Favorite Books of 2014

Following the smashing success1 of last year’s post on my favorite books from 2013, I thought I’d aim for a repeat and perhaps inspire some gift ideas for the holidays. Here are 11 standouts that I remember from this year. Continue reading “Favorite Books of 2014”

QE & Inequality

I believe that the policies we have undertaken have been meant to generate a robust recovery.1

Effective demand is dead in the water.2

Quantitative easing…is that, like, making math easier?3

Well, goodbye to all that.  Until the next time, Quantitative Easing.

For normal people with more interesting lives, I imagine articles headlined with the words “quantitative easing” prompt a mild degree of nausea and / or disinterest.  As for me, for the last six years4 I’ve found it hard to avoid reading pieces on the unparalleled series of unconventional monetary policies: QE 1, QE 2, Operation Twist, QE 3.  So much juicing of the financial markets, so much time I will never have back, so many unintended consequences nobody can foresee. Continue reading “QE & Inequality”

Politics and Culture in International History

The concept of order that has underpinned the modern era is in crisis. The search for world order has long been defined almost exclusively by the concepts of Western societies … But vast regions of the world have never shared and only acquiesced in the Western concept of order … [The United States must think] on two seemingly contradictory levels. The celebration of universal principles needs to be paired with recognition of the reality of other regions’ histories, cultures and views of their security.1

Henry Kissinger is not enthused.  The extant world order is fraying, and the United States has neither a coherent strategy for coiling it back together, nor the bearing for promulgating a new one.  This blog’s exploration of entropy as the defining characteristic of international affairs covers some similar territory as Kissinger’s essay, so it shall be shamelessly plugged in this paragraph.

But the richness of Kissinger’s essay lies beyond the exigencies capturing headlines today, for it raises the idea that the cacophony of crises is not amenable to tactical policy prescriptions.  Rather, the perturbations may be symptomatic of a larger, more intractable issue: the imposition of rules and norms on cultures and societies that—by dint of their own historical experience—don’t necessarily share the West’s values.2 Continue reading “Politics and Culture in International History”

The Enduring Relevance of Thucydides

Plying the Ionian Sea while traveling from Ancona (or was it Brindisi?) to Patras, Greece (2004).
Sailing the Ionian Sea while traveling from Ancona, Italy (or was it Brindisi?) to Patras, Greece (2004).

For some reason that I will never understand, Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War is not required reading for graduate students of international relations.1 I don’t know how I was handed a college degree without having read it, for that matter. Continue reading “The Enduring Relevance of Thucydides”

Practice Heroes

For people who played football1 growing up, on every team there were bound to be players who memorized both offensive and defensive playbooks and knew where to be to make a play against his teammates. These players tended to garner the coaches’ favor because they were excellent at doing what the coaches wanted them to do. But as most kids learn, these players tended to be studs on the practice field and complete soup sandwiches come game time. They were practice heroes. Continue reading “Practice Heroes”

David Bromwich and the Vanishing Art of Independent Thinking

The intelligence is defeated as soon as the expression of one’s thoughts is preceded, explicitly or implicitly, by the little word “we.”1

Recently, in The London Review of Books, David Bromwich penned an excoriating piece on Barack Obama and the political class that had me chuckling in my chair (see “The World’s Most Important Spectator”). The writing is absolutely poetic; Bromwich delivers so many zingers that to quote the essay piecemeal would risk deriving you of one of the great reading pleasures of 2014. So I shall refrain. Continue reading “David Bromwich and the Vanishing Art of Independent Thinking”

The Age of Entropy

…we are on the cusp of an eternal purgatory. It will be a world full of confusion and instability. The age of entropy will be a time of restless disorder, an aimless but forceful hostility to the status quo…

How serendipitous. A week after posting Entropy: The Defining Characteristic of Global Affairs, I stumbled across an article in Foreign Affairs from Randall Schweller—a professor at Ohio State University—that argues we’re now living in “The Age of Entropy.” It’s worth a perusal if you’re interesting in reading “why the new world order won’t be orderly.”

Entropy: The Defining Characteristic of Global Affairs

Expanding prosperity contributed to the popularity of the doctrine [of harmony of interests] in three different ways. It attenuated competition for markets among producers, since fresh markets were constantly available; it postponed the class issue, with its insistence on the primary importance of equitable distribution, by extending to members of the less prosperous classes some share in the general prosperity; and by creating a sense of confidence in present and future well-being, it encouraged men to believe that the world was ordered on so rational a plan as the natural harmony of interests.1

Politics are made up of two elements — utopia and reality — belonging to two different planes which can never meet. There is no greater barrier to clear political thinking than failure to distinguish between ideas, which are utopia, and institutions, which are reality.2

Stocks are near their all-time highs and show few signs of correcting anytime soon; debt markets appear frothy; the VIX is low—the capital markets are telling us that we’re living in “the best of all possible worlds.”3 Even TV commercials show us people dancing on their decks while telling us “the fun is back!”

But in the real world, for a while now I’ve been nagged by this feeling of entropy in global affairs; that order and institutions are giving way to chaos and ungovernability. Continue reading “Entropy: The Defining Characteristic of Global Affairs”

Vox on Millennials, Risk Aversion, Investing and Success in Life

OMG. Millennials are idiots. They put less than half of their savings in stocks. When they’re old, they’ll subsist on a cat food diet because they were terrible investors.

Reading this article on Vox.com raised my blood pressure and left me baffled/speechless.1 Conor Sen (@conorsen) asked me why, so I’ve pulled together some thoughts on why the piece was misleading.

Seven Ways a Vox.com Article Provided No Context

Continue reading “Vox on Millennials, Risk Aversion, Investing and Success in Life”