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Category Archives: Society

Ethos and welfare

The OECD Secretariat released recently (November 2014) a revealing summary (pdf) of public social expenditure by OECD countries. The database the study is based on is available online. (Private social expenditure–i.e. private charity–is not covered by this post.) Social expenditure being defined as: Social expenditure comprises cash benefits, direct in-kind provision of goods and services, and tax breaks with social purposes. … To […]

When the three languages of US politics get in the way

Economist Arnold Kling, who blogs here, has provided a useful framing of American political debate as divided into three languages of politics. He discusses his framing with economist Russ Roberts here, and his analysis is usefully discussed here. The three languages are: the conservative barbarism-civilisation axis, the progressive oppressors-oppressed axis, and the libertarian freedom-coercion axis. None of them provide a useful way of thinking about […]

The poisonous legacy of slavery and the US race tangle

In his book War, Peace, War: The Life Cycle of Imperial Nations, historical demographer Peter Turchin argues that the mass slavery of the Roman Empire–which was at is most intense in Sicily and Southern Italy–is still depressing the social capital of the area centuries later; that the socially disintegrative effects of mass slavery can persist long after the […]

Thinking about states

While writing a paper on state dynamics in Latin Christendom, it was useful to try and think (think out aloud indeed) coherently about states as historical entities. State understood as an institutionalised structure of expropriation and coercion dominant in a particular territory. The notion that a state has to have, or even aspire to, a monopoly of coercion does not make […]

Cause and context

In the postwar period, the Democratic candidate for President has received a majority of votes cast in precisely four elections: Johnson 1964 (53.4%), Carter 1976 (50.1%), Obama 2008 (52.9%), Obama 2012 (51.1%). Which makes the first African-American President the only Democratic candidate to get a majority of the votes cast twice in the postwar period. (It is […]

Lies, damned lies and statistics on “racism”

African-Americans are about 13% of the US population. African-Americans commit roughly half the homicides in the US. That means African-Americans commit unlawful homicide at a much higher rate than other Americans (5.8 times higher than whites in 2013). Which means that we can expect African-Americans to be arrested and convicted for homicide at a much higher rate than other Americans. So, […]

Why, in the PC universe, there is a paucity of bad Muslims.

Jeffrey Herf (Professor of History, University of Maryland) recently suggested that President Obama apply the same standards to Christianity and Islam. This is a delightfully naive suggestion. First, there seems to be a belief among various Western leaders that criticising any strain within Islam is somehow a criticism of all Muslims. This is, of course, pathetically condescending, […]

Good appeasement and bad appeasement

Appeasement–in the form of conciliatory concessions–can be a perfectly reasonable way of dealing with folk. It entirely depends on how limited their aims are. Mixed past So, the Middle Realm‘s Sons of Heaven used appeasement successfully for centuries in dealing with the steppe nomads to their north, the only open border of a unified China (with the partial […]

Culture and rationality: or why South Asian call centres can be so infuriating

I recently read Kenneth Pollack’s Ph.D dissertation on The Influence of Arab culture on Arab Military Effectiveness (which later became a book). It is a very fine piece of social science which, alas, I doubt any important member of either the Obama or Bush II Administrations has read. The burden of his analysis is that Arab culture strongly […]

Domain states, tax states and fiscal states

Have been reading a Ph.D dissertation by Wenkai He on the consolidation of a modern fiscal state in C18th England and late C19th Japan and the failure to do so in late Qing China. (The dissertation has since become a book.) The dissertation references history of public finance literature I was previously largely unaware of. The literature covers domain states and fiscal […]