Thursday 21 September 2017

Fabian Wendt & apophatic Justification

Fabian Wendt's prize winning paper seeks to integrate Comprehensive Liberalism- i.e. the old fashioned sort which had a full theory of Value and brighline judgements on everything under the Sun- with Public Justification Theory so as to depass the dilemmas and aporias of 'Public Reason' Liberalism which shies away from wedge issues.

He writes-
.. laws are publicly justifiable when all members of the relevant ‘public’ have sufficient reason to accept them, whereby ‘having sufficient reason’ is taken to be relative to the individuals’ values and beliefs, not relative to some external standard
Why enact, or justify an existing, law if everybody already subscribes to values and beliefs such that they will abide by it? 
Consider my proposed law banning people from calling each other up in the middle of the night in order to recite the Sillapadikram backwards. Everybody already abides by its stipulation. It is a waste of resources to see it enacted though, no doubt, it is publicly justifiable and need not be repealed if it is already on the statute books.
It may be argued that there is some moral consideration which gives rise to a quite separate 'sufficient reason', for approving the Law I have proposed. It may be that 'respect for persons'- more especially Tambram retards like me- militates for the promulgation of this law.
On the other hand there may be a visceral moral objection to appeasing a repugnant imbecile seeking to validate his own gross superstitions and impious dreads.
In both cases, a new second order, albeit pro tanto, 'sufficient reason' has been created purely because of public justification of a proposed or established law.
In the interests of 'stability'- i.e. to prevent fractious discord- the best thing to do would be to exclude  public justification of my law because nobody is breaking it anyway. Could there be a publicly justifiable general- that is 'constitutional'- law to this effect?

Fabian Wendt concludes his essay thus-
Let us for the moment imagine a comprehensive liberalism that does not include a principle of public justification. In that theory, we still have to accommodate different moral considerations that stand in tension with each other, since every plausible moral-political theory should acknowledge that there is a plurality of values to be considered. When assessing a law, we can ask how just it is, how effective it is, and so on. All these different considerations have to be taken into account before we can come to an all things considered judgment about the law. This makes moral thinking complicated, of course, and the issue of comparability of values is a serious one, but it does not lead to a split personality in any meaningful sense. Now the point is that public justifiability does not make moral thinking more difficult than it already is. It is just another consideration that is to be taken into account. The dichotomy between public justification and correctness-based justification stresses that there are two very different forms of justification, but this obscures the fact that public justifiability functions as one consideration among many other considerations within correctness-based justification, when it is integrated into a comprehensive liberalism. Here is the picture: on the first level in the evaluation of laws , we engage in correctness-based justification and evaluate laws in terms of their justice, fairness, efficiency etc., and we determine what the best law would be in light of these values. On the second level we take into account that others disagree about what the best law would be, and thus we consider moral values that become relevant under such circumstances of disagreement. Here, public justifiability comes into play as one such second-level moral value, and so public justifiability co-determines what the all things considered best law is within a correctness-based justification. Because public justifiability is just another moral consideration to be taken into account, it does not introduce any form of schizophrenia to our moral thinking. We can safely endorse a comprehensive liberalism and incorporate a principle of public justification.'

This means that even under the most favourable conditions- i.e. where there is an ubiquitous  'comprehensive liberalism' with a full theory of value- it would not be the case that 'constitutional laws'- i.e. laws about how laws are to be made or abrogated- could be publicly justifiable. This is because either there is no 'first level' efficiency filter- in which case my law has to be treated in the same manner as one which would filter it out- or else all second order moral considerations are effectually estopped unless they have no bearing on efficiency, justice, fairness etc and thus failed to be taken into account at the first level. But, in that case, they would have failed the first level test anyway.

For a truly Comprehensive Liberalism, Efficiency is all that matters. All rational agents would happily delegate determination of their 'sufficient reason' to an expert, if this could be done for free, and disintermediate themselves from the public justification process. This means that a Revelation principle obtains as does a Justice mechanism which needn't have a representation as a universal law code.

Either there is a 'mysterious economy' in which our Values and Beliefs cause us to affirm Faith or else nothing is, of its nature, secret or apophatic or too complex or computationally costly for utterance. In the former case, Public Justification is either foolish or otiose; in the latter, Values and Beliefs are either puerile or mischievous.

Chris Renwick on why we need the Welfare State.

