    Another salient thing from the Guardian article: “… one branch of the movement La France en Colère (Angry France) issued widely acclaimed demands for France to be governed by RIC (Référendum d’Initiative Citoyenne, or Citizens’ Initiative Referendum), for the French constitution to be rewritten to allow greater political power to the people and a reduction in tax on essential goods, including food, heating, water and clothing.”

    This reflects a strength and weakness of France’s Fifth Republic as created by control-freak de Gaulle: the president has an awful lot of power, yet the downside is exactly as we see. LREM has total dominance in parliament and I believe I noted (on this blog?) that this might be good and sustainable perhaps for most of Macron’s first term, but ultimately it was too much control by one party, and couldn’t hold. The pressures have built up against it much faster than I predicted. I’m not quite as pessimistic as many Anglosphere commentators are about Macron, but this problem is the mirror inverse of what we have in the Anglosphere, ie. two major parties which cannot encompass societies’ diversity and needs, such that there is corrosive dissent within all these parties and their leaders, PMs or presidents, are weak or divisive for exactly this reason. Therese May be unpopular and a weak leader but the latest polls show Corbyn has lost credibility enormously, mostly due to lack of any clear leadership on Brexit. The odd thing is how a similar malady is afflicting even Sweden and Germany despite their multi-party system (something I still claim is part of the solution to our problems), but I would say that it is because they have both inadvertently degraded the benefit of the multi-party system; in Sweden’s case by creating a pseudo two-party grouping of parties, and Germany by allowing one party (itself a coalition not entirely happy internally) to become too dominant–which also is undermining the leader (as I have warned about Merkel outliving her welcome by 2 terms).

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    1. Thanks Michael – link now fixed. Yes, I agree that the French don’t realise how fortunate they are; telling them that, however, is not a good political move. This is high on my list to write more about next week.

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  2. Now this is more like it:

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/dec/17/france-alone-new-tax-big-tech-companies-gafa
    France pushes forward alone with new tax on big tech companies
    Tax will come into effect from 1 January, but plans for an EU-wide levy have faltered
    Rob Davies, 17 Dec 2018

    France is to press ahead alone with a new tax on big technology companies after struggling to secure agreement for a EU-wide levy. The French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, said he believed the tax, which will take effect from 1 January, would raise €500m (£450m) in its first year.
    France has been pushing for a EU GAFA tax – named after Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon – but faced opposition from countries including Ireland, which hosts the European headquarters of several technology companies, including Google and Apple.
    The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group of major world economies, has been working on proposals for an international scheme that would regulate taxation on technology companies.
    France has also been working with Germany on plans for a 3% tax on EU advertising sales that would begin in 2021.
    The plans are a response to the often complex corporate structures set up by several companies that derive huge revenues from major European economies but allow them slash their tax bills by shifting profits to low-tax jurisdictions. Progress on both the OECD and the Franco-German proposals has been slow, prompting France to move ahead unilaterally.
    ………………………………………

    This kind of thing takes a lot of bureaucratic and political preparation but I strongly suspect it has been brought forward by the Gilets Jaunes protests (even as they peter out). If only Macron had done things like this instead of fritter political and popular capital on removing the Wealth Tax! Even this move against GAFA runs into the usual delays and pushback by the usual suspects, it sends the correct message. It might also provoke the EU into moving faster … though with Ireland (and the UK … still) fighting it.

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