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20150828 Principles For A Free Society

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This is a very interesting attempt to review contemporary legal environment with its history of moving into direction of increasing state power and government intervention in all areas of life. However the main idea is not just to document it, but rather find some way to reconcile it with Laissez-Faire ideas that author believes are the best for economy and prosperity. Author seems to believe that these free market ideas in their simplistic form could not support effective functioning of society in contemporary complex environment, so the state power had to be used in multitude of situations to overcome these limitations, and he reviews such situations in this book.


Introduction: Reinvigorating Laissez-Faire

This is foundational part of the book with discussion of Laissez-Faire as concept often misunderstood as free for all with glorification of individual at the expense of society, instead of the best way to organize economy in common interest, which it actually is.

1.Natural Law: The Utilitarian Connection: Permanence and Change; Benevolence of Strangers; Sharing within the Family; Individual Autonomy; First Possession; Custom as a Source of Law

This chapter reviews two approaches to legitimacy of society organization: natural law approach which states that people have inherent unalienable rights and utilitarian approach which states that people should organized society in such way as to provide maximum benefits to maximum numbers. Generally author critic natural rights approach as foundation of Laissez-Faire and suggests that much better foundation could be build on notion of private property as more effective way to incentivize individuals to produce and cooperate for common benefit, than any other method.

  1. Social Norms versus Legal Commands: The Prisoner’s Dilemma Game; Hart’s Failed Distinction between legal and Social Norms; Sorting Sanctions; Two-Tier Sanctions; The Dependence of Social Norms on Law; Coercive Social Norms;

This chapter analyzes interaction between laws and social norms that provide a very sound base for human interaction either at market place or in other areas of human live. Author also provides critic of contemporary trend of increasing government power and influence by pushing legal norms into areas that traditionally were domain of social norms.

  1. Harm: The Gateway to Liability: Harm to Self; Harm to Others; A Shield of Liberty in the Late Nineteenth Century; A Sward against Liberty in the Twentieth Century; Looking to the Future;

Here author analyses notion of harm and its application in contemporary world. The most salient is discussion about difference between harm by aggression and harm by competition. While both types could cause pain and suffering for individuals, only the former causes negative consequences for society by causing interactions being a negative sum game, while the latter is actually beneficial because absent fraud and aggression competition is the only way to discover the best way to do things and move society overall in this direction. However despite generally supporting idea of unabridged competition sans aggression, author nevertheless supports idea of limited antitrust laws that restrict competition under some very specific circumstances.

  1. The Benefit Principle: Baseline Users; Positive and Negative Externalities; The Categories of Restitution; The Public Face of the Benefit Principle

This chapter looks at benefits that people did not ask for, but forced to be paid for. This is logical foundation of theories of social contract. This idea has very limited use in common law, but widely used by statists to justify their use of coercion to extract resources from productive people.

5.Altruism: Its Uses and Limits: Altruism and Self-interest; The Modest Uses of Selective Altruism; Altruism and Communitarianism; The Pretense of Altruism;

This is discussion of altruism and more important use of altruism as cudgel against Laissez-Faire despite the simple fact that it does not require or even promote greed and material self-interest. All it requires is to remove government force from resources production and allocation, leaving it to voluntary decisions of people. The typical result of government forced altruism is resource transfer from poor to rich under banner of help to the poor.

  1. Forfeiture: The Flip Side of Rights: The Common Law of Forfeiture in the Nineteenth Century; The Twentieth Century Welfare State;

This is kind of continuation of discussion of forced altruism, but it is conducted in terms of negative and positive rights, with negative rights being right to property, contract enforcement, and other legal tools to allow people to keep resources they produced. The positive rights that represent form of forced altruism that created basis for welfare state is basically rights to product of labor of other people. In addition to this the contemporary legal system often supports idea of individual’s right to be protected from own errors, mistakes, and even plain self-destructive behavior. However it creates huge complexity because protection of one person at the expense of another would cause push back from the loser, resulting in attempt to find some equilibrium that would take into account balance of power between constituencies.

  1. Boundaries: Firm and Fuzzy: Boundaries of Self; Boundaries of Land; Successive Holders of the Same Property; Invasions of Privacy; Boundaries in the Air Waves;

This chapter is about probably the most difficult issue facing libertarians who believe that individual’s freedom ends at the point of other individual’s freedom – the issue of boundaries. The biggest problem is that these boundaries are not purely physical; they also could include communications not only between individuals involved, but also between individual and third party in relation to another individual.

  1. Prom Rights to Remedies: The Sanctity of Contract; Property and Necessity; Damages, Injunctions, and Permits; The Constitutional Dimensions of Entitlements; From Remedies Back to Rights;

This chapter explores connection between rights created by legal system and remedies used to enforce these rights with conclusion that absolute conceptions of private property are valid in main, but with exception of special cases of necessity when property rights could be forcibly substituted with compensation rights.

  1. Common Property: A Peaceful Coexistence of Private and Common Property; The Constitutional Complications;

This chapter is about common property such as air and water and impossibility of dividing it into private domains.

  1. Common Carriers: The English Background; Late Ninetieth-Century American Developments; Interconnections; Rate Regulation; Contemporary Constitutional Issues;

This final chapter continues discussion of commons concentrating on their specific incarnation in what commonly is considered monopolistic arrangements such as railroads, radio spectrums, utilities and similar enterprises when competition believed to be next to impossible. Author believes that it warranties government interference to enforce general availability of service for everybody at affordable rates.