Chris Renwick, an erudite History professor with a gift for pellucid English prose, writes in today's Guardian-

The poor law, established in 1601, at the end of Elizabeth I’s reign, made Britain’s guarantee of help for the destitute unique among European nations.
Britain did not exist in 1601. James I, introduced the term at his accession in 1604. There was no 'guarantee of help for the destitute' then, nor, truth be told, is there one now. It is not the case that every hungry and homeless person in the country today is guaranteed assistance from the State. Various conditionalities have to be met. Genuine claims may be arbitrarily rejected- for example a sick person may be 'sanctioned' for failing to attend an interview- and a legal challenge may fail to avert death by neglect and inanition.

The last peace time famine, in England, occurred in 1623- a time of agricultural collapse in the North and North West. However, the underlying Malthusian aspect of the problem had peaked some sixty years previously and Market based reforms had already been set in motion. This meant that mortality ceased to be linked to bad harvests because trade and diversified specialisation- as well as improved entry and exit- had tackled the underlying problem of 'entitlement collapse' in a rational, not Sen-tentious manner. In other words, people hedged against dearth by their own efforts and decisions. They did not rely on some bogus 'guarantee' which the Crown had supposedly given.

Interestingly, contrary to the Thanksgiving myth, the Mayflower Pilgrims suffered dearth in 1621 and 1622 because most of the colonists were lazy thieves. Things turned around in 1623 and the next year there was an exportable surplus. What changed? The answer is that the guarantee to supply each colonist according to his need was done away with. Instead, each household was allotted land and allowed to keep what they produced.

Had 'Good Queen Bess' actually introduced a Socialistic 'guarantee of help to the destitute'- England would have starved in the same manner as those of its colonies in the New World which initially adhered to the principle 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs'.

Renwick is of a different opinion. Perhaps he thinks Britian was an 'organic' Polyani-type 'embedded' Society where the Lord and Lady of the Manor spent their days nursing the sick and distributing largesse to the destitute before getting all dolled up to dance the night away in beautiful ball rooms.

Then something terrible happened. The Jews came. Ricardo showed that, under diminishing returns, Landlords have an incentive to preserve a Malthusian reserve army to enforce the iron law of wages at the expense of Entrepreneurs in a manner which boosts their own rents. A corrupt 'pocket borough' riddled Parliament was holding the productive putative middle class in check by keeping the price of bread high and the wages for labour low. The more industrious farmer or craftsman bore the burden of the 'poor rate' so as to keep the very class he sprang from in a demographic poverty trap.

No doubt, the Reverent Malthus had a 'Keynesian' justification for this Divine dispensation. You see, the Aristos don't like saving money. They are notorious spendthrifts flinging coppers to the destitute and guineas to the gambling tables. They delight in ostentatious consumption. The Middle Class likes to save and invest its money. That would cause an under-consumption crisis. So Aristos we must always have with us. They must be tortured into trusses by their valets and scourged into salons by their footmen. Their gamekeepers lead them to a Golgotha where they are crucified for our sins seated upon their own shooting sticks. Such caviare and champagne as they are forced to partake of are as but vinegar & gall. Yet, in their measureless suffering we are all redeemed.

Renwick doesn't actually say it was the Jews who upset this beautiful apple-cart. Political Correctness gone mad, by Jove! Still, the man is sound enough- probably of solid Cumbrian stock- and he lets those nasty 'reformers' and 'modernisers' have it but good.

In the 1830s, an influential group of reformers, who later would be known as “modernisers”, changed the terms on which that help was offered. Assistance should amount to less than what the lowest-paid labourers could obtain with their wages, reformers insisted. Furthermore, help should only be available to people who were prepared to live in a workhouse – a dark, dank and miserable place where they were given an ill-fitting uniform and forced to carry out menial tasks in exchange for shelter and meagre rations of the most basic food.
Since the middle class paid for the wage subsidy to their less fortunate or skillful cousins, which in turn benefited the big manufacturer or Agricultural Estate, they used their political power to curb such expenditure. They were bound to succeed, because the rapidly growing middle class dominated industrial Towns and Cities had no Poor Law obligation to migrant workers. Rather, it was their own natal agricultural parishes which were on the hook. In other words, the letter of the Law was a double edged sword for the landed class. They would have to give up Agricultural protection (the 'Corn Law') if they wanted to save 'outdoor relief' (i.e. wage subsidies). In the end, they lost both but that wasn't till the dire boom-bust of the '40's shook them out of their complacency.
Renwick himself says
The country had grown wealthy during the industrial revolution, via the financial might of the City of London, the manufacturing power of the north of England, and an enthusiastic embrace of free trade.
But, Poor Law reform was part and parcel of what drove the industrial revolution and turned the north of England into a manufacturing power house. Other monetary and financial reforms, culminating in Gladstone's Free Trade budget, ensured the security and burgeoning might of the City of London.
None of this would have been possible if an able bodied pauper could receive a wage subsidy to remain in his accustomed profession- or no profession at all- at the expense of the rate payer.

