Malthus and the Disintegration of Empires.

  Book Pre-Review:  War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires by  Peter Turchin   Peter Turchin styles himself as a latter day Hari Selden – he is looking for theories of Cliodynamics - general principles of history.   Two big principles animate his War and Peace and War.   One is due to the great Arab historian and polymath Ibn Khaldun.   Khaldun identified the crucial role of asabiya – the fundamental social glue that unites a people – in the stability of nations and empires.   The second is the role of Malthusian cycles in the instability of empires. The basic idea of the Malthusian cycle is that peace and prosperity lead to growth in the numbers of the peasant class.   This leads to competition for land, increases in rents, decreases in pay for landless laborers and increased prosperity for the nobles and other rentiers, which, in turn, leads to an expansion of the Noble class.   The peasants and laborers suffer starvation, plague, and the other apocalyptic catastroph

This Movie, Again

  The US spent a trillion dollars fighting the Taliban and equipping a large Afghan government force with modern weapons and training.   The government troops are far more numerous than the Taliban and much better equipped, and they are melting before the Taliban like a July snow.   Why? The great Arab Historian and polymath Ibn Khaldun figured this out eight centuries ago.   He called it asibiyah, the social glue that holds a nation or a fighting force together.   The asibiyah of the Taliban is a fanatic devotion to a religion that promises paradise to martyrs.   The government forces have no equivalent. Bush and his idiot advisors often and proudly announced that they were not into nation building.   When they said that, I thought “then you will surely fail.”   After World War II, the US and allies spent vast sums and many decades in building Germany and Japan into modern democratic nations.   That effort has proved immensely successful. Any similar efforts in the targets of B

Book Review of Critical Theory: A very short introduction.

  Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) by  Stephen Eric Bronner   What the heck is Critical Theory?   I was trying to understand Critical Race Theory , this bête noire of modern right-wing hysteria, when it occurred to me that I might want to start with this antecedent.   Of course this led down the rabbit hole to Marx, Hegel, Nietzsche and a whole fight club of similar philosophical scoundrels, but, for the moment, I stopped with the above VSI. Critical Theory originated in the 1920s in the so-called Frankfurt School, a group of young Jewish Marxist academics inspired by the success of the Russian Revolution.   They were especially concerned with alienation and reification . Critical theorists noted with alarm how interpreting modern society was becoming ever more difficult. Alienation and reification were thus analyzed in terms of how they imperiled the exercise of subjectivity, robbed the world of meaning and purpose, and turned the individua

Keynes vs. Hayek: Book Review Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics eBook: Wapshott, Nicholas: Kindle Store by  Nicholas Wapshott I liked this book on two of the most influential economists of the Twentieth Century. Wapshott is an engaging writer who can combine personal portraits with clear explanations of the underlying issues. Keynes was likely the most influential economist of the Century, and his intellectual brilliance intimidated even mega-minds like Bertrand Russell and Wittgenstein. He was at the negotiations over the end of the First World War and correctly predicted that its disastrous provisions would lead to another War in his article  The Economic Consequences of Peace.  His role as a Cassandra was further c

Why Did the Mongols So Easily Conquer Russia?

 I have been reading Peter Turchin's War and Peace and War.  He open's with a look at how the Mongols easily swept through Russia and how Muscovy completely turned the table three centuries later.  One reason his analysis caught my eye is because it resonated with a favorite theme of mine: what is wrong with Libertarianism.  Thirteenth Century Russia was fragmented into tiny principalities and city states.  Even though they knew that cooperation was their best chance against the invasion, they were unable to unite.  Why?  The destruction of the Volga Bulgars in 1236 made it abundantly clear that the Mongols planned a systematic conquest; however, the Russians did not unite. Paradoxically, every principality, when taken individually, behaved in a completely rational manner. Each prince waited for others to unite and defeat the Mongols. Because each prince controlled only a small army, his contribution was not crucial to the common success. His potential costs, on the other hand,

UEFA 2020 - Why Soccer Sucks

 Time for one of my occasional notes on how to reform football, so traditionalists please retire to your fainting couches.  Italy vs. Spain.  Two excellent teams battle for two hours and then the winner is decided by flipping a blankety-blank coin. OK, a virtual coin.   The problem is that there are far too few decent scoring opportunities.  Defensive technique is just too good.  Which reminds me: the penalty shot is an ugly wart on the game.  Most fouls in the penalty error aren't called because the penalty shot is ridiculously disproportionate.  1) For a start, eliminate the penalty shot and replace it with a free kick from a penalty loop about 30 meters from the goal.  Call penalty area fouls aggressively - no tackling or shirt tugging allowed. 2) (This one due to Pele).  Replace throw-ins with kick-ins or punt-ins.  Possibly limit these to the back two thirds of the field (see below). 3) Divide the pitch into equal thirds, with the offside rule only applying in the final third.


 I've developed an enthusiasm for OUP's Very Short Introduction series and accumulated a dozen or so of them, mostly on economics and science.  Also a few from Princeton UP's science essentials series. They are great if you want about 200 pages on Marine Biology or Malthus , written by an expert professional. Anyway, my current attention has focused on economics, starting with Keynes .  Keynes is probably the dominating figure of Twentieth Century economics, a man of such intimidating intellect that even Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein were abashed. Bertrand Russell has written that ‘Keynes’s intellect was the sharpest and clearest that I have ever known. When I argued with him, I felt that I took my life in my hands, and I seldom emerged without feeling something of a fool.’  Skidelsky, Robert. Keynes: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (p. 4). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.  The fight over his legacy continues 75 years after his death.  The decade