EPILOGUE A Return to Fundamentals

The final discussion is about necessity to adjust Laissez Faire ideas to contemporary complex society and economy when limiting state intervention is not enough and the used of state force could be justified for multitude of situations discussed in previous chapters of this book. The bottom line is necessity to find proper legal framework for state power to be “strong enough to hold us together, but not so strong as to reap us apart.


It is a very interesting approach and I found in this book quite a few examples of issues for which Laissez- Faire solution seems to be impossible or at least extremely difficult. Nevertheless none of discussed situations warranties, in my opinion, need for state power beyond prevention and/or retaliation for aggressive use of force or deception. I think that reason for my disagreement comes from different approach. Author seems to be looking at every situation from point of view of legal scholar that he is, meaning that he is looking to develop legal algorithm for solution that would fit any conceivable situation and could be enforced by external state power. I, on other hand, believe that many of these situations are so complex that such solution could not possibly exists, so all issues should be resolved between participants any way they want to on condition of non-use of aggressive force and deception. The caveat here is that I believe that equality and marketability of rights for resources and equality of borders between individuals would support such resolution if supported by availability of truthful information about issues and hand and past history of participants.

20150821 The Forgotten Depression

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The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that usual condemnation of Laissez Faire approach to economy as cause of the Great Depression is based on false narrative. This narrative presents late 20s as period of unabridged capitalism that led inevitably to disaster. Instead of just critiquing this narrative directly author looks at previous depression of 1920-21 when capitalism was a lot less constrained than 10 years later. In 1920-21 the federal government was run by debilitated Wilson who was not capable and later on by hands off Harding who was unwilling to interfere, resulting in much more Laissez Faire than under “great engineer” Hoover. Author quite convincingly demonstrates that 1920-21 depression was as severe or even more so than 1929, but without government intervention prices and wages dramatically went down, unemployment went up resulting in quick achievement of equilibrium and dramatically fast recovery.


  1. The Great Inflation

This chapter is about events preceding depression of 1920. It starts with events of WWI and wartime inflation that followed by contraction of production as result of cancelation of war orders in 1918.However instead of depression it was followed by boom due to consumer demand delayed by war and growth of Europe needs for reconstruction at least partially financed by US Treasury loans. However all this demand supported by money outrun production abilities, leading to inflation of 18.6% in 1918 and 13.8 in 1919. These problems caused significant labor disturbances and strikes. Another consequence was illusion of wealth making lots of people especially farmers borrow too much and overinvest into expansion.

  1. Coin of the Realm

This chapter is about monetary issues of the period starting from 1880 to 1900 when sticking to gold standard combined with fast growth in productivity produced significant deflation before it was substituted by inflation of progressive era. Despite dollar being convertible into gold, the money supply grew dramatically due to influx of European gold attracted by high interest rates. Author also discusses economic thinking of the period especially ideas of Fisher.

  1. Money at War

This is discussion of role of Federal Reserve with its gold supported notes in financing the war. It also reviews money movements during the war with initial withdrawals by Europeans at the beginning of war that followed by massive transfers to USA as payments for war materials. FEDs also increased money supply by supporting government Liberty bonds.

  1. Laissez-Faire by Accident

This is analysis of situation after WWI when due to sum of unexpected events American economy had chance to work in mode close the Laissez-Faire. Probably one of the most important events was temporary decapitation of American bureaucracy, due to Wilson’s stroke. As prelude author reviews two attempts of hands on control over economy: failed attempt to substitute Du Pond company with government controlled production for powder and Harry Garfield’s attempt to manage fuel that also failed spectacularly.

  1. A Depression in Fact

This chapter provides statistical justification to idea that slowdown of 1920 was indeed depression quite comparable to Great depression 1929. It also reviews and reject attempt by Christina Romer to decrease its scale and significance. The numbers for GNP is decline by 24% and unemployment 15%. Author brings in analysis of different industries from automotive to agriculture to support his point.

  1. City Bank on the Carpet

This is story of National City bank and Fed’s Comptroller of Currency John Williams who was overconfident in stability of banks just before depression. In reality many banks were overextended and National City was deeply in betting on sugar prices. Williams pressed the bank with investigations of not only its solvency, but also of corrupted practices.

  1. Egging On Deflation

Here author reviews Feds expansion of money supply to fight deflation with more than 100% of banks’ required reserves were provided by Fed on loan. However Feds abilities were limited by requirements to keep gold as reserve for Fed banks. Eventually they had to vacillate between fighting deflation with increase of money supply and inflation with increase of rate to 6%

  1. A Debacle “Without Parallel”

This is review of depression depth in terms of crash in commodity prices and stock market, which lost 39% of its value. Taking all together, the decline was unprecedented.

  1. The Comptroller on the Offensive

This is review of action of outgoing Comptroller Williams who was trying preventing increase in rate to 7% in addition to dealing with banks and trusts some of which like Guaranty he was fighting.

  1. A Kind Word for Misfortune

This is review of typical approach of American at the time to phenomenon of depression. It was considered a natural process of readjustment of economy to changing circumstances that had to occur for it to remain healthy. There is nothing to be done and one just had to go through it. The idea that massive government intervention could remove depression was already around, but it did not obtain massive support yet.