Once fallacious and hypocritical arguments- like the notion that widows and orphans would starve unless the yield on consols was maintained, or that Aristocrats had to be profligate to stave off an under-consumption crisis, or that 'outdoor relief' was an intrinsic aspect of 'Merrie England' as was the Corn Law- were driven out of political discourse, the face of the British working class changed completely. The Workhouse became a Hospital for the elderly and indigent. Admittance to it was a matter of bitter shame for the able bodied. The British worker became a Staknonovite avant la lettre. Productivity, not Parasitism, was a badge of pride. Even the Aristocrats began to despise sinecures. The definition of a gentleman became one who held irregular perquisites in abhorrence. In any case, the door was always open to emigration. A Moll Flanders or Magwitch might make good in the Colonies rather than eke out a miserable existence in some Bridewell back home. Rising prosperity meant that hard working immigrants more than made up for the outflow. The perceived need for a captive workforce- itself a cab-rank type fallacy- was reduced.

However, there was still information asymmetry and adverse selection in Insurance markets- where they weren't wholly missing. Employers and workers faced the same problem re smoothing consumption and investment flows. Alfred Marshall would take trains to distressed areas and walk around looking into the pinched and wan faces of laid off workers seeking to divine the cause of this periodic curse. He read Marx and Lasalle but was left none the wiser. Still he soldiered on and, contemporaneously with quite a few other math mavens, founded the 'Marginal Revolution' which clarified the dynamics which Classical economists had left opaque. As he grew older, he grew more Conservative. Increasing acquaintance with bureaucratic reformers pushed him onto Pareto's trajectory. Like Herbert Spenser, Marshall felt instinctively that State Social and Health Insurance wasn't the panacea it might appear from a purely 'missing market' perspective. The underlying problem has to do with 'stickyness' in bureaucratic service provision under Knightian uncertainty. At the margin, it must be the case that some 'noise' is actually a signal. The longer you block that signal, the more painful the eventual shake out.

Renwick paraphrases Beveridge, a math maven Lawyer assimilable to the Coasian tradition, thus-
The biggest contribution to unemployment outside the downward slopes of the trade cycle, Beveridge argued, was the inefficiency of industry when it came to hiring workers. He asked readers of his book Unemployment: A Problem of Industry (1909) to imagine a scene he had encountered on many occasions: 10 wharves that each employed between 50 and 100 men per day, half of whom were regular staff and half of whom were reserves. While each wharf would experience similar high and low points in trade throughout the year, they were also likely to have their own individual fluctuations within those patterns. Anyone looking at the 10 wharves as a whole would not see these smaller deviations. The problem was that those smaller deviations were all that mattered to the reserve labourers walking from wharf to wharf asking for work each morning, because they meant the difference between them and their families eating, or going hungry.
If there was better communication and planning, Beveridge argued, almost all of those men would be able to find work each day. The problem was that business and industries were quite happy with the situation: they often had many more workers than vacancies, and did not need to pick up the costs of supporting those who couldn’t find work. Beveridge believed the state was the only institution with both the power to solve this problem and the interest in doing so. The political will to act on this conviction would have far-reaching implications for the millions of people who have found themselves out of work since. But we have slid backwards into a situation where precarious work paid by the hour is considered a sign of progress.
What could the State do in the above situation? Well, it could regulate the industry such that a levy on employers supported the unluckiest workers. Fine! But two things would happen in response- firstly there would be increased amalgamation within the industry, because of a one-off change in relative costs as well as a migration of business to an unregulated area- secondly there would be rent seeking behaviour on the part of the Industry. Political will suddenly increases in supply where rent-seeking behaviour increases. In the case of vital distribution networks, rent-seeking behaviour has complicated dynamic effects on the economy- none of them good. 

A Coasian solution- viz. voluntary insurance- fails because of adverse selection. The puzzle of existential entrepreneurialism- i.e. poor people taking risks affecting their daily bread- can only be solved by positing a habitus of risk taking. The guy whose income is precarious is thinking furiously about niches in the market. Some of his ilk will succeed, others will go to the wall. Sill, since the fact he is he took the risk, this might actually be individually regret-minimizing as well as Hannan consistent (i.e. dynamically efficient) at the aggregate level.

