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Category Archives: Books

Unhelpful dichotomies

I recently finished The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery, and Empire by Kent Flannery & Joyce Marcus, a very accessible rendering for the lay audience of a huge amount of anthropological and archaeological data about the development of state societies. At the end of Chapter Twenty-Two (“Graft and Imperialism”), there is […]

The evolution of social bargains — operative not normative

I was reading Yoram Barzel‘s property rights analysis (pdf) of the rise of Parliamentary government in England, when the full force of his critique of normative concepts of the rise of parliamentarianism and representative government hit me. That Iraq is busily messily falling apart, following on from–and partly a consequence of–Syria doing so, with the advance of the Islamic State of […]

Too big not to fail: the rise and fall of Fannie Mae

The debate over the role (if any) of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) in the sub-prime crisis, and thus the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), often seems to be a stand-in for other issues. In particular, to what extent was either financial meltdown the consequences of government regulation (or the lack thereof). The answer to the former question is: almost entirely, […]

The shipping news

The IT explosion has led to a dramatic increase in the casual use of TLA’s (three letter acronyms) and neologisms.  One of which is “shipping” — postulating a relationship between two fictional characters (typically from a TV series) which is not an explicit part of the story. A lot of fanfic (fiction written by fans) is […]

The reactionary effect of Marxism

Who make up the one group that humanities and social science academics typically feel entitled to analyse and pontificate about without actually studying them in any serious sense? Without talking to them, following them around, examining their letters, documents and memoirs, or reading the work of anyone who has. That would be business folk. (And […]

The distance of the recent past

Recently. I went on a bit of a Criminal Minds (2005- ) binge, watching the first 7 seasons. Still looking for some more profiling action, I then re-watched The Silence of the Lambs (1991). The film holds up well. But what struck me, re-watching it, was how primitive the technology seemed. In Criminal Minds, it is all […]

Legal systems very different from our own

Economist David Friedman talking on legal systems very different from our own, the title of a course he teaches and of a forthcoming book (the draft of which is up on his website for comment). He sets out how medieval Sharia worked, before the rise of the nation-state. Including observing that (in its dynamics): Sharia […]

The struggle for the means of reproduction

Recently read the sort of work of history I particularly enjoy–one that gets into how past societies and states actually worked. Edited by historians Walter Scheidel and Ian Morris, The Dynamics of Ancient Empires: State Power from Assyria to Byzantium has essays on the Neo-Assyrian, Achaemenid Persian, Athenian, Roman and Eastern Roman (“Byzantine”) empires (the last […]

SCOTUS misreading history

While I am talking about the recent Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case, United States v. Windsor, I am not going to presume to tell the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) how to do US constitutional law. History is another matter. In the majority decision, written by Kennedy J, the following (pdf) appears: It […]

Putdowns with style — economists’ version

I was very chuffed when my favourite econblogger made one of my comments the centrepiece of a post. That is a prominent economist being nice. Then there are economists engaged in public putdowns. In 2002 Kenneth Rogoff penned an open letter to Joseph Stiglitz. In Scott Sumner’s words: I used to think that Ken Rogoff’s 2002 […]