  1. Not the Government’s Affair

This is review of political environment and ideology in 1920 when both political parties consider economy mainly out of scope for political actions limiting such actions to monetary policies. Republicans hit Democrats with accusation of making dollar worth 50 cents and that was about it. Both parties complained about high cost of living, but Harding won overwhelmingly after promising do nothing with his slogan of “returning to normalcy”.

  1. Cut from Cleveland’s Cloth

This chapter is about initial actions of Harding presidency. As promised they cut down government expenses and resisted demands for public payments to veterans what later turned into demand for bonus.

  1. A Kind of Recovery Program

This is very brief review of Treasury secretary Andrew Melon actions directed at decrease of marginal tax rates. This counterintuitive move led to dramatic increase in tax revenues, as Melon had expected.

  1. Wages Chase Prices

This chapter starts with review of stock market movements prior to election then discusses process of deflation when downfall of prices led to decrease in wages. It caused significant disturbance by labor movement despite the fact that prices went down much faster than wages so real purchasing power grew. All that Harding administration did was to provide arbitrage services in extreme cases of union vs. management fights.

  1. Shrewd Judge Gary

This is story of Judge Gary namesake of steel town in Indiana. After presiding over multiple commercial cases, usually being supportive to business, Gary left law to become president of Federal Steel Corporation and was quite successful in withering economic downturn in part because he managed to make significant share of employees into shareholders, achieving improvement in morale and dedication of workforce.

  1. “A Higher Sense of Service”

This is continuation of analysts of political attitudes to the role of government in economics. Despite republicans being pro business and democrats being pro government, both sides saw business cycles as inevitable natural phenomenon. Even so the seeds of future government expansion were planted inside both parties with Harding proposing creation of public welfare department and Hoover busy building all kind of schemas for government intervention just about everywhere.

  1. Gold Pours into America

This is review of international economic position of United States at the time. As consequence of WWI it was highly advantageous, with USA exporting nearly double of its import and gold flowing into America from Europe. Eventually it stopped deflation and monetary situation started to turn around in early 1920.

  1. “Back to Barbarism?”

This chapter provides some examples of how American companies managed to get through this short depression by managing inventories, prices, and labor. Examples provided for DuPont, White Motor Company – the biggest trucks manufacturer at the time, and Sears. Overall American business had dramatic decrease in profits in 1921, which pretty much rebound in 1922. Author also discusses home construction and agricultural sectors.

  1. America on the Bargain Counter

This is analysis of impact of depression on various businesses with conclusion that it was very tough on businesses encumbered with excess inventory and rigid contracts and they suffered, while more flexible and liquidity rich business not only survived, but also prospered. By the end of 1921 depression was over and roaring 20s had begun.

  1. All for Stability

This is description of results and impact of this deep, but brief and self-healing depression. On one hand it proved that economy would self adjust if left alone, while on the other hand it demonstrated depth of pain and suffering that could be caused by even brief downturn. It caused search for controlling mechanisms capable to avoid this pain by using government power. The most well known were Keynes’ ideas of government intervention in business cycles by increasing spending during downturn. In America it was Fisher’s ideas of stabilization by controlling money supply. Eventually it became part of Feds mandate, when mechanism of purchasing Treasury securities by Fed was put in place.

Epilogue: A Triumph, in Its Way

Here author provides summery of events and consequences and discusses fate of main players.


I think it is a pretty good analysis of factual data and events of depression of 1920-21. It slightly overburdened by history of banks and monetary policy of Fed, but other than that it is a good narrative of period. Certainly each period in history unique so it is not possible to prove counterfactual ideas what would happen if in 1929 Hoover did what Harding did in 1920, that is exactly nothing, but in my opinion comparison of these two depressions provides good illustration of conceivable outcome. I personally believe that the issue here is more philosophical than political and it is idea that super complex information system that includes hundred of millions of self-directed human beings is not possible control and manage effectively via centralized hierarchical system of several hundred thousands of bureaucrats. The only way such system could possibly function effectively and efficiently is via self-regulated system of market economy, which is while not perfect, but at least functional, while bureaucratic system either in its deadly form of central planning or less severe form of regulatory state is typically dysfunctional.

20150814 Political Order and Decay

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The main idea is to identify based on history typical signs of political decay in contemporary societies. These signs are: dramatic decrease of income growth in developed countries, gridlock of democratic polities in solution of various problems, increase in bureaucracies and decrease in their effectiveness. Societies are reviewed based on different paths of development: OECD, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and East Asia. Despite Asian model of limited market capitalism under authoritarian rule still being on the rise and OECD model of democracy with free market severely impeded by bureaucratic welfare state being in decline, author seems to believe that East Asian model is not sustainable on the long run and OECD model with democracy has more potential for growth and improvements in human life.



  1. What Is Political Development?

Here author refreshes his definition of political development as total of 3 components: the state, rule of law, and accountability. He stresses the difference between rule of law and rule by law with latter often being a necessary predecessor of the former, but by far not the same. He also briefly points at sources of political decay and presents plan of the book as continuation and expansion of ideas presented in the first volume to the world development after Industrial revolution.

2.The Dimensions of Development

Here author presents data about dramatic change in technological and economy environment and is trying to place political development into framework of overall development of humanity in all relevant areas:

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  1. Bureaucracy

Here author correctly posits that the state is bureaucracy and reviews attempts to measure quality of the bureaucracy across the scope of state functions:

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  1. Prussia Builds a State

In this chapter author reviews history of state development in Prussia: the commonly accepted gold standard of bureaucratic welfare state.