Beveridge, an old fashioned Fabian who strongly believed in the work-ethic, gained salience because of post-War overfull employment. What was actually happening was that the working class was acquiescing in a shift of the tax burden onto its own shoulders.  Since a reasonably functional democracy and fairly good governance ensured that at least some of that money was spent on things which created assets for working class people, the only nigger in the woodpile was people like me- globally footloose Coloured or, more recently, Continental immigrants.

This led ignorant people to confuse cause and effect. Somehow, the 'Welfare State' was given credit for a phenomenon- overfull employment- common to all Post War industrialised countries- even ones where no such thing existed and which grew far more rapidly. It was thought that the Beveridge Report was the Trojan Horse of Keynesianism. It was no such thing. Overfull employment happened by itself. An inflationary bias was a good way to shrink War time Debt. In the Seventies, 'fiscal drag' increased the tax burden on the working class. This was the other side to the coin of an unprecedented rise in Labour's share of National Income. But, once global monetary policy became explicitly Keynesian- Nixon's folly- Stagflation meant that it was the Welfare State which became the target of choice. Indeed, it was blamed for us immigrants who supposedly only came over to go on the dole. The truth is, what was happening was Tiebout sorting. Workers were coming to a State where workers were taxed and thus some of that tax revenue could be spent on the local public goods such workers valued. This was incentive compatible but it wasn't what Keynes or Beveridge or any other bien pensant Liberal ever envisaged or desired.

Renwick writes
The welfare state that came into being during the late 1940s underpinned a whole way of life that politicians only started to pull apart from the early 1980s onwards.
This begs the question- why then and not previously? The answer is obvious. State capacity had greatly increased because of the War. The entire population had been bureaucratised. Everybody had a ration card and anyone capable of productive work was sure of employment.
Industry took a different shape- not so much in England, where issues of 'caste as class' embittered everything, but elsewhere- because of the integration of a military style line management into the older commercial order. This increased 'Duality' in the Economy and occulted the actual distribution of Income and Wealth. Britain's exceptional Trade Union tradition was a separate factor which, however, proved fatal to its continuing success as a great manufacturing nation. It is not true to say that the welfare state underpinned a 'whole way of life'. Corporate health insurance and Union based unemployment benefits would have been an even better underpinning of a 'way of life' which was Americanised. It is not the case that Beveridge made Keynesianism possible or vice versa. The War changed the population in fundamental ways. It created State capacity of an unprecedented sort. I suppose, overfull employment meant that the Welfare State developed some persistent pathologies- families on the dole generation after generation, shuttling between the Probation Officer and the Social Worker- and undermined the viability of an 'efficiency wage' for the vast majority. However, it did cushion, to some extent, structural unemployment of an inevitable sort in extractive and heavy industries. There were other developments in the Seventies, which were 'Welfarist' but more obviously counter productive, but they have been quietly dropped from the core notion that Renwick cherishes-
The intention during the third quarter of the 20th century was to bring capitalism under control, specifically its tendency to interrupt and put downwards pressure on people’s earnings, rather than dispense with the system entirely.
The third quarter of the 20th century commenced with an unprecedented accumulation of power in the hands of the State. In Britain, Exchange Controls were only fully abolished in 1979, and the fear that they might be restored only dissipated after '92. Capitalism was already under control. Americans couldn't buy gold for most of the period. Markets weren't free and, in the Seventies, it was big Industries which went on the dole. The worker now had to pay for his idle cousins at the racetrack as well as for his inefficient managers on the golf course. The Welfare State had become a Monty Python sketch. At Number 10, the shop stewards have turned up for their ritual 'beer and sandwiches', but the CBI barges in whining for champagne and caviare and millions in bail outs. Everybody has a sob story. The 'White Heat of the Technological Revolution' means handouts to a new class of entrepreneur who promises to bring hi tech jobs to unemployment hotspots. But industry has turned into a money pit.
The Government is no longer in the business of paying people to promise they will build factories where workers will be paid. Why? Because the thing is an obvious swindle.
No doubt, the Govt does pay people to promise they will cut Welfare by pretending sick people aren't sick or unemployed people are not actually looking for work. Without question, the Government throws money at 'public private' initiatives which destroy National Wealth. Clearly, this too is a swindle. But it isn't the same swindle exactly.

