Death throes of a dictatorship? (William Fear, 26 February, 2024, The Critic)

Since it seized power in February 2021, Myanmar’s military — known as the Tatmadaw — has been facing heavy armed resistance from an array of ethnic-minority and pro-democracy militant groups. The coup was mounted following a landslide election victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy in November of 2020. Much like they did in 1990, the Tatmadaw declared the result false, threw Aung San Suu Kyi back under house arrest, and assumed power themselves.

At first, the people of Myanmar protested against the coup peacefully, but the situation quickly degenerated into violent clashes between protestors and police. A civil war quickly followed, as the military attempted to suppress the numerous militant groups that emerged in opposition to the junta.

Although the military still controls most major population centres, they are losing ground. The reason why is not entirely military-related: Myanmar’s army is well supplied with Russian and Chinese materiel. A more fundamental problem is afflicting the Tatmadaw: collapsing morale, and an inability to recruit new soldiers.


China’s ‘Bad Debt’ Problem: Why Its Not Learning From Japan (Grant Newsham, 2/21/24, Japan Forward)

I had a front-row seat to the cleanup effort. There are lessons, but I doubt Xi Jinping is interested.

The first lesson the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) might learn from Japan is the need for an honest, impartial legal system that’s free of official influence.

Then there’s the simple ability to enforce a contract.

Next, you need guaranteed property rights.

And all of these flow from a system of consensual government.

Japan had all of these. The People’s Republic of China does not – and appears intent on keeping things that way. Otherwise, Party control is threatened.

There is only one hand guiding the Chinese economy and it is the hand of the CCP.

There is no viable alternative to the End of History.


Ursula Le Guin and the Persistence of Tragedy: We ought to read The Dispossessed to appreciate complexity—and the imperfection of our theories in the face of life’s messy reality. (brian a. smith, 3/13/20, Law & Liberty)

The Dispossessed provides us no resolutions. For most of the story, Shevek is a man trying to find his way home, uncertain of what tomorrow will bring. That along with the way Le Guin refuses to let the reader see either of her settings with rose-colored glasses suggests one of the novel’s great values today. Reading the book can help readers clarify what their deepest aspirations and longings will really cost.

Those on the Left should ask how much they’re willing to give up in pursuit of equality. Modern socialists often try to harmonize their opposing desires: they think we can have the tremendous wealth of a modern economy alongside deep equality; they want radical, autonomous choice and also the opportunity to enjoy familial and communal solidarity; they want political and religious conformity without a diminution of cultural and artistic ingenuity; and they desire ongoing technological innovation without the dramatic inequality that entrepreneurs and inventors so naturally generate.

Far from being a platform for family to succeed, socialist intervention may well require the ongoing shredding of those bonds for the simple reason that families undermine the broader solidarity real socialism requires.

Socialists—especially Christian ones—now praise immigration as a great moral imperative. What does it suggest that all of the world’s most successful solidarity-driven socialist experiments are small-scale monocultures? Isn’t it telling that Le Guin’s relatively successful socialist scheme on Anarres is a hermetically-sealed unit speaking a common language and sharing a single, tightly-unified culture?

Traditionally-minded conservatives naturally look to old modes and orders for inspiration. This certainly doesn’t mean that they’re averse to creating new ones, but taking Le Guin seriously might force them to ponder some little-considered questions. What does reestablishing moral order really mean, particularly in the context of a national economy? There’s the obvious (banning porn) but what about the not-so-obvious elements of this, like the moral status of the goods and services we buy and sell?

If the new conservative goal is limited to a worker-friendly industrial policy, that’s one thing, but conservatives ought to keep an eye on where the aspiration to live with the right sort of virtuous economy can lead. The barely-concealed aristocratic longings enjoyed among some traditionalists risk making them into the caricatures of conservatism that Corey Robin imagines who simply long to “keep the lower orders down.” It is good to be clear about what we really mean when we ask for a new economy. Just as a growth oriented economy leads us down disruptive paths, we shouldn’t forget that a stable, virtuous pattern for economic activity might necessitate a return to older patters of life.

Insulating us from Utopian thought is one of Western Messianism’s greatest gifts.


Why Liberalism Needs Piety (Lee Trepanier, 2/13/24, Public Discourse)

[T]here has been little discussion of Aristotle’s view of piety and how it could enrich liberal politics. Mary P. Nichols, professor emerita of political science at Baylor University, fills in this gap with her book, Aristotle’s Discovery of the Human: Piety and Politics in the “Nicomachean Ethics.”