  1. Corruption

Here author reviews phenomenon of corruption as inalienable part of any government and how it impacts development of the state. He differentiates corruption into 2 distinct forms: Patronage and Clientelism. He discusses patronage as more damaging form that is at odds with democracy and impedes development of accountability. He seems to consider Clientelism much more benign form of corruption that actually could be considered a primitive form of democracy that recedes with economic development when voters are too rich and educated to sell their votes to politician in exchange for some small potatoes. In this case the whole population practically becomes clientele because politician has to satisfy increasingly bigger share of voters to get elected.

  1. The Birthplace of Democracy

Here author discusses his thesis that early development of democracy, when country is still very poor, leads to development of low trust society and formation of rigid clientele / politicians combinations, preventing effective development of polity. He uses Southern Italy and Greece as examples.

  1. Italy and the Low-Trust Equilibrium

This is more detailed look at Italy where North and South had very different paths of development with South consistently remaining low-trust corrupted entity, while North developing into much more modern and effective capitalist polity. The special attention is given to issue of low versus high trust societies and how former causes severe problems for development.

  1. Patronages and Reform

This chapter is about American and British development. Both democracies started with government bureaucracies based on patronage, but only America developed fully blown clientele system. British implemented Northcote-Trevelyan reforms in 1854 that ended patronage and implemented system of examinations. This effectively removed aristocracy out of bureaucratic hierarchy and opened door for “meritocratic” elite. In America system of checks and balances prevented decisive reform from the top leading to transformation of patronage system into clientele system. Author sees it as “inherent tension” between democracy and “good governance”, with America being more democratic leading to it being poorly governed.

  1. The United States Invents Clientelism

This chapter is detailed look at American development and its differentiation from all other countries as result of maintaining ancient rules of separation of powers, checks, and balances that greatly complicate functioning of modern bureaucracy. In XIX century and a good part of XX century it led to municipal party politics with whole slides of population becoming clientele of city party machines such as Tammany hall.

  1. The End of the Spoils System

This is continuation of review of American development when the rising bureaucracy in turn defeated the spoils system established with Andrew Jackson’s victory over quasi-aristocratic patronage system that existed from beginning of republic. The Pendleton act of 1883 was a landmark in multi-year efforts to import European ideas of bureaucracy and rule by meritocratic elite. However it took another 60 years before bureaucracy, especially federal bureaucracy in alliance with progressive movement become absolutely dominant force in American society.

  1. Railroads, Forests, and American State Building

This is review of specific battles and victories of bureaucracy in railroad dealings with plutocracy and in building exemplary bureaucracy of Forest Service. Author looks at this from point of view of Principal/Agent framework, stressing that capture of public resources by special interest had never been far away from everyday reality.

  1. Nation Building

This is review of role of nationalism and identity politics in nation building. It provides an interesting classification of routes to national identity:

  1. Territorial expansion
  2. Genocide or ethnic cleansing to create homogeneous population on national territory
  3. Cultural Assimilation
  4. Adjustment of national identities to political realities.
  5. Good Government, Bad Government

This is discussion about quality of government with special attention of its variance and its dependence of the path of development. Author seems to believe that the best way is building a strong state first with rule by law supporting economic development and only later and gradually switch to rule of law and democracy (German way), with American way of starting with rule of law, effective market economy, and democracy and only later adding strong state being inferior, and Greek / South Italian way of starting with democracy and never really getting neither to the rule of law nor to the free market economy, being quite a lousy way to proceed.


  1. Nigeria

This is a brief case study of Nigeria as a typical example of undeveloped society where deep corruption and absence of democracy keep people in poverty despite or maybe even because of wealth of its natural resources.

  1. Geography

This chapter is discussion of influence of geography with reference to work of Montesquieu on nature of laws and contemporary economist Jeffrey Sachs and anthropologist Jarred Diamond both of whom seems to overstate this influence. Here author also defines 3 regions he will use to discuss political development: Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and East Asia

  1. Silver, Gold, and Sugar

This chapter is about development in Latin America where Spain at least partially transferred its institutions by imposing them on local population of mixed ethnicity and culture, creating in process policy week in both accountability and rule of law.

  1. That Didn’t Bark

The main point of this chapter is that in China’s as well as in Europe’s extensive wars facilitated creation of powerful states, especially in comparison with peaceful development of Latin America that paradoxically led to problems caused by weakness of the state.

  1. The Clean Slate

This is review of two exceptions to typical development of Latin American countries: Costa Rica that despite all odds did not become “banana republic” and Argentina that started very well and was on its way to becoming Denmark when it degraded dramatically to typical Latin American level of corruption and stagnation.

  1. Storms in Africa

This chapter is about reasons for weakness of Sub-Saharan states coming from absence of any developed states.

  1. Indirect Rule

This is continuation of the discussion with stress on corruption development during colonial period when very small numbers of European administrators dealt with local tribal kings.

  1. Institutions, Domestic or Imported

This chapter is about another type of powerful external intervention implemented by United States and Japan. It is also form of indirect rule, but mainly via international financial and political organizations.

  1. Lingua Franca

This chapter is about importance of creating national identity for political development. It reviews success story in Indonesia and Tanzania in comparison with failure in Nigeria and Kenya.

  1. The Strong Asian State

Contrary to Latin America and Africa, Asian Countries had highly developed and powerful states long before colonial intervention. Despite being technologically far behind these policies where able survive colonialism and in case of Japan even repulse it at early stages. Author also reviews an interesting case in Japan before and during WWII when military bureaucracy went completely out of control by existing structures of the state, leading to nearly complete destruction of the country.

