“Twilight of Democracy”

Here’s what’s good about Anne Applebaum’s new book: it’s anecdotal in all the right places.

Note the soft carpet of my living room and the greasy fingerprints on the cover.
That’s realism for ya.

This is a book that attempts to explain the authoritarian turns across Europe and in the United States, and Applebaum, as you’d expect from her, provides a convincing, well-reasoned and insightful explanation as to why they are happening. And since she’s a well renowned international journalist and a wife to Poland’s former minister of foreign affairs, she’s been at the center of many of the important political events of the last decades (hence the anecdotes). It’s a very good book, well worth a read if you’d like to get a better understanding of what’s going on with the world, and it’s so up-to-date that it even covers the beginning of the pandemic.

One caveat though: Applebaum is what American political scientists would call a neoconservative, and thus her view of the events of the last 20 years is McCainy a bit. It’s not wrong and I’d say she keeps relatively neutral. But if you want a very different take, try Monbiots “How did we get into this mess?”—a worse book, but a somewhat fresher (i.e. left wing) view on things.

Ah and one final note: this book is short. Not too-short short, but short enough for people like me who use Piketty as a monitor stand. Digestible, that’s the word I was looking for. This book is digestible for software engineers.

A false sense of security

Marc Andreessen writes about how ill-equipped the United States is to handle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and concludes that it’s due to the fact that the America lost its ability to “build” things, be it medical equipment, infrastructure, or financial mechanisms that’d allow the federal government to support its citizens better.

There’s a particular paragraph that stood out to me and made me think about a particular lack-of-readiness aspect of COVID-19 epidemic, not only in the US, but all over the world and in particular in Western Europe:

We see this today with the things we urgently need but don’t have. We don’t have enough coronavirus tests, or test materials — including, amazingly, cotton swabs and common reagents. We don’t have enough ventilators, negative pressure rooms, and ICU beds. And we don’t have enough surgical masks, eye shields, and medical gowns — as I write this, New York City has put out a desperate call for rain ponchos to be used as medical gowns. Rain ponchos! In 2020! In America!

Continue reading “A false sense of security”

“And the Weak Suffer What They Must?”

I always slightly disliked Yanis Varoufakis. Strike that, actually I always thought he’s a bit of a clown. Motorbike-riding, leather-jacket-clad, attention-seeking, populist, arrogant clown. Worst of all, he was part of that annoying movement of European politicians that rejected the narrative I believed in, namely that:

  1. One must always pay ones debts.1
  2. EU and its institutions always know what they’re doing.
  3. Countries must be extremely careful with public spending and apply strict austerity measures when facing economic difficulties.2

Varoufakis, an outspoken critic of European Union and its institutions, and a prime minister in a populist government was in stark opposition to that narrative, and thus to everything I knew about public-sector economics (gives you an idea of how deep my knowledge was). I really hated the man, and felt sorry for the Greek people that they had a politician like this, in as critical a function as their finance minister, in the midst of such an enormous crisis.
Continue reading ““And the Weak Suffer What They Must?””

Слава Україні!

The Economist:

Once you have gained a taste for adrenaline-flavoured simplicity, it can become addictive. Ukraine needs a decade of hard work on reform to recover the chances squandered in the past 25 years, building the institutions, habits and attitudes needed for honest, lawful government. That will require patience and expertise, not courage and barricades.

I love Ukraine and Ukrainians, and I’m so glad that the violence stopped, but at the same time I’m worried about Ukraine’s future. The amount of bad journalism that you can find on the topic online is staggering, but the blog entry on “Eastern Approaches” by The Economist is luckily rather good (as usual), providing a thorough and non-emotional analysis of the whole situation.

“Debt”

Debt David Graeber’s Debt is one of the best books I have read in my life.

It is a thorough historical and anthropological investigation into the nature of money and, nomen omen, debt. Across about 400 pages Graeber analyzes all aspects of these: moral, economical and philosophical. He lays out a fresh and somewhat bold view that challenges classical economic theories, namely that debt has been the true essence of human economies for at least 5000 years now, and provides lots of compelling evidence to support this claim. His original analysis is very thought-provoking, and makes the reader wonder about the very foundations of our society, global economy, and certain aspects of human nature (like greed and love).

To a reader unfamiliar with economics and anthropology (such as myself), Graeber’s book is also an eye-opener when it comes to explaining how the world works, and even more, how it has been working for the last couple of thousands of years. The author is a true erudite in how he manages to show numerous connections between religion, economy, history and human nature. And through last chapters, where he relates his historical presentation to present day and the financial crisis of 2007–2008, it is also a bit scary to read (again, to a poorly educated person such as myself) about how global economy ‘works’.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in economics and history of money and markets, but also to those who’d like to read about the history of the world from a different perspective.