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Category Archives: Public Policy

Ahistorical pomposity and gnostic sneering: why academics write deep crap about “neoliberalism”

Humanities and social science academics write a remarkable amount of nonsense about “neoliberalism”, typically understanding neither the reasons for the general shift in public policy nor the motivations and ideas behind it. A nice example of such nonsense is provided in a post by philosopher Robin James: neoliberals think everything in the universe works like a […]

That measure, it does not mean what you think it means

This is based on a comment I made here.  When trying to tease out what sorts of policies work and what do not, people often make cross-country comparisons of, for example, expenditure on education (such as, as a % of GDP). Trouble is, expenditure on education is a remarkably useless measure. An obvious indicator of that […]

Gee, can I be a Guardian pundit?

A US former special ops officer argues that ISIS is just using tactics (via) that al-Qaeda had previously used, which work against Arab forces, but not Western ones: AQI/ISIL quickly learned to never use these tactics on the Americans. They regretted it in 2005 when they carried out a complex multi-prong attack on Abu Ghuraib prison – it […]

ISIS, ibn Khaldun and patterns in history

One of the benefits of reading Ira Lapidus’s A History of Islamic Societies (which I review here and here) is understanding how much Islamic history shows recurring patterns. For example, how conflict between modernisers (we should learn from others), traditionalists (we should practice the religion as it is handed down to us) and reformists (we need to recover the purity of original Islam) is a […]

Equalising consumption => lowering vulnerability

A comment on a previous post expresses a common set of views among conservatives: Darwin has the final word on sillyness. If same sex marriage was a useful thing in society, then the vast range of human societies would show us a successful society with same sex marriage as normal. This confuses natural selection with social selection, […]

Modernity struggles: how priests and clerics are unreliable moral guides

Priests and clerics tend to be unreliable moral guides, because their interests are served by complexity and differentiation. Which is not to deny that, for example, Christianity has been a major factor in the distinctive achievement of Western civilisation. The ambivalent civilisation The late Kenneth Minogue argued that (via) the Enlightenment saw a shift among Western intellectuals from belief that […]

Regime matters

A recurring error in Western analysis is to not take ideology (particularly religious ideology) or regime structure seriously in analysing the behaviour of other states. Historian A J P Taylor’s famous statement that: In international affairs, there was nothing wrong with Hitler except that he was German. is a manifestation of this. But so is the […]

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 […]

Memories of Ray Evans (1935-2014)

I was greatly saddened to learn, via email, of the death of Ray Evans.  I first met Ray sometime in the 1980s, when he was an indefatigable fighter for labour market reform. The attempt by the new Hawke Government, via the Hancock Report, to expand even further the legal privileges of the union movement inspired him to co-found the H […]

Why monetarist victory is necessary: so central banks cannot hide

A guest post at Marcus Nunes’s blog Historinhas (sans graphs). In the debate about how to think about the Great Inflation of the 1970s, Milton Friedman‘s policy advice–constant growth in a targeted monetary aggregate–turned out to be misplaced. Indeed, the failure of the Thatcher Government‘s monetary aggregate targeting led to the popularisation of Goodhart’s Law: Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse […]