No reason for the bombing, p.99: London was nearly defenseless and at first, the military saw no reason to change that naked condition; the War Minister, the Earl of Derby, told the House of Lords that the bombing was without military significance because not a single soldier had been killed.
On community, p. 173: Why should one not be able to live contentedly as a member of the service personnel in the lunatic asylum? After all, one respects the lunatics as the people for whom the building in which one lives exists. Up to a point, you can make your own choice of an institution – though the distinction between them is smaller than you think in your younger years.
On health benefits of radiation, p.283: Because it is mildly radioactive, and radioactivity was once considered tonic, thorium was also for some years incorporated into a popular German toothpaste, Doramad.
Military double speak, p.469: “Morale” is here and elsewhere in the literature of air power a euphemism for the bombing of civilians.
On conflagrations, p.475: The bombing of Hamburg marked a significant step in the evolution of death technology itself, massed bombers deliberately churning conflagration. […] By a reflex so mindlessly unimaginative it may be merely mammalian, the bombing of distant cities, out of sight and sound and smell, was generally approved, althought neither United States nor Great Britain admitted publicly that it deliberately bombedc civilians. In Chirchills’s phrase, the enemy was to be ‘de-housed’.
On hearing a dog not bark, p.501: Soviet physicists realized in 1940 that United States must also be pursuing a program when the names of the prominent physicissts, chemists, metallurgists and mathematicians disappered from international journals; secrecy itself gave the secret away.
On halo effect, p.506: [General Groves] apparently equated disagreement with disloyalty and scaled the ratio of the two conditions directly: anyone who caused him as much trouble as Leo Szilard must be a spy.
The art of understatement, p.745: The Emperor broadcast to a weeping nation […]: “Despite the best that has been done by everyone … the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.”
The Empire… by Mikhail Zygar is a zeitgeisty book on the Russian revolution that was meant to hit the market on the said revolution’s centenary. This timing alone is sufficient to get skeptical of the amount of work that goes into such a publication – when the thing seems to sell itself. Another prior concern is authors credential – the author is not a career or academic historian, so how familiar is he with primary sources?
Despite these concerns and partially to test them I’ve decided to go for the book. The fact that this period of the late XIX-early XX century is my favorite helped too. For me this is the period when people invented modern society – but this was when the society and its technology were simpler. Arguably making for a good starting point to understand our circumstances.
What the book turned out to be is a decent review of the autobiographies and personal diaries of the contemporaries. There is a visible skew in favor of the artistical/theatrical/literary crowd and relatively less space is left for those who represent economic policy, external policy or military, but never the less it seems to cover a lot of ground.
Locally one review complains over the rather narrow pitch of the book which is supposedly is only written to argue one relatively conventional point: more liberal access to political power might make the country more stable. I don’t agree with that – and see no evidence that the text can support such a claim. Indeed, this pitch is only openly made in the last and relatively short part of the epilogue. Otherwise, the author remains true to his goal of reviewing the diaries without openly imposing conclusions.
One less pleasant part of the book is the footnotes. Basically, all the footnotes have one and the same meaning: “Look this is exactly what is happening today.” By the third footnote, the meaning of all the following ones is so obvious that you read them just to see that you were right. These footnotes introduce a feel of vulgarity which is close to what the canned laughter does to comedy.
And these imposed comparisons are probaly do not fit two well with  providing several examples, or they are so obvious that they border on something like:
“Prime minister Vitte’s agitation grew and he orders tea to regain his calm*.
*In the early XXI century Russian public officials, even those working in the government, drink tea. Some have already switched to coffee – but this remains the norm”
Still skipping these footnotes is easy so they are not a fatal flaw.
All in all “Empire..” makes a decent light reading and provides a decent review of the feel of the pre-revolutionary years in Russia. It has certaintly been above what I expected.
I’ve first hear Isaiah Berlin being cited some seven or eight year ago in the Adam Curtis’s “The Trap. We Will Force You to be Free” documentary . The essay that Curtis references is The Two Concepts of Liberty. In this essay Berlin explores to concepts which he calls ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ liberty’. I remember being impressed by the Curtis’s resume and making a mental note explore further, may be read the original.
