What I am Reading

1. The Rule of the Clan, by Mark S. Weiner. The best book I have read this year. After I re-read it, I will write a longer review. Meanwhile, a terse summary of what he has to say:

a) We have seen social orders without a centralized state.
b) However, these decentralized social orders are clan-based, with norms that are not consistent with peace, free commerce, or individual autonomy.
c) Without a strong central state, humans will revert to clan-based systems of social order.

I found his case for (b) to be very strong and interesting. I thought his case for (c) was somewhat weaker. Regardless, it is a very stimulating book, in part because it is very distinct from the economics and public choice literature.

2. Paying for the Party, by Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton. Remember when I linked to a story about the book? I read the introduction and the two final chapters, and I skimmed the rest. On p. 220,

The finding that regional schools facilitated mobility more than the state flagship is at odds with existing research…William G. Bowen and colleagues use longitudinal survey data to conclude that students are best served when they attend the most prestigious school they can. Our findings suggest a qualification: If the more prestigious school available is a party school, students from less privileged backgrounds may be better off going to a less prestigious school

3. The Sleepwalkers, by Christopher Clark. For me, any book by a respected historian on the origins of the first world war becomes self-recommending. Even though this topic is, as Charles Kindleberger referred to the topic of the origins Industrial Revolution, a “well-squeezed orange.” I am less than half through this one. Clark’s description of the Serbian nationalists makes them sound like today’s Muslim fanatics in Pakistan. That is, they were secretive, organized into cells, integrated with key government agencies that nonetheless denied involvement, with a grandiose ideology, believing that they are the true representatives of a great ethnic power, and eager to instigate a larger conflict.

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3 Responses to What I am Reading

  1. Matt says:

    The message of Rule of Clans seems so obvious it always confuses me how more radical libertarians don’t get it. It also very explicitly shows how government and family strength interact, and how you really want balance between family strength and weakness.

  2. drycreekboy says:

    I’ll look forward to your review of Weiner. Not to be pedantic, but what does he define as a strong central state? It seems to me that if a central state gets large enough, either in scope or size it either crowds out other institutions or becomes itself subject to factionalism or capture from one of or a coalition of clans existing beneath its roof.

    The degree to which a state can effectively centralize, or a society can do without such centralization also would seem to be a highly contingent proposition.

  3. English Professor says:

    I’m surprised by the praise of Weiner’s book. I haven’t read it, but I’ve read a piece based on it that he wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education (April 5, 2013, B4). That essay struck me as superficial and tendentious. There he sets up a straw man in his idea of a “weak state,” which can’t provide the services that modern societies expect/require. Since this is BAD, we need a strong state. He finds the likes of Reagan and Thatcher dangerous for arguing that increases in state power encroach upon individual liberty: he seems to suggest that they are calling for anarchy rather than for a properly limited state along the lines favored by Adam Smith. This isn’t a serious argument, it is the manipulation of vague terms.

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