Wednesday 27 January, 2021

Remember bookstalls?

The pre-pandemic past is indeed looking like a different country.

Quote of the Day

”Freedom is the right to do anything the laws permit.”

  • Montesquieu, De ‘’Esprit des lois, 1748

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Mark Knopfler – Going Home (Theme of Local Hero)

This is his performance at the Goodwood Memorial event for Stirling Moss. Audio quality is not as good as studio and concert versions, but it has what sound engineers call ‘atmos’.


Three Weeks Inside a Pro-Trump QAnon Chat Room

An unmissable, astonishing, troubling and revelatory piece of reportage by Stuart A. Thompson. Takes you to places you would prefer not to exist in a democracy. The danger is that it encourages one to lurch towards epistocracy, which is not the way to go either. But it helps to explain the size of the task now facing Biden and his Administration.

Make sure the audio isn’t muted when you start on the piece btw.

Computing the Sorrow

Wonderful post by David Vincent:

January 27. Boris Johnson says it is ‘hard to compute the sorrow’ after the official covid-19 death rate passes 100,000 in the UK.

In fact there is a perfectly simple calculation that can be made. Grief professionals work on the basis of at least five bereaved people for every death. On current figures that gives us a population of half a million in the UK facing a lonely future. If we take the more accurate figure of those dying with covid-19 on their death certificates, the number is already 600,000. Globally there are now 100 million deaths, generating a population of half a billion coming to terms with traumatic loss.

Estimating the length of the sorrow is a more difficult task. There seems to be an inverse ratio at work: the more rapid the event of dying, the more extended the process of grieving.

The struggle to come to terms with a loss begins more uncertainly and is likely to proceed more slowly that is the case for non-pandemic bereavements. In this sense Johnson was for once correct in his account. It will be a long time before we can take a measure of the suffering generated by a death rate that is the fifth highest in the world, and the second highest as a proportion of the population.

Worth reading in full.

Liberal Property Law vs. Capitalism

There’s an interesting venture, the Law and Political Economy (LPE) project, (based, I think in Yale Law School). One of the things they do is to pick an interesting or important book and hold a running online symposium on it as one blog post a day from different members of the project.

The symposium I’ve been following is on Hanoch Dagan’s book, A Liberal Theory of Property. Today’s blog post was by Professor Katharina Pistor from Columbia Law School.

Pistor turns out to have some pretty serious disagreements with Dagan, but her piece is a great example of how to disagree respectfully. Here’s how it begins…

Hanoch Dagan has written a wonderful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking book. Its publication could have hardly come at a more prescient time. Many observers and commentators rightly despair over the lack of opportunities the current economic and legal regime offers to the many while it privileges the few. Calls for socialism are growing louder as there seems to be no alternative given the realities of the neoliberal order.

Against this background, Hanoch develops a theory of private property that is truly liberal in the original meaning of the term: a theory built on the principle of individual autonomy, or “self-authorship,” but also on structural pluralism and relational justice. This requires a legal order, a commitment to recognize and enforce only rights that meet these fundamental norms, which is why his is a theory of property law and not merely property. Property law confers rights on individuals, which they can use against the state, but, critically, also against fellow humans. A liberal property law, Hanoch argues forcefully, shall not condone the use of property rights to suppress others.

From this normative vantage point it is impossible to endorse private property rights as a Blackstonian “sole and despotic dominion.”…

I wish more debates were as good as this. I remember someone advising me that the best way to have a productive argument with someone is first of all to state (or re-state) his or her argument in the clearest way you can before commencing to explain why you disagree with it.

Hard to do, but always worth trying. Doesn’t work on social media, though.

J. M. Keynes and the Visible Hands

One of my favourite books — as readers of my Lockdown diary will know — is John Maynard-Keynes’s The Economic Consequences of the Peace, an excoriating attack on the Treaty of Versailles and the statesmen who drafted it. Not surprisingly, then, I was a drawn to this  essay about it by Kent Puckett who is less enamoured of the book than I was/am, largely on the grounds that Keynes’s predictions about the economic consequences of the treaty were wrong. But Puckett does find an original angle — Keynes’s fascination with other people’s hands.

Published in December 1919, Keynes’s book was a sensation. Running quickly into several editions in Britain and America, the book caught fire not only as a wickedly smart condensation of the political and economic doubts that had been forming on both sides of the Atlantic but also—maybe even more so—for its ruthlessly personal depictions of Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, and Woodrow Wilson. After all, where else could one read about the thickness of Clemenceau’s boots or the shape of Wilson’s hands (figure 1)?

It’s those ‘ruthlessly personal depictions’ that I first loved about the book. His caricature of Lloyd George is great, but he reserved most of his fire for Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson — the “blind and deaf Don Quixote” of Versailles.

“His head and features were finely cut and exactly like his photographs, and the muscles of his neck and the carriage of his head were distinguished. But, like Odysseus, the President looked wiser when he was seated; and his hands, though capable and fairly strong, were wanting in sensitiveness and finesse.”

The essay is part of a series. Intro here.

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