Renwick says-
We have come to see the welfare state simply as a cost to be kept down rather than part of an economic and social strategy that aims to deliver security for all and opportunities to obtain more for those who want to.
This is nonsense. Costs should be kept down. Benefits should be increased. Stop doing stupid shit or giving money to obvious swindlers. That reduces costs. Make sure you get value for the money you do spend- that increases benefits. An economic and social strategy that aims to deliver security for all is bound to involve doing stupid shit and giving money to obvious swindlers. Politicians have a fiduciary duty. This duty can only be discharged with due care and diligence if there is clarity as to the corpus available and the class of beneficiaries.  Security for all is meaningless. At the margin, agents need action guiding signals. If the State covers their ears, on the excuse of shutting out 'noise', they may get some false security. But sooner or later, the State will face a fiscal crunch. It's 'guarantees' will turn out to be worthless. Just ask the Greeks or the Venezuelans.
The idea that these goals are no longer obtainable is clearly false. A good start would be to reconnect with the liberal idea, now more than a century old, that everyone sees returns when they pool risks, whether it’s the individuals who can stop worrying about what is around the corner, governments that might otherwise cut their headline costs but succeed only in shifting it somewhere else, or the companies that benefit from healthy and educated workers operating in a safe environment.
A pooling equilibrium is not necessarily a good thing. That's why Nature and Economics display separating equilibria on the basis of costly signals. In the short run, the State can suppress costly signals in favour of cheap talk.  But, the crisis, when it comes, will be that much more severe because an eusocial mechanism has been thoughtlessly disabled.

It is never a good idea to 'reconnect' with century old notions. Why? The guys who had those notions are dead and can't speak up for themselves. The historians who tell us about those notions are stupid and ignorant and tell stupid, ignorant, lies.

We now have a new type of technology which can plug 'missing markets' and do 'separating equilibrium' based risk pooling better and more cheaply than ever before. The British Govt. has shown no deftness in adopting this technology. On the contrary, it appears to be in the business of handing over money to whichever contractor can screw things up most royally.

Companies that benefit from healthy and educated workers operating in a safe environment are doing very nicely for themselves, thank you, without any assistance from the State. They don't want 'risk pooling'. Employees may, because of Knightian Uncertainty, but it is regret minimizing for them to ask for this and remain content when it is denied. In other words, this isn't a first order Preference. It is strategic behaviour.

Renwick says-
A successful economy requires all these actors to understand that they need to give, not just take, in order to build an environment in which they and those that follow them are able to succeed.
This is nonsense. Economic agents don't need to understand meaningless bromides like 'you need to give, not just take' because they already understand that they have to pay for stuff they buy and get paid for stuff they sell. There is no need to 'build an environment' which appears spontaneously all over the world and throughout human history.

By contrast, when it comes to eating a slice of Pizza we do need urgent Government intervention to ensure that a safe and sustainable environment is created in which agents who bite into the pizza are properly cautioned to unclench their jaws and begin a chewing motion. Furthermore, it is important that salivary juices are released as this aids in the formation of a bolus which can be swallowed safely. We must reconnect with the idea of the great Horace Fletcher who propounded this revolutionary doctrine of chewing and mastication a little more than a century ago.

I must stop now, because the guy from Papa John is ringing the bell. Tragically, I may choke to death because this Tory Government has criminally refused to build a proper environment for pizza chewing in this country. If I die tonight, Theresa May and her neo-liberal cabal will have my blood on their hands.

Nobel Peace prize for Theresa May

I read in the Telegraph that-
Britain spent about £305,000 last year on educational programs for the Burmese military on English, democracy, and leadership. The programs do not include combat training.
Unfortunately, it appears that the Burmese military have decided to demonstrate democratic leadership and gain popularity by brutally driving away darker skinned 'kalar' Muslims and Hindus who speak an Indo-Aryan language. Why did they do so? Was it their new found English skills which permitted them to access the philosophical musings of Katie Hopkins? We can't be certain. Still, as a precaution, it is heartening to hear Theresa May's robust assurance that the British Ministry of Defence will suspend these educational courses till...urm.. something or the other happens which makes it acceptable once again.

Why has the Lady, suffering house arrest at Number 10, at the hands of a brutal Brexiteer Junta, not been given a Nobel Peace Prize?

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Why Responsibility to Protect (R2P) failed.

Ramesh Thakur, one of the theorists behind 'Responsibility to Protect', thought Libya was a 'win'.
He wrote-