Fast forward some two-three of years. I was reading the opening pages of the Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise which the author opens up by citing Berlin’s essay The Hedgehog and the Fox. This is now very interesting, I though, I should probably read the original paper.
Fast forward to now. I finally got hold of the collection of Isaiah Berlin’s essays “The Crooked Timber of Humanity”… which incidentally contains neither “The Two Concepts..”, nor the “The Hedgehog..”.
The more I read and reread the essays the less I find it possible to provide any kind of summery to this incredible collection. One reason is Berlin’s dense in compressible writing style which makes it hardly possible even to extract a stand alone quote let alone provide a resume of the whole note. Instead I’ll simply keep a couple of extracts below. The book itself is immensely intellectually entertaining. I especially like the notes on Joseph de Maistre which are also available as Berlin’s lecture recordings below.
The decline of Utopian ideas in the West, p.24-25: “Let me put them [the main assumptions of the western thought] in the form of three propositions, a kind of three-legged stool on which the central tradition of western political thought seems to me to rest. […] The first proposition is this: to all genuine questions there can only be one correct answer, all the other answers being incorrect. If there is no correct answer to it, then the question cannot be a genuine one. […] The second assumption is that a method exists for the discovery of these correct answers. Whether any man knows or can, in fact, know it, is another question; but it must, at least in principle, be knowable […]. The third assumption, and perhaps the most important in this context, is that all the correct answers must, at the very least, be compatible with one another. […] At best, these truths will logically entail one another in a single, systematic, interconnected whole; at the very least, they will be consistent with one another […]”.
The decline of Utopian ideas in the West, p.36: “In due course the humiliated Germans began feebly to imitate their French models, and this, as often happens, was followed by a cultural reaction. The wounded national consciousness asserted itself, sometimes in a somewhat aggressive fashion. […] This is common enough response on the part of backward nations who are looked on with too much arrogant contempt, with too great an air of conscious superiority, bu the more advanced societies. By the beginning of the eighteenth century some among the spiritual leaders in the devout, inward looking German principalities began to counter-attack. This took the form of poring contempt on the worldly success of the French: these Frenchmen and their imitators elsewhere could boast of only so much empty show. The inner life, the life of the spirit, concerned with the relation of man to man, to himself, to God – that alone was of supreme importance; the empty, materialistic French wiseacres had no sense of true values – of what alone men lived by”
The decline of Utopian ideas in the West, p.48: “Immanuel Kant, a man very remote from irrationalism, once observed that ‘Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.’ And for that reason no perfect solution is, not merely in practice, but in principle, possible in human affairs, and any determined attempt to produce it is likely to lead to suffering, disillusionment and failure.”
European Unity and its Vicissitudes, p. 197: “Few things have played a more fatal part in the history of human thought and action than great imaginative analogies from one sphere, in which a particular principle is applicable and valid, to other provinces, where its effect may be exciting and transforming, but where its consequences may be fallacious in theory and ruinous in practice. It was so with the romantic movement and its nationalist implications.”
The bent twig, p.261: “Nationalism to many liberals and socialists in the west appears to be mere chauvinism or imperialism, part and parcel of the ideology of that very establishment which has robbed the victims of their birthright. […] Is this not one of the best illustrations of the Marxist thesis that one of the greatest wrongs the ruling class does to its subjects is to blind them to their true interest, to infect them with its ideology, dictated by its own interests, as if they were identical with those of the oppressed?
It is actually disturbing how little German history I knew before taking up AJP Taylor’s “Course..”. I hope this might be a fairly common ‘home bias’ in historical awareness, i.e. tending to know history of other countries in as much as it does overlap with the history of your own in some generally tragic manner.
The book itself is a very opinionated narrative of the German history covering the period from early XIX to mid XX. There are certain interesting details about European economic history, for example the Zollverein customs union, but what I liked most were the following two more general ideas:
Ambitious foreign policy tends to come at price of less liberal policies at home (p.185): “[…] it served only to underline the contradiction of German wishes: the great majority of Germans wanted a Germany overwhelmingly strong, asserting by means of this strength her claim to ‘a place in the sun’, and basing her security on Power, not agreement with her neighbors; at the same time they wanted a constitutional system inside Germany and resented the arrogance and predominance of the military caste. few Germans felt the absurdity of desiring to dominate all Europe and yet to escape domination themselves […].”
