The end of The End of History man?

From a scarifying review by Stephen Holmes of Francis Fukuyama’s new book, Identity: the Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment:

Fukuyama is right to reject criticism that his first book, The End of History and the Last Man (1992), was an expression of liberal triumphalism. Its gloomy insistence on the spiritual meaninglessness likely to befall late capitalist societies, in which atheist consumers have nothing serious to live for, rules out such breezy optimism. But he did imply, paradoxically, that after the wholly unanticipated collapse of communism there would be no more surprises about “the default form of government for much of the world, at least in aspiration.” What he now sees, but could not have foreseen at the time, was that the high tide of liberal democracy would last a mere fifteen years: “Beginning in the mid-2000s, the momentum toward an increasingly open and liberal world order began to falter, then went into reverse.” Identity politics, he has now concluded, explains why liberal democracy has ceased to impress much of the world as the ideal form of political and social organization.

Fukuyama’s analysis, says Holmes,

is flawed in several ways. Three decades ago, he argued that the human desire for respect and recognition was the driving force behind the universal embrace of liberal democracy. Today, he depicts the human desire for respect and recognition as the driving force behind the repudiation of liberal democracy. The reader’s hope for some account, or even mention, of this extraordinary volte face goes unfulfilled. Nor does Fukuyama squarely address the impossibility of explaining recent ups and downs in the prestige of liberal democracy by invoking an eternal longing of the human soul. What’s more, he fails to consider the possibility that after 1989 the obligation for ex-Communist countries to imitate the West, which was how his End-of-History thesis was put into practice, might itself have been experienced in countries like Hungary and Poland as a source of humiliation and subordination destined to excite antiliberal resentment and an aggressive reassertion of nationalism.

Wow! Great review..

How did disaster become the default option for a mature democracy?

Sobering view from the Economist which argues that, for procedural reasons, a no-deal Brexit has become, in effect, “the default option”:

As Cathy Haddon of the Institute for Government, a think-tank, puts it, “Parliament can vote for any number of motions, resolutions and amendments to bills, but none of these on their own is enough to stop no deal.” Only three things, she says, can do that: passing an agreed Brexit deal; seeking an extension of Article 50, which needs the unanimous approval of 27 other EU governments, some of which will be reluctant; or revoking the original Article 50 letter, which can be done unilaterally up to March 29th but would be hugely embarrassing for Mrs May.

A Green New Deal?

Interesting NYT column by Tom Friedman:

Clean energy is a problem of scale. If you don’t have scale, you have a hobby. I like hobbies. I used to build model airplanes. But you can’t mitigate climate change as a hobby. The reason I called for a Green New Deal was first and foremost to convey that this undertaking required a massive, urgent response commensurate with the scale and time frame posed by accelerating disruptive climate.

For too long, he continues, “green” was viewed as a synonym for a project that was “boutique, uneconomical, liberal, sissy and vaguely French”.

I wanted to recast green as geostrategic, capitalistic, economical, innovative and patriotic. My motto was, “Green is the new red, white and blue.” I did not believe in being a “nice” green. I believed in being a mean green. I believed greens should be as brassy, bold, big sky and in-your-face as any oil and gas executive.

Corbyn parts company with his own party

Splendid Observer column by Andrew Rawnsley:

What would Mr Corbyn do when he and his members desired something contradictory? How would he act when they had fundamentally different worldviews? Would he put aside his own preferences in deference to the sovereignty of the Labour people? Or would he behave just like the “establishment” politicians he has spent a lifetime condemning and seek to subordinate the will of the members to his own opinions?

We now know. The Brexit blowtorch has burnt away many fantasises. One of the items on the bonfire of illusions is the notion that the Labour leader is in some way a special one, so different to all other politicians as to be almost not a politician at all. It turns out that he is just another manoeuvring, equivocating hack when he wants one thing and his members want the opposite.

This split is not a slight difference of opinion on a low-order issue. We are talking about something a bit more important than how to regulate the provision of manhole covers. This is about the most significant question to face Britain for decades. Some 73% of people currently identifying as Labour supporters think that the UK was wrong to vote to leave the EU. That rises to a whopping 89% among Labour members. As you might expect to follow, most Labour members and most Labour voters want the party to come out in full support of another referendum on Brexit, a move that would transform the chances of the country being given a fresh choice.

The bottom line, as Rawnsley observes, is that sometimes, the simplest explanations for human behaviour are the best ones. The Labour leader is not making any effort to prevent Brexit because he doesn’t want to prevent Brexit. So if Labour supporters want another referendum (and we now know, courtesy of Tim Bales’s research that they do), they will have to learn from their leader’s time-honoured practice and rebel against him.