'Referring to the role of Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power in arguing for limited military action in Libya against the non-interventionist inclinations of the male defence secretary, national security adviser and counterterrorism chief, Jacob Heibrunn derided Obama for effectively having been henpecked into interventionism by ''these Valkyries of foreign affairs''.Not to be outdone on misogyny, Mark Krikorian commented caustically that ''our commander-in-chief is an effete vacillator who is pushed around by his female subordinates''.
The jury is still out on whether international military action in Libya will promote consolidation or softening of the R2P norm. The Libyan people's euphoria and NATO's relief over the successful military campaign to remove Gaddafi is likely to temper criticisms of the manner in which NATO rode roughshod over UN authorisation to protect civilians.
That said, we should not be naive about what may be required in particular circumstances. Already in 2003, as Commissioner for the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, I wrote that ''If defeat of a non-compliant state or regime is the only way to achieve the human protection goals, then so be it.'' In Libya, the West's strategic interests coincided with UN values. This does not mean that the latter was subordinated to the former. It does mean, as was the case with Australia vis--vis East Timor in 1999, that there was a better prospect of sustained NATO engagement in an operation on its borders than if Western interests were not affected. Paris, London and Washington - and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon - did not waver in their resolve, despite critics from the left pushing for diplomacy and critics from the right calling for boots on the ground. Too many seemed to expect and demand instant military gratification. Six months to overthrow an entrenched and determined dictator is not bad.
The outcome is a triumph first and foremost for the citizen soldiers who refused to let fear of Gaddafi determine their destiny any longer. It is a triumph secondly for R2P. NATO military muscle deployed on behalf of UN political will helped to level the killing field between citizens and a tyrant. It is possible for the international community, working through the authenticated, UN-centred structures and procedures of organised multilateralism, to deploy international force to neutralise the military might of a thug and intervene between him and his victims with reduced civilian casualties and little risk of military casualties.

Ramesh wrote this 6 years ago. Since then much has changed. Libya is now considered an own goal for NATO. Syria was even worse. Last year, Putin started to look like the good guy and Trump was happy to endorse this view. It appears that R2P can indeed bring about 'regime change'- but in Washington, not Damascus. Indeed, things may not stop there. The E.U is already looking very different. If Merkel loses, Syria will be the main reason. Elsewhere we see that Turkey and Iran have realigned. Even the two Wahhabi Kingdoms are at each other's throats.

R2P was about sterilizing the military complement to humanitarian intervention such that no Balance of Power perturbation obtains. This is feasible where a narrow clique supporting a sociopathic dictator are the sole source and foundation of all evil in that polity. A multilateral military strike against the clique, in theory, could quickly lead to a benign regime change welcome to all parties. Not a tear was shed for Ceaucescu who was toppled by moderate Communist apparatchiks who realised that the factory workers had lost patience with the regime and that the Army would not shoot their own kin. Ceaucescu made some incredible blunders in his last days. He hoped to blame everything on the Hungarians. No doubt, he'd have been happy to sponsor some ethnic cleansing in Timisoara in the hope of provoking a military response which would have revived Romanian fears regarding the irredentism of their neighbors. This strategy unravelled in spectacular fashion on live TV as the crowd turned hostile to his speech and took up Timisoara as their own rallying cry.

In the Nineties, the dysfunctional character of Yeltsin's Russia created a power vacuum such that unilateral military action became possible. However, it also became obvious that nuclear weapons were an effective hedge against such intervention. Fortunately, these proved to be far more difficult to develop and deploy than had been previously envisaged. Still, 'W.M.Ds' emerged as a casus belli- one which militated for unilateral interventionism in an obviously dangerous and globally destabilising manner. It was in this context that R2P was envisaged and adopted by the U.N. The Brazilians have proposed a revision of this policy which privileges the older notion of 'humanitarian assistance' and which subordinates military intervention to a humanitarian calculus. There seems little appetite for this view. Why? One reason is that it creates a slippery slope for  Military doctrine and rules of engagement such that both can be gamed by the adversary. Another more basic problem is that R2P isn't incentive compatible- there is no 'Revelation Principle' such that we can discover a correlated equilibrium. Previously, unilateral interventions- e.g. India's in the Bangladesh War- could be justified by the cost borne by the intervening party. India had received millions of refugees which it lacked the means to feed. Still, there was no broader Balance of Power ramification arising from the War. Arguably, America and China gained from having a revanchist Pakistani Army no longer involved in garrisoning a hostile and far off Province.
In that case, there was a 'correlated equilibrium' based on a self regarding calculus. With R2P no similar calculations can be made. After all every Ideology claims that some privileged subset of its exponents have a superior Responsibility to all beings- though this responsibility may consist entirely of euthanising or enslaving vast classes of people. Even if we could filter such ideologies on the basis of outcomes, there is no reason to believe that they can't mutate to defeat the filter. Indeed, Ideologies, unlike Rational Choice Theories, are founded upon the essentially contested nature of deontic concepts like 'Responsibility' as opposed to (at least potentially) alethic notions like 'Revealed Preference'. This does not mean that there can't be an evolutionary normative process in this field. There could- indeed there would, if Econ theory is correct- provided there are no 'income effects' or 'hedging'. In other words, the thing can be done iff doing it doesn't matter very much at all in the broader scheme of things. It is this assumption which has been shown to be wildly optimistic by  Trump's triumph and Europe's current woes.