  1. The Struggle for Law in China

This is review of XX century metamorphoses of highly bureaucratic Chinese state going through revolutions, civil war, totalitarian communist rule by Mao, and eventually arriving to bureaucratic rule by law combined with relatively free market of contemporary China.

  1. The Reinvention of the Chinese State

This is continuation of discussion on China, with stress on specific problem of bad imperator and challenge that complex bureaucracy represents for accountability. Author seems to believe that it will be eventually resolved via some form of democratic development.

  1. Three Regions

This is summary of 3 regions discussion with some interesting data presented for comparison:

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  1. Why Did Democracy Spread?

This is about the reasons for democracy’s expansion around the world. Author seems to be connecting it to division of labor, expansion of market, and individualization of population that participates in it. Consequently it led to expansion of political participation in the struggle over control of the state, which at the long run defines resource allocations and transfer. Here is graphic representation of these ideas:

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  1. The Long Road to Democracy

This is a brief history of democratic expansion with some data:

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  1. From 1848 to the Arab Spring

This chapter is attempt to link democratic movements in Europe in XIX century with recent Arab Spring with pretty sad conclusion that as European movement turned into nationalistic nightmare so Arab spring has all signs of turning into movement of religious supremacy of Islam because economic foundation of stable democracy is yet to be achieved.

  1. The Middle Class and Democracy’s Future

This chapter is about middle class, its role in democratization and politics. Most important it recognizes problem of disappearance of middle class as result of technological advancement including transportation and communications that allowed cheap immigrant labor inside developed country or cheap foreign labor in offshore installations directly compete with local middle class. Author believes that the only solution capable to save middle class is expansion of education.


  1. Political Decay

This chapter provides a shining example of political decay using US Forest Service, which went from exemplary government agency to unruly congregation of bureaucratic hierarchies serving mainly to provide living for its bureaucrats, lobbyists, and special interests protected by them.   At the end of chapter author provides generalization of political decay process using historical examples, but most important looking at what author believes deficiencies of Madisonian version of democracy with its checks and balances that far from being reliable safeguards against corruption.

  1. A State of Courts and Parties

This chapter looks at judicial capture of administrative process, which often gets ground down to stoppage by checks and balances in hands of competing parties with polar ideologies. It provides an interesting table for Ratio of Tax revenues to GDP:

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  1. Congress and the Repatrimonialization of American Politics

This is closer look at capture of legislature by special interests, as it is done in USA, working via lobbying process and how it accelerates political decay.

  1. America the Vetocracy

That’s how author characterized contemporary decay of American polity where quite a few groups have veto power and practically nobody can get things done as result. Author provides a very nice graph for this process:

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Author also discusses difference of United States from other countries and organization like EU coming to conclusion that America is trapped in bad equilibrium of Vetocracy. The Madisonian republic slowed advance of welfare state and author understands that Americans consider it a blessing. However the same factors made it difficult to rebuild system now when such state proved its inefficiency.

  1. Autonomy and Subordination

This chapter is about differences between governance of private business and government bureaucracies, stressing a need to find a balance between enterprises and democratic control. It also discusses issue of bureaucratic control, capacity of the state, and their relation to quality of government. It is supplied with a nice graph:

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  1. Political Orders and Political Decay

The last chapter somewhat summarizes author’s ideas presented in two books on political order and decay. It also presents a brief look at the future development when author discusses alternatives to democracy, especially Chinese model, eventually coming to conclusion that despite all problems democracy is still the best model available even if there is no guaranty that it will eventually win everywhere. There are just too many unpredictable random events and turns that could derail even highly developed society into political decay and degradation. Nevertheless democracy contains a very strong universal appeal attracting more and more peoples and countries to its side.


I find this book very interesting not only due to the thorough research and wealth of data accumulated, but also because it is all plugged in well thought through model of development of society and its polity. My main difference with the author probably relates to his disgust with Madisonian Democracy with its checks and balances that prevent effective government actions. I do not believe in wise politicians and all knowing and benevolent bureaucrats who would fix all problems if not overburdened with checks and balances. I believe in self-centered power hungry politicians and bureaucrats whose main purpose is to control other people’s lives for psychological satisfaction and transfer as many resources to selves for material satisfaction using government power. Moreover, I believe that no system of checks and balances would be able to contain these people in their strive to satisfy their own needs and wishes at the expense of everybody else, so the only solution is to restrict role of government and therefore violence, coercion, deception, and indoctrination to absolute minimum of protection against violence, coercion, deception, and indoctrination by other players: foreign governments, criminals, and crooks. In other words the best way to prevent political decay is to diminish importance of political power in all areas of our lives.

20150807 – A History of Strategy

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This is review of military strategic thinking throughout all known history from ancient Chinese to our days. The idea is to trace development of military thinking, provide brief review of ideas and individuals who did this thinking.


  1. Chinese Military Thought

Chinese approach to the war is as to an evil, even if sometimes necessary. It is violation of cosmic harmony and should be resolved as soon as possible via victory of the most virtuous. San Tzu defines virtue as harmony between leaders and people via strict discipline. The perfect army is so disciplined as not to require neither rewards no punishment. Tai Kung developed detailed structure for military control and planning and logistics requirements. Most important in Chinese strategy purposes is to minimize violence because it violates harmony. The victory should be achieved by superior intelligence and logistics placing adversary in position when he has no choice but surrender. Author highly appreciates Chinese military writings as unsurpassed in their sophistication.

