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20190526 – China’s Crisis of Success

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that China went through very specific Asian path of rapid economic development that was previously travelled by other countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore. This path is unique because it was based on fear of complete destruction that united population of these countries and allowed to go through suffering and deprivations that would not be accepted in normal times. Similarly to what previously happened to these other countries China now came to the tipping point when continuation of the same model of development become not sustainable due to both internal and external developments. At this point other countries changed mainly in direction of democracy or at least benign authoritarianism and found the new position of stability and prosperity. China however is different due to its size, culture, and ideology, so it is not at all clear what will follow.

DETAILS:

Introduction

Here author states his believe that China is approaching the crisis of success by which he means that the growth of last decade came to an end because it could not count any more on economic model that brought it this success. It is on the brink of transition similar to one experienced by other Asian tigers like South Korea and Singapore, but because of it’s much bigger and more complicated nature it is far from obvious that China will be successful.

1 China Model/Asia Model

Here author compares China and overall Asian models and expresses opinion that conditions, which create opportunity for dramatic growth of economy, are quite unique and could not be easily reproduced elsewhere. Such growth is normally based on dramatic and very painful dislocation of significant part of population and therefore could be conducted only in non-democratic countries and based on massive fear that alternative could be much worse than reform. It also required shared identity of the vast majority of population that recognizes its common fate and consequently accepts pain of restructuring. Author also compares success of Asian countries and failure of the Soviet Union, showing different priorities during change:

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Then he looks at the core reasons for rigidity and centralization of economy that led all this countries into the crisis and concludes that it was somewhat result of believe in effectiveness of war mobilization model that allows concentrate resources on limited tasks of military economy when production concentrated on war material and population accepts whatever sacrifices are required. It does not work in complex consumer economy. The inference here is that concentration of efforts on economy is beneficial for the country, while concentration on military and politics causes stagnation. Here is interesting table of Asian development:

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Then author reviews priorities within economy and stresses that success came when the human needs such as jobs and consumption have higher priority than everything else. He rejects the idea of priority of big scale changes from the top either in form of promotion of heavy industry or shock therapy of massive switch to market. However he supports idea of “rapid incrementalism”, which basically means just increase in economic freedom and opening of the market to foreign investment. The politics have vital, but secondary role. He also discount cultural prejudices noting that he saw a lot of idle workers in Japan, Korea, and China when people have no incentive to work, so the attempt to explain Asian miracles by cultural propensity to work hard in just nonsensical.  Then author moves to China and stresses that the main differentiator was idea of “one country two systems” that allowed communist leadership utilize Hong Kong and some special zones to open link to world capitalist markets assuring flow of capital and know how to vitalize economics. Author also stresses that all economic miracles occurred within authoritarian systems, in which dominant party maintained strict political control. The final point in this chapter is that all this is possible only when people are poor and well remember fear of recent disasters. However when the country gets richer people much less inclined to accept deprivations and corruption, creating crisis situation. So far it happened everywhere and solution was usually move to more democratic and much less corrupt system. Author believes that China is now approaching similar point and outcome of this crisis is far from clear.

2 The Economic Crisis of Success

Here author retells story of Chinese economic success with the stress on recent history when Zhu Rongji and Jiang Zemin introduced critical market reforms in 2003. It reduced SOE employment by 45 million people. It moved economy forward, but then Hu Jintao and Wen Jinbao who expanded it to some rural areas, but allowed it to unravel, growing bureaucracy from 40 to 70 millions. It brought China to current Xi and what author calls “Crisis of Success”  – when old drivers such as foreign investment, know how transfer, and export are becoming more and more limited. Crisis of 2008 convinced Chinese leaders that Western economic model is not that good and they start moving back to state controlled economy. Then author expresses his delight of the amazing new development plan and his contempt to silly “market fundamentalists” who do not understand that key to prosperity is government planning. Nevertheless author also states that only market could provide solution to the problem of complexity. In short, author supports “socialist market economy”. Then author discusses specific areas of transition: switch from export to domestic consumption, manufacturing upgrade, expansion of services, and development of credit-based finance. Author notes that Chinese leaders are usually have engineering background and it shows.  Then author discusses Financial squeeze in the country where there is huge shadow bank market.  Other issues that author discusses here are: demography, currency, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation.  Author ends the chapter with overview where he simultaneously glamorizes China and states that the center of everything is going to shift there, but then stresses that it will take time and it is not yet tomorrow. At the end he expresses caution that China should avoid the fate of Japan that turned inward and started stagnate.