R2P failed not because it concerned itself with something trivial but rather that it ignorantly meddled in something far more complex than it could conceive.

Sunday 17 September 2017

Why Foucault is more relevant than ever

Peter Gratton, a Philosophy Professor, writes -

 in Discipline and Punish and in The Punitive Society, Foucault argues that it was not theoreticians or philosophers who set the stage for the prison in their theories. Instead it was the workmanlike petit managers who built an incipient criminal science that made the prison possible. For Foucault, there is no prison without criminology and vice-versa, nor are there mental institutions without the medicalization of the mind: no power without certain forms of knowledge and vice-versa.

We, of course, know better than Foucault because we have access to the Wikipedia article on prisons. Theoreticians or philosophers never 'set the stage for the prison'. Benjamin Franklin took an interest in the subject as he did in many other subjects. He was a practical man but his belief that solitude was good for criminals was wrongheaded. He was over-reacting to conditions in local jails where rape and violence were commonplace. Solitary confinement, however, was ineffective and mentally harmful.

Jeremy Bentham's brother came up with the notion of the 'panopticon' but it was in the context of running a factory such that a small number of supervisors could visually verify the activity of the workers without alerting them to their presence. Bentham's ideas had little influence. It was the older tradition of the House of Correction which in turn was connected to the Poor House or Asylum which influenced subsequent developments. Dickensian Beadles were quite innocent of any 'incipient criminal science' but sought to feather their own nests by means fair or foul. Not being great thinkers, they fell by the wayside. Mr. Bumble, it will be remembered, ends his days in the very Poor House over which he presided.

Quakers and Humanitarians- like John Howard- did call for the reform of the Prison system and some of their suggestions were implemented in piece meal fashion but it isn't the case that any 'theoretician or philosopher' had anything to do with the prison system. Criminology developed later but it had little influence on Prison administration which evolved on the same principles as any other bureaucracy- i.e. regardless of considerations of power or knowledge but in a blind and insensate manner. No doubt, at a certain point, credentials were introduced so as to increase wage differentials and create an endogenous interessement mechanism angling for larger disbursements, but those credentials became worthless once a fiscal crunch was experienced.

Foucault could not have known that he lived through a peculiar period in Western Capitalism when the State was able to fight a rear guard action against reducing its share of GNP to pre-War levels. However, the tide had turned by the time he died. Had he lived on to see the burgeoning of private prisons and 'contracting out' of work-related programs in public prisons, as happens in France, he would have understood that Professors of Sociology or Criminology or any other ology had no salience. Nor did 'petit managers'. It was big MNCs with very well rewarded Managers who shaped policy. The only relevant 'Science' was Management Science as taught at leading Business Schools.

Professor Gratton has a different view. He believes Foucault is still relevant, not because he provides a template to complete worthless PhDs in shite subjects, but for some other reason. What might that be? Let us see-

'To understand morality—considerations of justice and therefore of crime and punishment—he avers we would do well to look less at Kant or Mill than the development of the police. Moreover, power since the invention of the prison, according to Foucault’s early to mid-1970s work, operates less through the top-down machinations of a king and his lackeys than through the conformism of mass society. By pulling together disparate events here and there across our landscape—the discipline involved in schools, the military, and the prison—we find the means by which our seemingly most implacable institutions first crystallized. 
The conformism of mass society can't be created by 'schools, the military, and the prison' if there is free exit- i.e. emigration is unfettered- & significant adult entry- i.e. immigration is sizable.
A homogeneous society- like Japan- with a neighborhood policing system, might well be more 'conformist' and thus have lower incarceration rates, but such a society is also likely to hit an abiding fiscal crunch and thus have to rely increasingly on privatization- more especially for low risk or first time offenders.
Apparently, Japan faces a geriatric crime wave featuring lonely elders, unable to feed and house themselves, who are desperate to get sentenced to prison. 
It seems 'the conformism of mass society' isn't a bulwark against even very elderly Japanese people choosing delinquency on the basis of pure economic rationalism.

For this reason, Foucault still remains outside the mainstream of political thinking that predominates on our editorial pages and too often in political theory courses. The state is not the locus of all power in society, whatever the back-and-forth on CNN and the Sunday morning political shows might suggest. Ours is a civilization of constant, localized surveillance, both of ourselves and others, all to bring everyone to heed to unwritten norms guiding the most intimate parts of who we are: our sexuality, our notions of self, and so on.