  1. From Antiquity to the Middle Ages

For this part author selected Thucydides, Sallust, Caser, and Josephus as unsurpassed military historians. However he considers western strategic thinkers much less sophisticated and effective than Chinese. He discusses works of Aeneas (4th Century BC before Alexander) author of writings on military preparations, war finances, and other strategic issues. Later writer Asclepiodotus (1 century BC) produced works on tactics of phalanx, however they were pretty much outdated by this time. Author reviews a few other thinkers, the most outstanding being Flavius Renatus Vegetius (4 century AD) and his “Summary of Military Matters”. Byzantine Empire produced “Strategikon” (around 600) presenting top achievement of its military with ideas and methods later successfully used in struggle against Arabs. Much later around 900 it produced much less important “Tacticon”. Author considers totality of this literature inferior to Chinese because it did not produce coherent philosophy of war.

  1. 1500 to 1763

This period includes works of Machiavelli in which he developed idea of using conscripts as source of mass military manpower, however he underestimated artillery. Machiavelli become quite popular, but his military ideas were not applied in real world by anybody. After that author discusses a few other thinkers including Montecuccoli, Puysegur, Maurice De Saxe, and Frederick the Great, none of them really significant. Unlike many others, Frederick did apply his ideas in practice in Prussian wars with various levels of success.

  1. From Guibert to Clausewitz

This period from 1763 includes work of Gilbert based on analysis of 7 years war eventually resulting in ordinance of 1791 with which French army fought in Napoleonic wars. It included recommendation of moving troops in independent columns with lots of attention to maneuvers. In 1799 the first treatise on strategy: Spirit of Modern System of War” was produced by von Bulow. In it Bulow discussed use of geography, maps, and military staff to conduct proper preparations, analysis, logistical, and military movements based of plans. On French side promoter of ideas of war as movements of people and material through 2-dimensional space was Antoine Jomini who added multiple military concepts including theater of operations, bases and numerical representation of troops capabilities, and setting up specific objectives and lines of operations. Finally significant amount of material in this chapter allocated to Clausewitz who analyzed war and its purpose based on history and experience of Napoleonic wars. The quality of this analysis and ideas put Clausewitz at par with Chinese writing.

  1. The Nineteenth Century

Starting with Bulow and Clausewitz the military writing moved in more professional direction with soldiers writing for soldiers and away from mythological an historical approach. It was overall change in approach to writing caused by Enlightenment, but also by dramatic changes in military technology. Old prevalence of military formation in battle similar to parades became suicidal for troops and therefore not sustainable. In this relation author reviews work of French officer Charles du Picq, who proposed to move away from fighting in formations and switch to skirmishes with relative small, but self-sufficient combination of troops. However these regiments should be strictly controlled from one source and directed to dynamically attack or withdraw or move according to overall strategic intention of top commander. Unfortunately for millions of people fighting in WWI these ideas did not make it through into thick heads of generals for a very long time. Another outstanding thinker of this period was Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke. His work was not only theoretical, but also practical and directed at handling dramatically increased numbers of troops and needs for supplies. He handled it through creation of General Staff and development of detailed mobilization planning for multimillion armies, their movements and logistics. If Moltke developed tools for making effective army, another German general for Schlieffen developed operational ideas where to move this army and detailed strategic plans for war on two fronts West against France and East against Russia. These plans became foundation of German strategy in WWI.

  1. War at Sea

This chapter is about naval operations that normally attract a lot less attention than land armies. The eminent thinker in this area was an American Dennis Mahan. His approach was based on history and on analysis of operations of British Navy. Overall it came down to idea that achieving two connected goals: interrupt enemy maritime commerce and transportation and protect one’s own would lead to decisive advantage in any conflict of contemporary powers highly dependent on shipping of men and material in their ability to make war. Mohan believed that this objective could be achieved by gaining “command of the sea” through winning battle of battleships. The other strategy was commerce protection or interruption: battle of convoys Mahan considered secondary, if at all relevant because he believed that winning fight of battleships would allow blockade enemy ports and completely stop its commerce. Another thinker Julian Corbett actually was rich lawyer who just enjoyed developing ideas about naval strategy. He believed that land war is primary and naval operations are secondary and needed mainly to support armies. His writings are mainly case analysis of existing wars in support of this idea.

  1. The Interwar Period

The period between WWI and WWII was rich in strategic thinkers who tried to accommodate new technologies of warplanes, tanks, mechanized troops, and wireless communications into coherent strategic model of winning war. The most prominent were: Italian general Guilio Douhet – promoter of supreme role of airpower including its ability to win war alone. He greatly overestimated capability of technology of his time and underestimated ability of civil population to survive regular bombing, but his views were vindicated in WWII by American victory over Japan after using just two nuclear bombs. Another thinker British general John Fuller was proponent of rapid movement of mechanized troops and developed ideas that later become known in their practical application as blitzkrieg. Fuller was closely associated with Liddell Hart who promoted multidimensional attacks directed not at taking territory, but rather to disrupt enemy structure and operation making him incapable for organized resistance. Finally author includes in his review WWI German commander Ludendorff who in this period developed concept of total war that required totalitarian state in order to obtain complete control over population and all resources of the country, control that was not available to him in authoritarian German monarchy during WWI. Eventually the Ludendorff’s vision became reality of WWII.

