what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!
The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Fiddling while Rome is Burning

Bear with me while I try to get to the heart of my unease with the quality of the non-fiction writing with which we are flooded every day - week in and week out.
I've previously suggested that a common fault of the books which should be helping us understand the nature of the problems which confront us - be it globalisation, corruption, unemployment, migration, populism or identity - is partiality, bad-writing or over-specialisation.

The discipline of Economics has rightly taken a drubbing since 2008 - with the world waking up at last to the inanity of the assumptions it brings to to the task of anticipating future events.
But, despite this, economists remain, after epidimiologists, the first "go-to experts" for the media.  So their poisonous message continues to seep into our minds

We expect political scientists, by virtue simply of the first word in their title, to be different. But they have, in the past half-century, allowed the second word to dominate their thinking. They have "penis-envy"; and have tended as a result to produce boring quantitative stuff - with a few honourable exceptions noted below

Intellectuals of the mid-century - such as JK Galbraith, Raymond Aron and Tony Crosland - could communicate about Big Issues. Three features in particular stood out in their writing -
- They had read widely - not just in the narrow sub-disciplines of today's academia;
- had broad experience of life - beyond the ivory tower
- they were not afraid to demonstrate their moral principles

We are, these days in desperate need of their ilk. I'm hard pressed to find books which contain these qualities. Too many EITHER set up simplified goodies and baddies OR confuse us with the over-complexity of their analyses
Two authors who have the necessary breadth are Romania's Alina Mungiu-Pippidi who, since 2007, has been Professor of Democratic Studies at the prestigious Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and an activist in her home country....Graduating originally in medicine, she has a doctorate in social psychology and has even written plays. Not surprisingly corruption has been a central focus of her work;  and her latest book is a great read - Europe's Burden - promoting good governance across borders (2020) which I hope to be studying next week....The excerpts which Amazon offers demonstrate a strong sense of country histories which are generally missing in most technocratic works.

Graham P Maxton was, until 2018, Secretary of The Club of Rome and I came across his superbly-written little book Change - why we need a radical turnaround (2018) earlier in the year. This is one of the best statements I know of about global warming and why we need urgent change
In 2011 he produced the equally readable "The End of Progress - how modern economics has failed us" . There is an interview here; and a presentation here

Some Critiques of social and political science relevance
- Bent Flyvbjerg’s Making Social Science Matter (2001),
- Stephen Toulmin’s Return to Reason (2003),
- Sanford Schram and Brian Caterino’s Making Political Science Matter (2006) and
- Gerry Stoker and B, Guy Peters The Relevance of Political Science (2013)  

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