Stable distribution of rights and political powers tends to be a result of the reluctant compromise, it cannot be bestowed from above or imported: (p.146): “If social security had been won by political struggle, it would have strengthened the confidence of the working-class movement to make political claims; as it was, the workers seemed to have received social security as the price of political subservience, and the drew the moral that grater subservience would earn a year greater reward”.
Some more quotes:
On German liberals in 1792-1814 (p.25): The German liberals had no agrarian program and no sympathy with the property-less masses, whom they despised as obscurantist and reactionary; nor had they any feeling that liberal institutions needed to be fought for and defended – they expected them to be bestowed from above.
On 1848 revolution (p.36): In other countries the revolution gave the people universal suffrage; in Prussia it gave them universal military service.
…and some more on 1848 (p.69): German history reached its turning-point and failed to turn. This was the faithful essence of 1848.
…and yet more (p.71): The revolution of March 13th in Vienna and the revolution of March 18th in Berlin, which together cleared the way for the German revolution, were both glorified unemployed riots.
On the decline of parliament (p.120): The abdication of the Prussian liberals and the defeat of parliamentary government had a profound social result. Parliament did not control the state; therefore it could never be for the individual the path to power. Henceforth only man of the second rank went from the middle classes into politics. The intellectual ability of the politicians steadily, relentlessly, declined; all that survived was the gift of sterile negative criticism. Political parties became inevitably interest groups, solely concerned to win concessions from the state, but never supposing that they might have to accept responsibility. The really able and ambitious members of the middle class shunned politics and turned exclusively to industry and finance.
On creative destruction (p.139): The financial crash of 1873 was a normal event of the age of capitalism […]. In England when the speculative bubble burst, those who had blown it took the consequences […]. But the German industrialists had not the long tradition of self-help which made British capitalists fend for themselves until long into the twentieth century. Besides, they had made an implicit bargain with Bismarck: they had renounced political power in return for economic wealth, and now they expected Bismarck to keep his bargain.
I have reservations about an extent to which studying history is ‘useful’ from the applied perspective. Historical method, in my view, has limited potential to identify more or less general and reliable regularities in the social mechanics from the economic policy point of view.
Thus the criteria on which books, such as Clark’s Sleepwalkers, should be judged are literary and entertainment value. Anyway judging it more rigorously is well beyond my expertise. Instead of providing a review of the book (which was done by manymorequalified individuals) I’ll just share three ideas that I pondered when reading the book:
Civil/military divide within the government. Clark provides an overview of the military-civil conflicts within the governments of the Entente and the Triple Alliance. The story is the same across Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia, France and UK: the defense minister is lobbying for higher tax revenue to be allocated for modernization of the military while the finance minister more or less vigorously opposes military spending build up. The conflict lost none of its topicality in one hundred years it seems. There’re some interesting details on the Russian situation with the clash between the P.Stolypin successor PM&Finance Minister Kokovtsov and Defense Minister Sukhomlinov. Clark quotes Nicolas II telling Kokovtsov (p.218): “In your conflicts with Sukhomlinov you are always right. But I want you to understand my attitude: I have been supporting Sukhomlinov not because I have no confidence in you, but because I cannot refuse to agree to military appropriations”.
Monarchy. The idea itself is quite original: let’s employ the same techniques that we use to improve domesticated animals to selection of country leaders. Why would anyone accept it as normal? The power of status quo, I suppose. However, what Clark argues is that at the operational level the monarchs’ discretion has been materially limited by late XIX century. As far as I understood, the web of blood relationships between the monarchs of Europe served as an alternative less formal diplomatic communication channel, however the messages that have been transmitted were formulated or at least heavily influenced by professional bureaucracy. The same goes for internal affairs. The telling quote is on p.184: “Nicholas II could favor this or that faction or minister and thereby undermine the cohesion of the government, but was unable to set the agenda, especially after the fiasco of the Russo-Japanese War”.