  1. 1945 to the Present

The last chapter is dedicated pretty much to the world with nuclear weapons and development of MAD strategy of making war impossible to accept. Author also discusses Reagan’s strategic defense initiative and concludes that it did not really change MAD calculation since SDI tools are not possible to test on full scale while consequences of even small deficiencies in protection could be catastrophic. Therefore as of now the military confrontation is conceivable only at the small scale of terror versus anti-terrorism operations, and small wars with limited objectives.


It is very nice and concise review of writings about strategy, but it is not history of strategy. Strategy, as just everything else, has theoretical aspect of people writing about what should be done and practical aspect of how it was actually done. The writings review presented pretty well, but much more important and interesting to me aspect of practical application of strategy as it was developed and used by people who actually did, was left something out of scope. It is too bad, because the practical application is the most interesting part of history.

20150731 World Order

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The main idea of this book is to define meaning of world order and review history and parameters of most important world orders that existed so far:

  • Westphalian world order based on balance of powers created after 30 years war
  • Its metamorphosis after French revolution, Vienna Congress, and all the way to after the Cold war
  • Islamic world order as it was developed with initial conquests, decline and contemporary revival in form of Islamist movement
  • Asian, especially Chinese and Japanese historical development of world orders
  • American dominated world order and America strife to achieve universal principles of world order based on independency and trade

The main inference from all this is that we are at the beginning of dramatic change from current world order that become unsustainable to something new, but not yet known.


INTRODUCTION: The Question of World Order

Varieties of World Order; Legitimacy and Power

World order to the extent it exists today was established by victorious Western democracies after WWII. It did not take into account other cultures and other ideas of world order and consequently, due decrease of influence of western democracies, it started to unravel. When it happened, after Western retreat from colonialism and use of force to control the world, other cultures and countries like China, India, and Islamic world challenged existing order leading to its modification.

Author differentiates several world order models developed by humanity:

  • European world order created by Westphalian peace based of balance of powers with non-interference into internal affairs of states
  • Chinese world order based on supremacy of Chinese culture and state which is put in the center of universe with all other being barbarians practically non-relevant to overall development of humanity and not even worthy of conquest
  • Islamic world order based on supremacy of religion of Islam with all other world being subject to conquest, conversion to true religion or annihilation

Current world order of balance of power and noninterference is challenged from all sides including west, which challenges it in the name of human rights and environmentalism. Historically the world order could stand only if it is based on both power and legitimacy, which is very hard to achieve because of difference in values for different people causing them to question legitimacy, while changes in power causes rising countries to test their power.

CHAFFER 1: Europe: The Pluralistic International Order

The Uniqueness of the European Order; The Thirty Years’ War: What Is Legitimacy? The Peace of Westphalia; The Operation of the Westphalian System; The French Revolution and Its Aftermath;

This is about uniqueness of European world order born in Westphalia as result of 30 years war when nobody managed to win. It is based on balance of power when instead of winning all sides position themselves in such way that nobody has reasonable hope to win so the war is avoided. This system lasted until after French revolution when new method of mobilization of all country resources including mass conscription gave France upper hand in fight with all of Europe, at least for a while.

CHAFFER 2: The European Balance-of-Power System and Its End

The Russian Enigma; The Congress of Vienna; The Premises of International Order; Metternich and Bismarck; The Dilemmas of the Balance of Power; Legitimacy and Power Between the World Wars; The Postwar European Order; The Future of Europe;

This chapter is about restoration of Westphalian order by Vienna Congress and its extension for another hundred years up until WWI. It allocates special attention to Russia that was part of balance of power in both Europe and Asia, but then it continuously developed nationalistic narrative of being the third Rome destined to conquer and unify vast expanse of land from Europe to America. Another important part of this discussion about Vienna Congress is its redrawing of legitimacy landscape of Europe from dynastical lands of kings where marriages could lead to merge of countries as reliably as conquests, to ethno-linguistic map when legitimacy would come from ethnicity and language of people living on the land. It created potential for dissolution of multi ethnic empires like Austro-Hungary and merge of multiple principalities of Germany into one powerful state. Eventually this creation and consequent growth of nationalism led to another 31 years World War from 1914 to 1945 with intermission from 1919 to 1938. After that it was somewhat substituted with Ideological Cold War with intermediate actual wars testing continuing balance of power not only in geopolitical meaning, but also in military-technological meaning. At the end of this chapter author briefly discusses future of Europe and attempts to create European Union as tool for peaceful economic, cultural, and, on the long run, political unification.

CHAFFER 3: Islamism and the Middle East: A World in Disorder

The Islamic World Order; The Ottoman Empire: The Sick Man of Europe; The Westphalian System and the Islamic World; Islamism: The Revolutionary Tide-Two Philosophical Interpretations; The Arab Spring and the Syrian Cataclysm; The Palestinian Issue and International Order; Saudi Arabia; The Decline of the State?

This chapter is about Islamic world order as it was initially created and developed on the Arab – Sunni side. Contrary to Westphalian world order developed in Europe and based on balance of power, the Islamic world order is based on conquest and conversion of the world to Islamic faith by all means necessary. This idea worked fine initially and allowed Arabs to expand their religion into old Christian places in Middle East and all the way to India, but was eventually pushed back and stopped after 900 years of expansion. Eventually Islamic countries failed in competition with Western Europe leading to lose of power practically everywhere with the last Islamic Caliphate – Ottomans turning into semi-secular, semi-democratic and semi-European Turkey. Author looks at current resurgence of Islamic ideology, consequences of Arab Spring, Palestinian conflict, and position of rich monarchies of the region. He seems to be coming to conclusion that reenergized Islamic ideology of conquest not only rejects Westphalian ideas of peace with balance of power, but even legitimacy of contemporary states. For them the only acceptable future is complete victory of Islam and submission of everybody else.