3 Critical Social Issues of the Transition: Inequality, Corruption, Environment, and Globalization

Here author moves to social issues and discusses Chinas inequality in many dimensions including geographical between rural-urban divisions, provinces, sex, and wealth inequality. Here is picture of regional divisions in wealth:

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Author also discusses specificity of Chinese corruption, which he finds of better quality than corruption in democracies such as India. He also discusses Environmental issues that started having some impact on attitude of Chinese people. He also discusses globalization and admits that this process is at the core of China’s success story. At the end of chapter author restates that China’s economic and social problems are enormous and it is far from clear that its social structures would allow positive resolution of these problems.

4 China’s Governance Crisis of Success

Here author starts with Mao era failed attempt to jump ahead by using communist ideology and practice. This followed by changes after Mao when leadership start building institutions of functioning state, starting with limits on officials, establishing professional standards, and, most important, fine tuning the economic system that would be acceptable for foreign businesses so they could invest and actually move production to China being relatively comfortable with legal environment. Author especially stresses what he believes is China’s great achievement: stability via incrementalism when leadership moved very carefully, but allowed small changes in multitude of areas looking at what worked and what not.  Author also discusses what he calls GE model – obsession with one key parameter, which was the Profitability for GE and Economic growth for China. He reviews specifics of Chinese model and democratic alternatives and finds Chinese by far superior for poor democratic countries, mainly India. Author believes that democratic elections in poor countries are captured by elite resulting in use of the state in elite interests combined with neglect of general interest. In Chinese model no capture is necessary and party bureaucrats are moved in hierarchy based on meritocracy that somehow make them working for common good, rather than their own narrow interest. He looks at example of other Asian countries like Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, concluding that they’re all went through massive economic development using combination of authoritarian government and relatively free market. However upon achieving some specific level of wealth many of them switched to democratic rule under pressure of emerging middle class.  Author counter this Asia model to disastrous post Soviet shock therapy driven by free market theoreticians and very reasonably concludes that it is much better.

5 China’s Political Economy under Xi Jinping

This chapter is the review of current situation as it developed under current leader Xi Jinping. Author points out that he was selected mainly as technocrat without strong political base. Author claims that Xi was given power to manage challenges of current situation when China become strong and decided that it can through away pretense of weakness and openly claim the leading role as raising power of the world. Author analyzes emerging powerful interest groups in China and new social forces. He discusses search for filling moral vacuum left by elimination of religion and bankruptcy of communist ideology, guest of private business and intelligentsia for proper legal system, and so on. Author expresses believe that China is at turning point. Old fears disappear, powerful interest group trying to increase their role in decision-making, and financial system become quite fragile due to massive debts. Author points out that Xi’s strategy of doing everything at the same time: reforms, anti-corruption, campaign, military challenge to USA in China sea, and so on is very risky. He discusses what happened in other Asian countries at this point in their development: Japan becoming rich, satisfied and apathetic, Taiwan moving to democracy peacefully, while South Korea via demonstrations and some killings, and finally Singapore finding interesting combination of state ownership of businesses, which are managed by independent boards.   Author characterizes current point as “Complexity revolution” in China – dissipating fear, emerging hubris, economic and political complexity. He also provides list of 10 great paradoxes that China faces now:

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6 What Will Happen?