Ideological homophily.What the book illustrates is how persistent are personal opinions. For the likes of Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf no amount of evidence could challenge the necessity of aggressive action against Serbia. What’s worse is the ability of such individuals to strategically influence the composition of their own ministries and the government in favor of others who share their vision or avoid challenging it. The result seems to narrow the ‘field of vision’ and the set of alternative courses of action.
On international finance, p.30: ” […] fragile debtors like Serbia […] could secure loans on reasonable terms only if they agreed to concession of fiscal control that amounted to the partial hypothecation of sovereign state functions. For this reason among others, international loans were a political issue of the highest importance, inextricably wound up with diplomacy and power politics.”
On investor relations, p.231: “Early in 1905, the Russian were distribution GDP8ooo a month to Parisian press, in the hope of stimulating public support for a massive French loan. “
On fiscal priorities, p.32: “In 1905, pressed to ratify a new revenue source, the peasant dominated assembly of Skupstina chose to tax school books rather than home distillation. The result was a strikingly low rate of literacy, ranging from 27% in the northern districts of the kingdom to only 12% in the south-east”
On the choice of the assassination target, p.49: “[…] the archduke was not targeted on account of any alleged hostility to the Slavic minorities in the Austro-Hangarian Empire, but, on the contrary, because, to borrow the words of his assassin, Gavrilo Pricip, ‘as future Sovereign he would have prevented our union by carrying through certain reforms’. […] The targeting of the archduke thus exemplified one abiding strand in the logic of terrorist movements, namely that reformers and moderates are more to be feared than outright enemies and hardliners.”
On the use of press by officials, p.195: “From behind the scenes key officials lime maniacally Germanophobe Maurice Herbett […] used his extensive newspaper contacts to sabotage negotiations by leaking potentially controversial conciliatory proposals to the French press before the had been seen by the Germans. […]”
Некоторое время назад закончил “Систему..” и делюсь впечатлением от своей первой книжной покупки на google play. Анонс сулит золотые горы: “это история российской власти и российской экономики, рассказанная от лица тех людей, кто ее создавал”, в то время как рецензенты больше говорят о Кудрине, чем о книге. Это справедливо, поскольку книга не подходит близко к исполнению данных обязательств, а под рассказами “творцов истории” понимается 2-4-х страничное интервью Кудрина равномерно размазанное по книге, комментарием к которому последняя по сути является.
Самым похожим на подобие содержательного обсуждения экономических решений является полукарикатурный эпизод с разговором между Кудриным и руководителем одного из департаментов Минфина, в котором подчиненная докладывает министру о работе, которую провели ее сотрудники по запросу министра сделать “глубокий кризисный прогноз”, и сообщает буквально следующее:.
“- Многие кризисы наложили друг на друга и посмотрели, как менялись деловые индексы за год или полгода до кризиса. Так вот: по всем индикаторам получается, что осенью будет крупный кризис. А может, даже не осенью. […]”
Кое-что действительно становится известным. Скажем, что автором идеи с Олимпиадой в Сочи является Собчак, который предположительно привез эту идею из отпуска в 1994 г., однако не смог получить финансирование в то время, или то, что мечтой Кудрина являет инфляция в 3%. На мой вкус, этого явно недостаточно для книги такого размера.
Думаю, дело здесь в том, как верно подметил Сонин во вступлении, что говорить о завершении карьеры Кудрина еще слишком рано, а значит время не пришло и для написания сколько-нибудь откровенной и глубокой биографии.
Coming from a monetary policy background I still find it buffing how much more complex is fiscal policy. There’s a substantial number of levers that central bank can use. Still you might call the key rate The Instrument.
When it comes to fiscal policy volume of revenue and spending, their structure and a universe of related issues come into play so that bottom line deficit/surplus alone is far from being an indicator of fiscal policy stance. This not even looking at issues of budget federalism or politics of the budget process.
I gather, this complexity of the topic does not lend it to clear exposition.
The result is, there’s still no decent book on fiscal policy in Russia. I went through a couple of textbooks which were not substantial enough to mention here, before deciding to give a closer look at ‘Budget and fiscal system’ by Mstislav Afanasyev.