Beginning with Aristotle’s famous statement in his Politics—“Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god”—Nichols argues that Aristotle believes human flourishing occupies a middle ground between these two extremes. People need one another to flourish. By rising above our bestial natures, that is, learning how to live with others, we discover what is most akin to the divine in ourselves. But this also requires us to accept our limitations. We are not, and cannot become, gods. “A good human life, which reflects both the virtues and the limitations of the human,” writes Nichols, “would therefore neither deny the human connection to the divine nor try to eliminate the distance between the two.”

According to Nichols, Aristotelian human flourishing requires piety, the acknowledgment that humans are akin to the divine but cannot be divine themselves. The task of the political community is to support the life of piety. Aristotle refers to the works of the statesman, in securing the good of his community, as divine, including the honors we assign to the gods. Because we can wonder at the divine, we are elevated above the beasts and consequently can deliberate, make choices, and act in forming a political community that aims at the common good. And because we do not receive our ethical virtues from nature, we must be educated and acquire them through our efforts. As Nichols writes, it is, paradoxically, our piety that leads us to discover what is truly human within us, allowing us to cultivate life-giving community.

Whereas the moderns aspire to become gods, Aristotle’s piety limits human ambitions. He claims that we can become “blessed”—a state attributed to the gods—but only as human beings. We can think “divine thoughts,” but recognize that the source of those thoughts is outside of ourselves. The piety that emerges from Aristotle’s philosophy is “a source at the same time of confidence, on the one hand, and moderation, on the other.” Human flourishing occurs in a middle place between beasts and gods.


Chaos at the End of History (Matt Johnson, 12 Feb 2024, Quillette)

His critics argue that the book failed to anticipate a long list of ideological clashes and upheavals: September 11, populist authoritarianism in the US and Europe, the invasion of Ukraine, and the rise of aggressive Chinese nationalism. Many of these critics haven’t read the book or the essay that preceded it, or they would know that Fukuyama fully expected wars, demagogues, aggressive dictators, and political crises to continue filling the pages of the newspapers. His central argument was that capitalist liberal democracy has proven to be the most durable political and economic system—an argument that’s every bit as compelling today as it was 30 years ago.

The evidence for Fukuyama’s claim that the end of the Cold War brought the “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism” is all around us. Western Europe has been at peace since World War II. The total number of democracies has surged. The liberal-democratic world is far more prosperous than any civilization in history—the United States’ annual GDP alone is nearly $28 trillion, while global GDP (adjusted for inflation) was around $23 trillion when “The End of History?” was originally published in 1989. Meanwhile, democracy’s authoritarian challengers are foundering. Russia’s pointless war against Ukraine has made the country a global pariah (Moscow’s best friends are now North Korea and Iran), tanked the value of the ruble, and put immense pressure on its already-meager petro-economy. China, meanwhile, faces a crippling demographic and economic crisis—Chinese stocks have contracted by almost $6 trillion in just three years as a massive real-estate bubble bursts and growth slows substantially.


What Conservatives Can Learn from MLK’s Economic Views: His support for left-wing views didn’t arise in a vacuum—and it was highly controversial among black pioneers, too. (Rachel Ferguson, Jan 15, 2024J, The Dispatch)

The conservative temperament is not naturally activist, which lends itself to too much lethargy about injustice—even when that injustice goes directly against one’s principled advocacy for private property and free exchange (as Jim Crow, red-lining, and urban renewal certainly did). They might also remind theological conservatives to turn inward and ask where one’s commitment to orthodoxy has veered into a gnostic, out-of-balance spiritualization of the Christian life.

More broadly, they should convince today’s conservatives to pause and take a breath between condemnations of the left to wonder why it has been able to suck all the air out of the room on racial questions. If you are not willing to step into the arena and offer your own solution, you can hardly complain that you lost the match.


Young Black Americans Embrace the Stock Market (Oyin Adedoyin and Sanaa Rowser, Jan. 15, 2024, WSJ)

Young Black Americans are among the fastest-growing segments of stock-market investors.

Nearly 40% of Black Americans owned stocks in 2022, up from just under a third in 2016, according to the most recent Federal Reserve data. During that same period the share of white households with stocks grew to nearly two-thirds, up from 61%. This was all before the stock market’s 2023 rally.