Here author reviews different scenarios of future development: Reforms or their failure / Japan Scenario / Democratization / Communist power consolidation / Leadership split.  None of these scenarios have clear and easy path and future is murky. Author concludes this book with this statement: China is on the cusp of greatness, stagnation or tragedy, and the risks are so high that small, unexpected events could make the difference. That is the defining quality of China ’ s crisis of success.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think author is absolutely correct in both his main points: China’s success brought it to tipping point when it had to change and nobody really knows how it will do this. I think, however, that despite very good analysis overall author is missing one key point: the rapid development of China occurred as result of massive transfer of manufacturing economy from West, especially USA driven by communist party’s making available cheap labor and environmental negligence to western businesses. Obviously taking machinery from Ohio, moving it to China and start producing with cheap labor with complete absence of environmental, safety and other regulations makes for rapid increase of “made in China” and decrease of “made in Ohio”. However this model is coming to the end because many factors: China labor is not that cheap any more, growing refusal to accept environmental deprivations force increase in production costs, population of Ohio shows signs of political awakening and is not agree any more to suffer for somebody’s high profit and cheap goods. There is also growing understanding in the West that China under communist party is not going to be peaceful and accommodating member of existing world order, but would rather demand not just leading, but dominating role in the world. I do not think that this would be acceptable for western population and the part of western elite that finds it acceptable will be eliminated from its position. I have no doubt that the world is moving to confrontation, actually it is probably already in it, but I think that short of nuclear war Western values would overcome Chinese outdated strive for dominance and within the next 20-30 years China would become just another part of free world. Alternatively, if Chinese leaders could choose Cold War in hope that current level of economic and technological achievement would be enough to with in such war, they could be sorely mistaken. I think it would lead to China’s defeat with highly negative consequences for its population, not least for its elite.  The reason for this would be the same as in Soviet Union: unfree people normally are not those productive and definitely not happy. The Cold War between China, if it occur, would be about the same issues that with Soviet Union: which system if more productive and provides for better life. Communist dictatorship proved many times over its dismal performance in these areas, special Chinese case with massive Western investment and technology transfer of the last 30 years notwithstanding. Deprived of such investment and transfer China would not stand a chance.

 

20190519 – Through a Glass Brightly

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MAIN IDEA:

The main here idea is to demonstrate how contemporary science destroyed multiple old paradigms that put humans into the center of everything. The secondary idea is that after proving human non-uniqueness, humans should know their place and use science to create somewhat minimalistic place for themselves within existing environment.

DETAILS:

Part I: The Allure of Human Centrality, or, How We Persistently Try to Deny Our Place in the Natural World—and Fail

Prelude to Part I

Here author presents the main thesis of this book and what each of its two parts is discussing:

  1. Major paradigm shifts that involve diminishment of humanity’s self-image, and which have therefore been resisted with particular vigor, for example, heliocentric astronomy, the notion that human beings have been especially “well designed,” and so forth.
  2. Reassessments of certain previously held notions that deal with specific aspects of “human nature,” many of them still alive in the public mind; for example, altruism cannot be explained by evolution and must therefore be a gift from god, and people are naturally monogamous. Here, my intent is less to argue against human centrality per se than to take issue with an array of preexisting beliefs that have themselves been privileged at least partly because they place human beings in a flattering but misleading light.

In each chapter author is trying to present exiting paradigm, demonstrate why it is wrong and present the new one.

  1. The journey to Brobdingnag

Here author refer to Gulliver to characterize humanity’s descend from being the center of universe into being as everything else.

Old paradigm: Human beings are fundamentally important to the cosmos.

New paradigm: We aren’t.

  1. From centrality to periphery

Here author discusses anthropocentrism and modocentrism (central position of modern time), and all pain and suffering that caused people new understanding that none and nobody is especially unique. The paradigm change is:

Old paradigm: We are literally central to the universe, not only astronomically but in other ways, too.

New paradigm: We occupy a very small and peripheral place in a not terribly consequential galaxy, tucked away in just one insignificant corner of an unimaginably large universe.

  1. The meaning of life

This is about humanity as an exceptional species that can neglect procreation in pursuit of something else that they consider more important – meaning of life. At the first glance it does not make since since death ends life so nothing really matter, but humans come up with religion which virtually extend life into infinity. Author presents attitude of multiple famous thinkers to this issue, only to end with:

 Old paradigm: Each human life has its own inherent meaning; it is up to every person to discover it.