Right! That's what's happening, sure enough. The TV is watching me. So is the neighbour's cat. OMG, was that a black helicopter I heard just now? Well, I'd better put my todger away. I was going to express my sexuality and my notion of the self by doing something unspeakable to the vacuum cleaner. Sadly, mine is a civilization of constant, localized surveillance mainly carried out by the cats in the neighbourhood. Mainstream political thinking is silent about this feline surveillance which constrains our polymorphous perversity and establishes the conformism of mass society but for which we'd all fuck our Dysons but good. That is why Foucault is still relevant.

Saturday 9 September 2017

Purushottama Lal's Indian irony

P. Lal wrote-
Sanskrit has no word for “irony,” either. The use of words to express something other than or the exact opposite of their literal meaning is more associated with clever city-based civilizations than with the sentimental forest-based ones. English is so charged with irony that I constantly have to be careful when choosing words to translate sacred and secular Sanskrit or other Indian texts.

Ironically, a Google search shows that Sanskrit had over a dozen words for irony.

Tuesday 5 September 2017

So God be my Ghanchi

From the poet's petition, an essential oil to extract
Or that our oleaginous sheen, iridescence refract
Of the dynasty tho' a toady, I pray Narendra Modi
Redeem the Pontiff of Kanchi; so God be my Ghanchi.

Monday 4 September 2017

Amit Chaudhri on why he's actually Proust

Amit Chaudhri writes- 'THE IMPORTANT EUROPEAN NOVELIST makes innovations in the form; the important Indian novelist writes about India. This is a generalization, and not one that I believe. But it represents an unexpressed attitude that governs some of the ways we think of literature today.'

Dos Passos & Faulkner were American novelists. They made formal innovations which Europeans imitated. Later it was Latin American novelists who made innovations which, once again, Europeans imitated. 

What about 'important Indian novelists'? Vikram Seth is one. Two of his novels are not set in India. One is. Rushdie could be regarded as Indian. He is certainly important and arguably innovative. Some of his novels are about India. Some are not. 

Important Bengali novelists write mainly about Bengal or Bengali people. The same is true of important Gujerati or Kannada novelists. Some are innovative. Some are not. The same is true of European novelists. They important German writes mainly about Germany and German people, He may or may not be innovative.

Amit Chaudhri has a different view. He thinks most people have 'an unexpressed attitude' such that anytime a non-European writing a novel for non-Europeans makes a formal innovation, then most people say to themselves 'wow! this guys writes like an European!'.
 If we find formal innovations in a non-European novelist, modulations on form unrelated to, say, identity, difference, or colonial history, we might say, “This novelist has a European air.” We could say the same about the more formally ambitious of the recent American writers, whose innovations are unrelated to Americana: that they are, in some ways, Europeans from, say, Brooklyn. At the moment, though, because of the centrality in the Anglophone world of the USA and of New York, we don’t think of innovations in fiction emerging from these locations as being primarily connected to what it means to be a New Yorker, or an American—we think of them as formal innovations in themselves. The American writer has succeeded the European writer. The rest of us write of where we come from.-
Does anyone read Joseph Heller or Kurt Vonnegut or Philip K Dick or Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Roberto Bolano and think 'these guys aren't writing within their own literary tradition. They are practicing an alien art and their formal innovations don't reflect their own milieu.'?

An American Carnatic Musician- like Higgins Bhagavatar- may make formal innovations which cause us to think of him as more South Indian than American. But this is because there is no native taste for that style of music. Once something becomes popular with the masses, innovative practitioners reflect their milieu even when practising what was once an alien art. Thus Brazilian jiu jitsu is Brazilian. Californian Yoga is Californian. German Rock is German. Japanese Reggae is now Japanese. 

What about Amit's own oeuvre? It truly transcend borders. A turd is a turd across the world.
Amit disagrees.
He hadn't read Proust- tl;dr- but his maternal cousin's Belgian wife said his work was Proustian.
Was she just being polite?
Or was she hinting he should come out of the closet?

WHEN A COUSIN’S BELGIAN WIFE read my first novel, her response wasn’t, as it might have been: “I know these people, literally.” After all, the characters in the novel were people she’d come to know in Calcutta on her visits from America, then Denmark, in the first decades of her marriage. Her relatives through marriage were my relatives on my mother’s side. They were in the small novel. Instead, she said to my cousin, “It reminds me of Proust.”
This passage is quintessentially Bengali. It establishes its intellectual and aesthetic credentials by wholly genealogical means. Amit might be a shite writer but 'maternal cousin's Belgian wife' is good; mobled Queen is good.