29 October 2011

Highly recommended reading

It seems both John at Economics is for Donkeys and California Constantian have been in top form this past week.

John has linked to a great article over at Naked Capitalism, which does an excellent job of cutting past the layers of mendacity surrounding Greece’s fiscal crisis as in, say, the Financial Times: hardly the outcome of an overactive welfare state, the problem in Greece is that a significant portion of its populace (the top earners, to be precise) pays next to nothing in taxes, and (long story short) the current institutional setup is such that the government is powerless to do anything about its own monetary policy.

California Constantian, on the other hand, has touched on matters somewhat closer to home geographically, and in a way which I highly appreciate. The former part, which reduces to absurdity Ron Paul’s claims to anti-corporatism by noting that the policies he favours all have a disturbing tendency in the pro-corporate direction, concludes that measuring one’s own public morality by adherence to the Constitution is ultimately unsatisfactory. He then makes the more radical (or reactionary) suggestion that a written Constitution under the hermeneutic control of a political elite is not going to guarantee for us a just society, and follows up said suggestion with an alternative: a public figure who is exempt not from public life, but rather from the political class itself – in other words, a monarch. I do very much agree with him thus far – indeed, his argument carries valuable echoes of a Metternichesque ‘socialisme conservateur’: constitutions are the work of generations, and have only the authority given to them by tradition and by the people under them – and the American Constitution does not have even the first advantage! However, his argument to this point rests upon the good behaviour and philanthropic spirit of the monarch herself – historically, as monarchs have generally been drawn from the warrior castes of their respective societies (even in such intellectually-inclined societies as China, the imperial families all started off as warlords), I’m not sure this assumption naturally holds. If I may take his argument further; what is needed is a non-political head of state, informed by a religious establishment which emphasises economic justice and the common good.

Actually, my third recommendation for the week is the civic republicanism of Jim Sleeper . This strikes me as a very tempting correction to the ills of a fragmented body politic, but it also seems to me that if it relies over-much on the way American political institutions are currently structured, into an over-reliance on the high interpretive powers of the Supreme Court or an over-reliance on top-down reforms vested in the executive apparatus under the Presidency, such a republicanism may be doomed to distort itself ultimately into the heresies of neoconservatism, ultra-liberalism or identity politics.

Currently reading 1587 by Ray Huang (黃仁宇), on a recommendation from Jessie Zong. So far, it looks to be a very interesting historical work on the beginning-of-the-end for the Ming Dynasty. Hope to do a post on it later.


  1. "what is needed is a non-political head of state, informed by a religious establishment which emphasises economic justice and the common good."

    Interesting point. I know lots of people would scream "Iran! The Ayatollahs!" at this thought, but think about it: outside of some denominations, such as the Religious Right in the U.S., I would say most organized religious organizations are to the left of the media and political establishment when it comes to economics. At least that is what it seems like, I could very well be wrong.

  2. Hi John! Sorry I didn't get around to replying to your comment sooner...

    That's certainly a very true and very valuable observation, but I actually have tended to look at it in the opposite direction. The (peculiarly American, peculiarly Calvinistic, peculiarly sectarian and regional) religious Right would likely not be possible without the institutionalised separation of Christianity in all its forms from civic life in the first place. The backlash begins demanding 'tight' institutional wiring of religion into civic life (as in Iran).

    The 'loose' institutional wiring of religion into civic life (as in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the United Kingdom et cetera) tends to keep religion accountable by giving it a higher profile. I'm not altogether clear on what it does for the state, though... even though Sweden and Norway opposed the war in Iraq, Britain and Denmark still signed on over the vociferous objections of high-profile establishmentarian religious leaders (like Archbp Rowan Williams).

    Something to consider, at any rate.