My recent reading

1. The Captured Economy, by Brink Lindsey and Steve Teles. I don’t think I have much more to say about it than what I wrote here.

2. How to Think, by Alan Jacobs. The topic of political emotionalism is something of a well-squeezed orange these days, at least among people who are not too overcome with political emotionalism to be disturbed by it. Jacobs gets some juice out of the orange, and I have drafted an essay that uses his book as a jumping-off point. I particularly like his emphasis on thinking as a social phenomenon, and the way that he works through what that implies.

He emphasizes that that he straddles two separate worlds–religion and the academy, and he thinks that this helps with being able to empathize with different points of view. I can remember at a very early age feeling that I straddled two separate worlds. In 4th and 5th grade, my street in suburban St. Louis was white trash* (except for my college professor father), but some of the other streets that fed my elementary school were middle-class professional. The children were very different, and I was one of the few kids with friends of both types.

*You might think I’m exaggerating. But there was a lot of fighting and roughness among the kids, and even among the adults. The most dramatic incident was when Steve Stella’s mom grabbed a woman by her hair and banged her head against the curb. That’s not the sort of thing that middle-class kids encounter these days. (No, Steve Stella is not anyone famous, or anyone I’ve kept track of. I feel free to use his name on the theory that he did not grow up to be anyone you know.)

3. Economics for the Common Good, by Jean Tirole, a review copy of which was sent to me. At close to 500 pages of translated-from-French prose, this will not be an easy one to get through. So far, the main thing I have against it is the title. Something like “What economics can do for public policy” would go down more easily. I’ll let you know more when I am done–not necessarily finished–with the book.

4. The Second World Wars, by Victor Davis Hanson. This not for a WWII neophyte, since it offers no chronology. Nor does it offer the currently popular “how it looked to the ordinary grunt” perspective (at least so far–I am not finished reading). The book is primarily a vehicle for the author to offer his opinions about why things played out as they did.

He is unfashionably Anglophilic. Also, he emphasizes the industrial might of the United States and the Soviet Union. This in turn leads him to attribute the Axis defeat to the folly of Hitler’s choice to invade Russia, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, and Hitler’s decision to declare war on the U.S. Interestingly, I skimmed through the chapter on Pearl Harbor in Churchill’s third volume, and it makes no mention of Hitler’s decision to declare war. It reads as if Pearl Harbor automatically put the U.S. in the war against Germany.

VDH provides provocative and credible evaluations of the cost-effectiveness of various military tools. American submarines and Soviet tanks receive high marks. Paratroops and battleships receive low marks. He argues that Britain and the U.S. learned from mistakes and improved tactics and machinery (such as faulty torpedoes on American submarines when the U.S. first entered the war) more quickly than did their enemies.

Recommended for World War II buffs. Also, after I wrote this post but before I scheduled it to appear, Tyler Cowen reviewed the book very enthusiastically.

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4 Responses to My recent reading

  1. Dain says:

    Back when I delivered flowers for a living, I dropped some off at the main office of a junior high in a kind of rough neighborhood. I recall a mom of one of the students yelling profanities at and berating a woman who worked there who was merely calmly telling the mom things she didn’t want to hear. I spoke up and said “leave her alone, she doesn’t deserve this” or the like and instantly made an enemy. I left and the mom suddenly gave up her tirade and tracked me, jumped in a car some guy (maybe her husband/boyfriend) was driving and then followed me in my van as I began my drive back to the shop. An obvious form of intimidation. This went on for a couple of miles until they finally broke away.

    America’s (comparatively) poor neighborhoods are uniquely vicious and dysfunctional compared to Europe (Malmo excepted) or East Asia.

    • asdf says:

      There is a white prole bar near me. They drink, [engage in sex], and fight in that prole way. Its very jarring to normal people including myself.

      However, despite there being high crime for a gentrified neighborhood like mine its all done by outsiders, mainly blacks from other neighborhoods that come in on the public transit. The white proles may be loud and obnoxious, but that mostly affects their each other and they follow the law.

      The collapse of the bottom half of the bell curve seems particularly bad in America. It only takes a generation basically no matter what your background.

  2. asdf says:

    WWII was over before it started. Nobody with the Nazi’s political objectives could avoid going to war with all the parties they did, and negotiated peace was not possible. Industrial capacity makes it clear that victory was therefore impossible. All that needs to happen is the Britain needs to stay in the war, which they can do because they can’t be invaded, and that will eventually drag in the Americans.

    Lets go through the usual list:

    1) Don’t attack Poland
    The Nazi economy needs to expand of collapse because the re-armed too fast on borrowed money. Honestly 1939 is about the best time to go to war, they stole a march on the allies and temporarily had a better air force and army doctrine. If the war starts a year later they don’t win the Battle of France.

    2) Make a Deal with Brittian
    It’s obvious to the UK that any deal would just allow the Nazi’s to acquire additional resources for Round 2. The island can’t be invaded so it makes no sense to negotiate.

    3) Don’t invade Russia
    While there is merit to this, the truth is that without Russia’s resources, especially food and oil, the Nazi’s can’t fight the UK/US. Hitler saw the the Purges had made the Red Army very weak and talked himself into striking while he still had the chance (the Red Army would only get stronger, and probably turn on him some day in the future).

    Besides, the entire reason for starting the war was to gain Lebensraum in the East so that Germany could be a world power. Something the UK saw and therefore wouldn’t allow.

    4) Don’t declare war on the USA
    Germany and the USA are already in a quasi war in the Atlantic. Eventually the Germans will sink some ship and it will be a causus belli. FDR wanted war so long as the British stayed in.

    Also, Pearl Harbor would have been enough to get people on board with fighting Germany no matter what.

    The only way for Germany to win is not to play. A different political group with different objectives might have been able to revive the economy and unwind some of the biggest problems with Versailles. Then the Green Revolution would come along and the whole concept of Lebensraum would be unnecessary. The Nazi’s weren’t those people.

    It’s clear they wanted war, either to become a world power through conquest or simply because war itself was their objective. Whose to say, they were pretty nuts. Many of the moves make logical sense once you accept their flawed priors, but the starting assumptions are so bad there is no way to achieve victory.

    Lastly, I highly recommend the alternative history The Anglo American Nazi War (AANW), which makes a very detailed timeline of how even if the Nazi’s win at Stalingrad and subjugate the Soviet Union (note, this requires Stalin respond to Stalingrad loss by purging his best generals), they probably still lose to the Allies in the long run because the allies still have a better economy, better resources, control of the seas, and better leadership. It just takes longer and is bloodier.

  3. Jeremy, Alabama says:

    VDH comment about battleships is interesting. It is hard to argue from our vantage point that they represented bad value, especially for Germany, but the incremental investments make sense in context as they are made. For instance, the German navy was told to plan on a war starting in 1943 or 44, and they had a master plan of a large surface navy that would have been very difficult for the Royal Navy to contain. Also, in the time it took to design, build and commission a major vessel in the late 1930’s, military aircraft evolved from biplanes to Spitfire V/FW 190, a very significant leap.

    Britain had been through many of these technology revolutions, from iron ships to quick-firing guns to torpedoes, and battleships had always evolved and even benefited from technology advances. Weak and slow aviation of the period was seen as nothing more than a method of improving gunnery spotting. In the context of decision-making at the time, would you have committed the safety of the country to a drastically new, unproven, fragile vessel with slow, fragile aircraft in say 1937?

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