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The Good Tsar Bias

19C Russians proverbially believed that the Tsar was good but his underlings let him down. Many Germans felt similarly about Hitler. This delusion seems to be common in, and peculiar to, authoritarian regimes. Why so? Perhaps because, when a leader successfully captures the sense of national identity, to blame him for bad outcomes undermines one’s own identity; more comfortable to scapegoat underlings (1,870 words)

Hague’s Two Faces

Successful politicians have to manage two personae: the courteous clear-thinking manager who runs policy, and the street-fighter who wins elections. William Hague had both to an extreme. His management skills, developed at Insead and McKinsey, were overlaid on street-fighting instincts honed as a teenage Conservative in south Yorkshire. But the two Hagues never bedded down into one legible personality (Hard) (1,050 words)

If Scotland Votes “Yes”

Alex Salmond wants Scottish independence to take effect in March 2016, if the referendum goes his way; but 2018 would be more realistic, given the practical problems. Scotland’s scope to continue using Sterling will be one heated issue. Britain will want a ten-year transition to relocate its nuclear submarines. The British power grid will have to be divided. +424 is the likely Scottish dialling code (1,900 words)

Are The Authoritarians Winning?

Authoritarian regimes, led by China and Russia, are “aglow with arrogant confidence”. Democracies are wracked by “envy and despondency”. But the authoritarian vision of prosperity without freedom is unsustainable. “The saving grace of democracy is its adaptability. It depends for its vitality on discontent. Discontent leads to peaceful regime change, and as regimes change, free societies can discard failed alternatives” (3,730 words)

Eigenmorality

Might something like the Google PageRank algorithm be used to rank real-world qualities in human beings, such as moral fitness? For example: “A moral person is someone who cooperates with other moral people, and who refuses to cooperate with immoral people”. It’s a circular proposition, you need definitions, but, as with PageRank, you can find an equilibrium — and explore it using game theory. Here’s what happens (6,400 words)

The War Dividend

The economic benefits of war are overstated. In theory, the rise of nationalism in times of danger may help the policy process by encouraging coalitions — “reducing transaction costs” — among political parties, and by encouraging a general focus on the national interest rather than the individual interest. But it is much easier to find models of prosperity and innovation in times of peace than in times of war (Metered) (1,600 words)

A Conversation With Ralph Nader

Rare example of an interview in which the questions are as informative as the answers, if not more so. Nader denounces crony capitalism — “this combination of Wall Street and Washington, the corporate powers and their political allies, converging across party lines to perfect this corporate government against the wishes of a majority of the American people”. Cowen nudges him usefully to clarify and qualify (2,536 words)

Philippe Legrain Explains Europe

Former economic and strategic adviser to European Commission president José Manuel Barroso makes clear why he quit this year: “Particularly within the Eurozone, under instructions from Berlin, the EU has imposed catastrophic policies — excessive collective austerity that has caused a terrible recession, a failure to tackle the banks and opposition to debt write-downs — that has led to a plunge in support for the EU” (3,790 words)

The Absolutist

Full-length portrait of Ted Cruz, US Senator, Tea-Party Republican, likely presidential contender in 2016, brilliant debater, “best appellate litigator in the state of Texas”. He denies man-made climate change, opposes comprehensive immigration reform, rejects marriage equality, wants Obamacare repealed. “His message is that, on the issues, a Cruz Presidency would be roughly identical to a Sarah Palin Presidency” (8,570 words)

More Punk, Less Hell

Most uplifting political story of the year so far. How Icelandic anarchists won control of Reykjavik city hall after the 2008 crash, ran the capital for four years — and made a great success of it. Their political strategy was wu wei — do nothing, let your opponents make the mistakes. Their campaign promise: “We can promise more than any other party because we will break every campaign promise” (h/t Longreads) (4,000 words)

Our Libertarian Age

Essay on the decay of ideology. “Ours is a libertarian age by default: whatever ideas or beliefs muted the demand for individual autonomy in the past have atrophied. Since the Cold War ended we have found ourselves in a world in which every advance of the principle of freedom in one sphere advances it in the others, whether we wish it to or not. The only freedom we are losing is the freedom to choose our freedoms.” (4,690 words)

Lack Of Major Wars May Hurt Economic Growth

The claim here is not that fighting wars improves economies; conflict brings destruction. Nor is it a Keynesian argument that preparing for war lifts government spending and puts people to work. It is that the fear of war focuses the attention of governments on getting some basic decisions right — on science and industry, for example. “Such focus ends up improving a nation’s longer-run prospects” (Metered) (1,250 words)

