Canadian author Donald Gutstein is a friend of one of the members of our regular Monday morning ideas group, and recently we met with Donald to discuss his important book, Harperism: How Stephen Harper and his think tank colleagues have transformed Canada.
Unlike other books on Canada’s most conservative government, Harperism focuses on the political philosophy at the foundation of what to many is an alarming reversal of our country’s traditional role as an advocate of social justice and environmental responsibility.
It’s not that Harperism ignores these changes. On the contrary, Gutstein explains them in terms of the “neoliberalism” at their heart. This focus makes Harperism important far beyond Canada’s borders, for neoliberalism underpins the successful imposition of “free market” ideology into the policies of most of the world’s titular democracies. Continue reading →
I’d slogged my way through the first third of Capital in the 21st Century when I gave in and googled the reviews. That shows a disappointing lack of dedication, I admit, but there’s only so much time in a life.
On the not unreasonable assumption that many of you aren’t academic economists, either, and that you have other things to do with the time in your lives, I have a few other book recommendations in the general area of income inequality and, more important, its impacts on society.
The three books that I’m recommending are quite different from each other, but nonetheless their shared conclusion — that too much of how, how well, even how long we live depends on the size of our slice of the wealth pie — justifies grouping them together.
I tried very hard to read A. C. Grayling’s The Good Book: A Secular Bible. I really did. I started the book three times, and the last two times I skipped the soporific beginning and started to read from a random point somewhere in the middle of the book. I couldn’t do it. The Good Book is just not a very good book.
It’s not that Grayling’s prose is particular bad, although it’s not particularly good. It’s not that many of the things he writes are little more than self-help nostrums, although many of them are certainly that.
The problem is that Grayling’s imitation of the style of the old English bible makes his “new bible” seem more a parody than a transformation. He hasn’t so much updated the old bible as he has backdated his new ideas.
OK, so you buy into all of that evolutionary psychology stuff and look for the adaptational drivers behind everything humans think and do and are.
You will be on the solidest of ground when you’re describing the physical mechanisms of bodily states and functions. And you’ll do pretty well, most of the time, with speculations about the evolutionary advantage of this or that adaptation. You’ll convince a growing number of people of the interaction of both individual and group selection.
But once you’ve done that, what do you do with the hard stuff?
Consciousness is notoriously hard to explain, and even after many articles on the subject here I’m not at all confident that I, or anyone else, really has a handle on it. For now, I’m leaving that topic alone.
The other really tough topic is art, the creative and imaginative output of the free-flowing human mind. What advantage does art add to the evolutionary mix? Continue reading →
A growing chorus of economists has lately been trumpeting the undeniable truth that, badly expressed, got President Obama into trouble with the right-wing media last week.
What Obama said was that no one builds a successful business alone. There’s a necessary infrastructure of roads and bridges and schools and hospitals, of banking and trade and tax regulations, and much more.
While Obama’s “No, you didn’t” was willfully transferred from building the roads and bridges that he was talking about into a cynically inaccurate claim that the President doesn’t give any credit to individual initiative, at least some of the media spent a little of their time discussing what he’d actually meant.
I’ve dealt in this space with both The Self-Made Myth (reviewed and Robert Reich’s Aftershock.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz appeared recently on The Daily Show, promoting his latest book, The Price of Inequality. Stiglitz outlined the main ideas of the book in “The 1 Percent’s Problem,” published by Vanity Fair in May.
Stiglitz’s article caused quite a stir for arguing that it’s in the selfish interest of the super-rich to make sure that the not-rich get a bigger piece of the pie. Continue reading →
Some people in the softer sciences, including much of psychology, are very wary of “reductionism,” the practice of understanding via an analysis of the interaction of the parts of complex systems.
Yet there are scientists, especially statistical mathematicians, who love to tear apart complex systems as a way of classifying or codifying them.
So it’s not entirely surprising that a group of mathematicians has applied statistical analysis to mythic literature. In an article titled “Universal Properties of Mythological Networks,” a team from Coventry University has analysed three classical myths to see how much their historicity can be established statistically.
According to some on the intellectual right, it’s everyone on the intellectual left.
According to Russell Jacoby, that claim is yet another sign of the intellectual bankruptcy of contemporary conservative thought.
In “Dreaming of a World without Intellectuals,” published on July 12th by The Chronicle Review as a response to David Gelernter’s America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats), Jacoby takes on the idea that America was just fine, thank you, until the 60’s, when campus radicals began the deadly revolution that continues to poison society.
I have no intention of reading Gelernter’s book — the title gives away its core biases without the bother of reading the rest of it. But I’ll gladly take any chance I can get to share vicariously in Jacoby’s evisceration of yet another right-wing champion. Continue reading →
In an attic room in a cheap part of town, the writer sits at a battered desk. Two years of solitary effort, and the book is finally finished. Into the brown envelope, off to the post office. Maybe this one will be published. And maybe, against all the odds, this one will be a best-seller. Only time will tell.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. So familiar that it’s a painful cliché — the struggling author, hoping against hope to strike a chord that resonates with the reading public.
And if the book is a hit, what then? Can the magic formula repeat itself? Will the second book be as well received as the first? What was it about the first that made it work?
Who knows. The only thing we can say for sure is that, for some reason, it sold well. All the writer can do is hope for the same kind of luck, or the same unconscious artistry, the next time.
The only thing wrong with this story is that it’s completely, irrevocably passé. And it’s not just that quaint part about the post office. Continue reading →