New paradigm: No one’s life is automatically endowed with any meaning, simply by virtue of his or her existence; it is up to individuals who seek meaning to define and establish it by how they live.

  1. Well designed?

Here author provides critic of popular misconception that humans and overall our universe is well designed. Any more or less serious look at human body would demonstrate beyond any doubt that is not designed at all, but rather represent natural movement from one feature to another sometimes improving, but sometimes having deleterious effect. Author concludes:

Old paradigm: The human body is a wonderfully well-constructed thing, testimony to the wisdom of an intelligent designer.

New paradigm: Although there is much in our anatomy and physiology to admire, we are in fact jerry-rigged and imperfect, testimony to the limitations of a process that is nothing but natural and that in no way reflects supernatural wisdom or benevolence.

  1. The anthropic principle

This principle suggest that all physical constants of our universe so precise that any deviation, however small, would make human life impossible. Author discusses weak and strong forms of this circular argument and once again presents attitudes to this of a few famous scientists and philosophers. The result:

Old paradigm: The universe has been “fine-tuned” for life, especially human life.

New paradigm: There are many alternative explanations for this apparent fact, all of them based on a mechanistic rather than theistic conception of reality.

  1. Tardigrades, trisolarans, and the toughness of life

It starts with reference to Albert Schweitzer and his ideas of reference for life. Then author defines subject of this chapter that life itself is much more robust than individual life and could survive in practically inconceivable environments (extremophiles).  This idea, as usual, brings us another paradigm change:

Old paradigm: Life is delicate; hence the fact that we are alive is testimony to our profound specialness.

New paradigm: Although individual lives are delicate, life in one form or another is remarkably robust; hence, aliveness isn’t in itself a statement of any living thing’s extraordinary importance.

7 Of humanzees and chimphumans

This is about cross-species experiments. Author refers to the first, unsuccessful ones done back in 1910. Now, with current understanding of DNA and life overall, it become much more possible, so author infers:

Old paradigm: Human beings, presumably because they have divine souls, should never be genetically combined with other animals, which don’t.

New paradigm (not really a paradigm so much as an impertinent suggestion): Creating a new and viable organism by combining human and nonhuman DNA might usefully open otherwise closed minds to the connectedness of human beings and other living things.

  1. Separateness of self?

This starts with debunking idea of homunculus, which author uses trying to claim that individuals are not really separate from worlds around them, but rather just a part of it. To support this thesis author uses not only science, but also lots of poetry. The paradigm change:

Old paradigm: Everyone is separate and distinct, an army of one.

New paradigm: Not so! The boundaries between individuals are arbitrary, artificial, and for the most part illusory. Our states are united.

Part ll: New Ways of Understanding Human Nature

Prelude to Part II

Here author moves to more detailed review of human nature as it developed under evolutionary pressures. Author concentrates on panhuman features that are common across variety of human cultures. He also discusses science as methodology opposite to religion and professes his intention to go wherever fact and experiments, would lead, even if this would hurt someone’s believe in human exceptionalism.

  1. Uniquely thoughtful

It starts with kind of catalogue of everything conceivable that humans are and do, but animals do not. Then he proceeds to demonstrate that actually just about everything of this could be found in animals and their behavior, albeit not to the same extent as in humans. Finally author discusses a few well known examples that demonstrate human irrationality and concludes that paradigm is changing:

Old paradigm: Nonhuman animals are unreasoning automatons; people, by contrast, are notable for even defined by their use of reason. Moreover, our species is unique in possessing an internal mental life.

New paradigm: Human beings have not cornered the market on complex cognition and an array of complex mental capacities; moreover, we are often downright irrational, and not merely when in the temporary “throes of passion” but also as part of our complicated human nature.

  1. Conflict between parents and offspring

Here author reviews conflict for resources between parents and children and between siblings. He starts with birds and other animals and then moves to humans. In all cases it is conflict between need to stay alive for individual and need to pass one’s genes to the next generation. The conclusion is:

Old paradigm: Parents and offspring are united in their interests, albeit sometimes at odds for other reasons.