Tyler Cowen on the impossibility of regulating speech on Internet platforms

From his latest Bloomberg column:

I’d like to suggest a simple trilemma. When it comes to private platforms and speech regulation, you can choose two of three: scalability, effectiveness and consistency. You cannot have all three. Furthermore, this trilemma suggests that we — whether as users, citizens or indeed managers of the platforms themselves — won’t ever be happy with how speech is regulated on the internet.

One view, which may appear cynical, is that the platforms are worth having, so they should appease us by at least trying to regulate effectively, even though both of us know they won’t really succeed. Circa 2019, I don’t see a better solution. Another view is that we’d be better off with how things were a few years ago, when platform regulation of speech was not such a big issue. After all, we Americans don’t flip out when we learn that Amazon sells copies of “Mein Kampf.”

The problem is that once you learn about what you can’t have — speech regulation that is scalable, consistent and hostile to bad agents — it is hard to get used to that fact. Going forward, we’re likely to see platform companies trying harder and harder, and their critics getting louder and louder.

I like his ‘trilemma’ idea. It reminds me of Dani Rodrik’s one, which says that democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full.

How companies are addressing machine learning

From an O’Reilly newsletter:

In a recent O’Reilly survey, we found that the skills gap remains one of the key challenges holding back the adoption of machine learning. The demand for data skills (“the sexiest job of the 21st century”) hasn’t dissipated—LinkedIn recently found that demand for data scientists in the US is “off the charts,” and our survey indicated that the demand for data scientists and data engineers is strong not just in the US but globally.

With the average shelf life of a skill today at less than five years and the cost to replace an employee estimated at between six and nine months of the position’s salary, there’s increasing pressure on tech leaders to retain and upskill rather than replace their employees in order to keep data projects (such as machine learning implementations) on track. We’re also seeing more training programs aimed at executives and decision makers, who need to understand how these new ML technologies can impact their current operations and products.

Beyond investments in narrowing the skills gap, companies are beginning to put processes in place for their data science projects, for example creating analytics centers of excellence that centralize capabilities and share best practices. Some companies are also actively maintaining a portfolio of use cases and opportunities for ML.

Note the average shelf-life of a skill and then ponder why the UK government is not boosting the Open University.

Eliot Cohen on Jim Mattis

Nice appreciative piece:

Henceforth, the senior ranks of government can be filled only by invertebrates and opportunists, schemers and careerists. If they had policy convictions, they will meekly accept their evisceration. If they know a choice is a disaster, they will swallow hard and go along. They may try to manipulate the president, or make some feeble efforts to subvert him, but in the end they will follow him. And although patriotism may motivate some of them, the truth is that it will be the title, the office, the car, and the chance to be in the policy game that will keep them there.

They may think wistfully of the unflinching Sir Thomas More of Robert Bolt’s magnificent play about integrity in politics, A Man for All Seasons. But they will be more like Richie Rich, More’s protégé who could have chosen a better path, but who succumbed to the lure of power. And the result will be policies that take this country, its allies, and international order to disasters small and large.

Jim Mattis’s life has been shaped by the Marine motto: semper fidelis, always faithful. Against the odds, he remained faithful to his beliefs, to his subordinates, to the mission, to the country. The president who appointed him to the office might have as the motto on his phony coat of arms numquam fidelis, never loyal. His career has been one of betrayal—of business partners, of customers, of subordinates, of his wives, and as we may very possibly learn from Robert Mueller, of his country. The two codes of conduct could never really coexist, and so they have not.

Yep. The surprising thing is that Mattis stuck it out as long as he did. But also worth pointing out that Thomas More was no angel.

What would Trump do without Twitter?

Hard to say. But it’s an interesting question, explored here by Kara Swisher.

It also makes one wonder exactly what Mr. Trump would do without Twitter, which has become his best and only true way to communicate. He can certainly go on television and he does; he can make a live speech and he does; he can stand out on the White House lawn and he does. But it’s not the same. The lightning-fast, easy-hit addiction of Twitter has Mr. Trump hooked like none other.

And there are zero alternatives online. Facebook is too bloated and slow; Snapchat is too small and hard to use for the olds; Reddit is a hot mess. There is no other digital harbor for Mr. Trump’s carnival barker show, no place where both the left and right can react and where all the media gathers.

So what would happen to the president who governs by tweet if he finally did or said something that forced Twitter to throw him off the platform? Could he do his job at all?