The book had a promising feature of being authorised by Alexey Kudrin who was behind many of the current features of the fiscal system including the Reserve fund and NWF, medium term budget planning, fiscal rule etc.
Having spent a fair amount of time with this book I’ve come to the conclusion that it might be one of the better books on fiscal policy in Russia. But this resulted not because of high quality of the text but because the bar is set at quite a low level.
Some of its more visible shortcomings below.
Extensive quotes from the Budget code, weak on economics
The book is basically an introduction into the fiscal law, but it does lack any analysis of the fiscal system from the economics view point. Even such basics as cross country comparative tax burden analysis, efficiency of spending, tax collection efficiency are avoided.
Weak on case studies, examples
The text is close to sterile when it comes to the intersection of law and its application. There’re exactly zero information on problems of fiscal federalism, fiscal discipline on regional and municipal levels and politics seem to be absent from the budget process.
The text needs editing: extensive repetitions
The text is written in the this variety of language which you might expect to find in legal papers, but which seems much less appropriate for the textbook. Many paragraphs are word by word repetition of text in the preceding paragraph with the difference being that the same idea applies for example to two levels of the budget system. I think a more thorough editing would allow to cut up to a forth of the text.
The rediculous pie 3d charts
The 3D pie charts (authors favorite type of chart) occupy up to half of the page to show the relationship between two numbers. Stub chapters: sovereign external lending
The chapter on external lending of the country is basically a plan to write a chapter. In the chapter explicitly devoted to external debt there’s no single example of external lending of any country, not to say discussion of the terms or a purpose of such a loan. The philosophical chapter fetish
For some reason the book devotes a whole complete chapter on the philosophy of the fiscal system which goes as far as discussing the nature of the state. It tries to cover everything from Thomas Aquinas to Mikhail Bakunin. The reason for this escapes me.
My personal preference would be for more detailed presentation of the core material.
All in all, it is hard to recommend this this book. Text obviously needs work: more cases, examples, less repetitions etc.
To add a constructive touch, here’s a list of sources on fiscal issues which are highly readable: i) Economic Expert Group’s publications, ii) NIFI’s Financial journal is a good source but I usually only look at the articles authored by NIFI’s own researchers and skip everything else.
The other day finished Fioramonti’s “Gross Domestic Problem: The Politics Behind the World’s Most Powerful Number”  and here’s what I learned.
In the first part the author provides light introduction into history of attempts to measure level of economic activity. Before GDP emerged as a dominant standard there were some alternatives including social accounts system that was in use in USSR. Overall this background chapter is also the most powerful one. One key take away is the notion of recency of creation of the GDP framework. Today you compare one government to another on their performance in terms of economic expansion until the 1930s there was no systematic approach to measure it.
The second chapter is devoted to shortcomings of the GDP as a measure of growth of the economy. Here Fioramonti plunges into the usual kvetching: how does GDP change if the worker is happy or not, how is quality of life represented in the GDP growth number. Apparently the author implies that the decent indicator of economic activity would show externalizes of economic activity: degradation of environment and lower wildlife population. For reason that escapes me he’s not happy with having all those indicators but wants to incorporate ecology into GDP.
Another critic, which is somewhat more of a methodological issue is the fact that GDP does not record activity of some of the sectors, that are deemed outright illegal… in some periods, but might someday admitted into the formal economy. This however again is a minor issue. This part of the book is considerably weaker than the fitst, but…
…the weakest part comes last. It’s the collection of proposals for reform. For one, Fioramonti promotes the idea of ‘local money’, the money which can be earned and spent within some predefined geographical coordinates. This, in my view, does solve no problem, but in extreme scenario makes the owner of such money essentially chained to the place where his savings worth something.
Other statements are too emotional: “There’s little doubt, indeed, that the popularity of national income accounts has given the upper hand to all industries that pollute and deplete, since GDP portrays these acts as economic progress.”
This is a rather naive way of thinking of the forces behind ‘pollution and depletion’.