Eleven Lessons From Eric Cantor’s Loss

Here’s the main one: It’s good news for Hillary Clinton. “In terms of legislative achievements, Obama’s second term has been done for some time. But in terms of protecting his legislative achievements — and protecting coming executive branch actions like his proposed climate rules — what matters most for Obama is that a Democrat wins the presidency in 2016. Tonight made that a little more likely” (660 words)

Junking Juncker Is Pointless

For Britain to veto Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission would be gratifying and entertaining, but also futile. The job of the Commission is to federalise Europe. No president is going to change that. Juncker’s one merit is that he might do the job badly. Whoever popped up instead might be a more effective operator — Pascal Lamy, say — and thus a worse outcome for Britain (Metered) (1,080 words)

Five Whitehall Lessons

Notes from a ministerial adviser after four years in government. “There is no such thing as HM Government, only the departments – disparate organisations peopled by stubbornly uncommunicative officials”. Private secretaries are “almost indecently relaxed, given their elevated sphere of action”. Lobbyists do useful work. Decision-making “is a world of unwritten bargains that history seldom records” (Metered) (1,150 words)

How The NRA Rewrote The Second Amendment

On the political history of gun rights in America. “Many are startled to learn that the US Supreme Court didn’t rule that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own a gun until 2008, when District of Columbia v. Heller struck down the capital’s law effectively banning handguns in the home”. The change had little to do with legal scholarship, and everything to do with political lobbying (3,680 words)

Privacy & Surveillance: Network Effects Meet Public Choice

Network effects operate in espionage, and thus in politics, much as they operate in other information economies. “If you have a choice of joining a big spy network like America’s or a small one like Russia’s then it’s like choosing whether to write software for the PC or the Mac back in the 1990s. The economics can often be stronger than the ideology.” Academic paper; accessible; interesting throughout (PDF) (10,250 words)

The Collapse Of The USSR And The Illusion Of Progress

The Soviet collapse 25 years ago freed the Baltic states and the communist satellites of eastern Europe to prosper. Elsewhere the legacy is mixed. “In at least half of the countries of the former USSR a new dictatorship replaced the old, often with the same cast of oppressors. The vast majority of the ex-Soviet population finds itself under authoritarian rule at a standard of living well below the level of 1990″ (1,255 words)

Politics Or Technology – Which Will Save The World?

Neither; but as to which will change the world, technology is way ahead. “China hasn’t changed much politically since 4th June 1989 when the massacre in Tiananmen Square snuffed out a would-be revolution. But China itself has been totally altered. A country of more than a billion people has been transformed by the mobile phone. Who needs a political revolution when you’ve got a technological one?” (5,000 words)

What Britain Owes UKIP

Nigel Farage, the much-mocked leader of the UK Independence Party, deserves praise as “a subversive who has reintroduced the vanished concept of political opposition into British politics”. He has spoken out not only against EU membership, but also against the large-scale immigration that has come with it, forcing the major parties out into the open on the great issue of the day (Metered) (1,370 words)

The Big Debate

Less democratic countries — Singapore, China, South Korea — are overtaking America in delivering social goods. American democracy has become “neurotic”. Obsession with politics has smothered attention to policy. “The answer is to use Lee Kuan Yew means to achieve Jeffersonian ends — to become less democratic at the national level in order to become more democratic at the local level” (Metered) (778 words)

Can China Best The West At Statecraft?

Much as China set out to master capitalism in the 1990, so it seeks now to master government. Officials “hurtle around the world studying successful models from Chile to Sweden”. One place they are not studying: Washington, DC. They see the American model as broken — and rightly so. The lesson from America is that the more a state tries to do, the worse it performs, and the angrier its citizens become (1,070 words)

India’s Election, In One Stunning Map

Useful at-a-glance summary of India’s general election outcome. Literally so. One glance at the map shows the scale of the BJP’s landslide and the collapse of the incumbent Congress Party; Congress is down to just 10% of parliamentary seats, while the BJP has an absolute majority. The old establishment is broken; the pro-growth Hindu nationalists are in charge. “Firebrand” Narendra Modi is the new prime minister (550 words)

The US Constitution Is Impossible To Amend

The Founders blundered. They made passing a constitutional amendment too hard. The rules require a two-thirds majority of Congress to propose an amendment, and a three-quarters majority of states to ratify it — two supermajorities. “The pig must pass through two pythons”. The Framers didn’t foresee that the country would become so populous and diverse as to make the required degree of consensus impossible (1,250 words)

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