This growth seems to be driven in part by younger investors, surveys suggest. They embraced the market in a retail-investing boom fueled by mobile apps, commission-free trading, participation in 401(k)s, crypto, meme stocks and social media, researchers said. Nearly 70% of Black respondents under 40 years old were investing, compared with roughly 60% of white investors in the same age group in 2022, according to a survey by Ariel Investments and Charles Schwab.

“You’re seeing topics of money and investing coming up at the dinner table slightly more among Black families than they had ever before,” said Arielle Patrick, Ariel Investments’ chief communications officer. She also runs thought leadership at the company.

Funded investment accounts would be the proper form of reparations.


China’s Long March Back to Stagnation (DEBIN MA, 1/12/24, Project Syndicate)

As the world grapples with the implications of ominous shifts within China, MIT economist Yasheng Huang, an astute long-term observer of the Chinese economy, has produced a well-timed book. In The Rise and Fall of the EAST: How Exams, Autocracy, Stability, and Technology Brought China Success, and Why They Might Lead to Its Decline, he combines a close examination of contemporary China with an ambitious (sometimes overly so) assessment of the country’s recent and distant past.

Like Huang’s other writings, The Rise and Fall of the EAST has a crisp, punchy, and occasionally satirical tone. Unflinching in his criticism of the current Chinese regime’s failings, Huang champions China’s great reformers, including politically fallen ones.

Given the current political climate in China, it is a courageous book. Huang shows, with great conviction, that China owes its economic miracle to its embrace of market forces and the private sector, which formed the core of the “reform and opening-up” that began four decades ago, following the death of Mao Zedong. By retreating from those earlier policies and commitments, Chinese leaders created the conditions for the setbacks and stagnation that we are seeing today.

It’s remarkable how much damage a regime can do by rejecting the End of History.


Global Inequality in Well‐​Being Has Decreased across Many Dimensions (Chelsea Follett and Vincent Geloso, 6/08/23, Cato)

The world has seen dramatic, global human progress across a broad range of indicators in recent decades, but have those gains been widely shared? The Inequality of Human Progress Index (IHPI) measures relative gaps in global development. It surveys international inequality across a greater number of dimensions than any prior index. By analyzing inequality in a multidimensional way, the IHPI takes inequality more seriously than those indexes that focus on income inequality alone. The IHPI considers material well‐​being and seven additional metrics: lifespan, infant mortality, adequate nutrition, environmental safety, access to opportunity (as measured by education), access to information (as measured by internet access), and political freedom. Across all but two of those dimensions, the world has become more equal since 1990. Globalization and market liberalization over the past few decades have not only raised absolute living standards but also reduced overall inequality.

The brutal reality of the End of History is that you aren’t special.


Why Chile Couldn’t Bury Neoliberalism (Juan David Rojas & Geoff Shullenberger, December 19, 2023, Compact)

Chile’s aborted attempt to rewrite its constitution is a cautionary tale for all of those seeking a radical break—whether from the right or from the left—with the “end-of-history” consensus known as neoliberalism.

Until 2019, Chile was regarded as the pinnacle of Latin American development and a testament to the benefits of free-market economics. To be sure, the model erected by Pinochet and the Chicago Boys—the University of Chicago-trained economists tasked with implementing a radical overhaul of the economic order—eventually restored Chile’s macroeconomic stability following the inflationary chaos unleashed under Salvador Allende’s socialist government. This stabilization allowed the country to attract investment and achieve impressive rates of growth. But the reforms also brought about catastrophically high unemployment, which would have been difficult to sustain under democratic rule. Eventually, the resulting discontent led many Chileans to vote against keeping Pinochet in power in the 1988 referendum that ended his rule.

The irony is that the fruits of the Chicago Boys’s neoliberal reforms came mainly under the stewardship of Pinochet’s democratic successors. After two decades of political turmoil and economic pain under Allende and Pinochet, Chile witnessed an economic boom in the 1990s thanks to high commodity prices. Democratically elected presidents also secured trade deals that had previously eluded the pariah dictatorship. GDP growth averaged 7 percent a year, and per capita GDP doubled by 2010—the year Chile became the first South American country to join the OECD.

The biggest problem with neoliberalism is that, singularly, it works. Yopu can’t have a clash of civilizations when there is only one.