The whole proposals chapter reminds me of the good old Hugh Laurie scetch:
Overall the first chapter might worth a read, but the book is quite unfocused and short on original ideas.
Got the book as a gift from one of the good ol’ CBR friends, actually one of the best of them. Ha-Joon’s ’23..’ is light reading with no serious data work stuffed with a couple of historical anecdotes.
The structure of the book is as promised consists of 23 ‘things’ – short essays – which start with a presumably common fallacy followed by paragraph in which Ha-Joon shares his own take on the matter in a paragraph or two and ends with a larger discussion of the matter.
The topics range from the role of education in promoting economic growth, ability of economics to contribute meaningfully to the common good of the society to high frequency trading.
The one sentence impression the book is Ha-Joon prepared an antidote for sophomores who’ve taken Econ101 too literally, even religiously.
In this it succeeds.
However, I have three gripes with the book.
First, the name of the book suffers an awful case of click-bait syndrome. Why the author who is seemingly serious with background as an adviser to WB, IMF etc. would go for something which is one step away from ’24 tricks that energy companies don’t want you to know?’ is a complete mystery. Additionally a couple of conspiracy theory markers are scattered through out: ‘how the capitalism really works’, ‘a chance for people to wake up to reality.’
Second, most of the ‘things’ are trying too hard to extract a quantum of surprise from the facts that are blindingly obvious:
thing 10 is “for international comparisons you’d better use PPP based figures”
thing 16 is “humans are not protein based calculators trying to maximize well defined utility functions”;
thing 19 is “corporations do plan for the future and use internally non-market mechanisms to distribute resources”;
thing 22 is “high frequency trading will not create generally useful technological advances directly”.
Third, the discussion of the issuesis mostly qualitative and detached from the real data (except for the PPP thing, where author comes dangerously closely to some systematic cross country comparison but narrowly avoids it slipping into another round of anecdotes), and from the results already available from the literature.
Let me illustrate the latter point. One the more interesting ‘things’ deals with the fact that equilibrium on the labor market is in large part determined by the immigration controls. This in fact a very reasonable comment and which deserves discussion. However the author jumps from the fact that taxi drivers in Mumbai and Stockholm earn different amounts of USD to the conclusion that ‘most people in the rich countries are paid more than they should be’ being protected by that same immigration control. This a rather brave statement and various studies that were dealing with the same exact question do not find a lot of convincing evidence to support the matter.
For one Dustmann et al., 2003 conclude:
“The main result of the empirical analysis is that there is no strong evidence of large adverse effects of immigration on employment or wages of existing workers. In this respect our findings are consistent with empirical results from international research. There is some weak evidence of negative effects on employment but these are small and for most groups of the population it is impossible to reject the absence of any effect with the data used here. Insofar as there is evidence of any effect on wages, it suggests that immigration enhances wage growth.”
Overall, ’23..’ is a book that I would not recommend, but handful of the ‘things’ deserve attention including 1, 2, 4,17.
Below is a selection of quotes:
“Wages in rich countries are determined more by immigration control than anything else, including any minimum wage legislation”, p.5
“While they complain about minimum wage legislation, regulations on working hours, and various ‘artificial’ entry barriers into the labor market imposed by trade unions few economists even mention immigration control as one of these nasty regulations hampering the workings of the free labor market”.
“Attempts to bring inflation to very low levels have reduced investment and growth, contrary to the claim that greater economic stability […] will encourage investment.” p.61
“Our obsession with inflation should end. Inflation has become the bogeyman that has been used to justify policies that have mainly benefited the holders of financial assets, at the cost long-term stability, economic growth and human happiness” p.61
“[…] the very fact that its PPP income is more or less the same as its market exchange rate is proof that the higher average standard in the US is built on the poverty of many” p.108
“poor climate does not cause underdevelopment; a country’s inability to overcome its poor climate is merely a symptom of underdevelopment” p.121
“But an influential Marxist school of thought argues that capitalists deliberately ‘de-skill’ their workers by using the most mechanized production technologies possible, even if they are not the most economical, in order to take the workers more easily replaceable and thus easier to control.”
1. Dustmann, Christian, et al. “The local labour market effects of immigration in the UK.” (2003).