CHAFFER 4: The United States and Iran: Approaches to Order

The Tradition of Iranian Statecraft; The Khomeini Revolution; Nuclear Proliferation and Iran; Vision and Reality;

This chapter is about other side of Islam – Iranian Shia republic closely linked to tradition and history of Persian Empire. It discusses Iranian objectives of becoming dominant initially in Middle East and eventually supreme Islamic power conquering the world. Author believes that such objectives are overreaching and eventually they will have to decide whether they will be country or cause.

CHAPTER 5: The Multiplicity of Asia

Asia and Europe: Different Concepts of Balance of Power;

Japan; India; What Is an Asian Regional Order?

This chapter is about non China Asia, primarily Japan and India. It briefly reviews history, especially period of European dominance and attitudes in these countries that appeared as result. Overall the estimate here is that they are mainly open for Westphalian approach with a covenant that balance of power includes external power like USA, contrary to traditional balance inside of region.

CHAFFER 6: Toward an Asian Order: Confrontation or Partnership? Asia’s International Order and China; China and World Order; A Longer Perspective;

This chapter dedicated to China and its newly acquired dynamism and power. It is now coming out from centuries of isolation initially self-imposed by arrogance and contempt for barbarians that eventually led to humiliations of XIX century, and then by communist dictatorship with its unrealistic pretenses for Big jump ahead. Author believes that the best approach is skillful combination of balance of powers with partnership needed to avoid confrontation and fears of hegemony. Alternative would be a disaster.

CHAPTER 7: “Acting for All Mankind”: The United States and Its Concept of Order

America on the World Stage; Theodore Roosevelt: America as a World Power; Woodrow Wilson: America as the World’s Conscience; Franklin Roosevelt and the New World Order

This chapter is the first part of discussion about America and its reluctant role on the world stage as superpower. American culture and traditions are not very conductive to ideas of balance of power, it has strong messianic trait with believe that everybody in the world wants to live like Americans and continuously revived attempts to promote itself, albeit not via conquest, but via typical American process of marketing. This chapter also looks at the weak attempts of Teddy Roosevelt to initiate building of Empire, which were given up rather quickly and substituted by abortive attempts by Woodrow Wilson to promote democracy.

CHAPTER 8: The United States: Ambivalent Superpower

The Beginning of the Cold War; Strategies of a Cold War Order; The Korean War; Vietnam and the Breakdown of the National Consensus; Richard Nixon and International Order; The Beginning of Renewal; Ronald Reagan and the End of the Cold War; The Afghanistan and Iraq Wars; The Purpose and the Possible;

This is review of American wars and politics after WWII to present. It includes some history of Cold War, its hot outbursts, and change in attitudes of American population to foreign involvements. The results are dismal with only one out of five wars (First Iraq) America achieving its objectives. Author provides a wonderful quote from George Shultz: “Americans, being a moral people, want their foreign policy to reflect their values. But Americans as practical people want their policy to be effective.” Author believes that this contest between idealism and realism is not going away as key feature of American politics.

CHAFFER 9: Technology. Equilibrium, and Human Consciousness World Order in the Nuclear Age; The Challenge of Nuclear Proliferation; Cyber Technology and World Order; The Human Factor; Foreign Policy in the Digital Era;

This final chapter is about new technologies and how they would influence world politics. It contains some interesting points, but in reality nobody knows.

CONCLUSION: World Order in Our Time?

The Evolution of International Order; Where Do We Go from Here?

The current world order as it was established after WWII and end of Cold war is going to change because economic and military powers of different countries had changed with raise of Asia especially China and relative decline of Europe. The change will have to occur in one of two ways either it will be redefinition of legitimacy or shift in balance of power. The former would be similar to initial raise of Islam or consequences of French revolution and the latter would be like end of Cold War with dissolution of USSR. It is up to United States to find way to support this change in such way as to avoid confrontation and hopefully arrive to general acceptance by powerful players universal principles, while retaining and recognizing reality of diversity of cultures and histories.


I found this book highly consistent with what I know about history and international relations and I fully agree that it all going to change and pretty soon. I also agree that “The Meaning of History” should be discovered, not declared. However I do not put lots of meaning into search for meaning for anything, so I take it as “Let’s wait and see what will happen”. On other hand I do not think that decline of the West, even if relative, is such inevitability. On contrary, I do not believe that current economic raise of Chinese autocracy is sustainable because it is mainly based on attachment to western markets as supplier of cheap labor with no environmental limitations in exchange for flow of investment and technology. This flow is bound to stop due to decrease in need for cheap labor because of automation and coming dramatic interruption of technology flow due to Chinese use of newly acquired technological ability for military purposes and massive violation of intellectual property rights. I expect massive automation to concentrate western attention on remodeling society on a new basis that would resolve problems of disappearing need in low quality labor and unsustainable welfare state. Result of this would be rejuvenation of Western, especially American civilization and the new World Order reestablished on the basis of core values of this civilization: individual freedoms, property rights, and free markets.