New paradigm: Parents and offspring have genuine, predictable, biologically mediated areas of conflict.

  1. True or false?

This is about animal communication and the latest research that demonstrated its complexity, including ability to cheat. Author discusses communication vs. manipulation; males of many species tendency to present themselves as quality partners, and specifically human propensity to tell lies 6 to 8 times a day. The conclusion:

Old paradigm: Communication is assumed to be honest, providing mostly truthful information.

New paradigm: It is at least as likely to be dishonest, or in any event, an effort by the sender to manipulate the receiver for the sender’s benefit.

  1. The myth of monogamy

This is about evolutionary reasons for monogamy, but there is also multiple evidence of human inclination to polygamy. The logic in both cases is the same – attempts to make male to support family and select the most effective male to pass his genes to the next generation, with the former being a bit more supportive for getting male support and second for getting high quality male who is able to protect his harem, depriving competitors of opportunity to pass their genes.

Old paradigm: People are naturally monogamous, if only they find their ideal life partner.

New paradigm: Men are naturally polygynous, interested in multiple female partners, and women are naturally polyandrous. But both sexes are essentially free to be whatever they choose, particularly if they free themselves from the straitjacket that is the myth of monogamy.

  1. War and peace

Here author rejects the idea that humans predisposed for war. He recites multiple sources from literature to anthropology that kind of indicate existence of such predisposition, but then critics methodology of research. He also stresses that archeological research demonstrate that only with agriculture human groups become violent against each other, hunter-gatherers were much more peaceful. Author also makes sure that he separates group conflict (war) from individual violence, which is much more common in all periods of history. The conclusion:

Old paradigms: (1) Human beings are irrevocably stamped with a biological predisposition to wage war, so we had best get used to it and plan accordingly, or (2) We are inherently benign, benevolent, and peaceful.

New paradigm: We are not biologically doomed to war, although we are inclined to be interpersonally violent on occasion; the war/peace future is in our hands, and isn’t written in our genes.

  1. About those better angels

This chapter is about people helping each other. It discusses evolutionary reasons: reciprocity, kin selection, and cooperative breeding. The change author defines:

Old paradigm: The human penchant for altruism, beneficence, caring for others, and moral sensibility could not have evolved via a brute mechanical process of natural selection; hence, it is evidence for god.

New paradigm: There are many plausible biological explanations for these traits, which are not uniquely human, and which do not require—or even suggest—divine intervention.

  1. Who’s in charge?

This is discussion of free will. Author refer to multitude of living non-human DNA mixed with human DNA in every human body, which selfish genes are trying replicate by impacting functions of this body, sometime benignly, but sometimes lethally. This is not unique to humans and author provides some interesting examples of this. However the general conclusion is:

Old paradigm: Aside from obvious constraints, each of us is in control of his or her life, if not an “army of one,” at least the chief operating officer of our own central intelligence agency.

New paradigm: Everyone is shot through with a diverse array of other organisms as well as other entities, each exercising influence on the levers of “control,” such that either no one is in control or everyone is . . . whatever that means!

  1. The paradox of power

Here author restates the key message of this book: anthrodiminution, recognition of human non-uniqueness and then moves to lament non-trivial and unique impact of humans of everything around. He then discusses biological vs. cultural evolution and sometime dangerous tensions between them, such as biologically beneficial craving of hunter-gatherers for fat combined with abundance of fat for humans in our age leads to very fat humans with very negative effects for their health. Nevertheless author clearly supports contemporary culture of industrial society and understands that its benefits overweight negatives by far:

Old paradigm: By virtue of our uniquely human cultural and technological achievements, we have raised ourselves above mere animals and even above natural limitations.

New paradigm: We are the products of biological and cultural evolution, a combination that has endowed us with extraordinary power; at the same time, however, these two processes are often out of synch, a disparity that confronts us with extraordinary difficulties as well as challenges.

Conclusion: Optdare aude

The conclusion is a bit of pontificating on awfulness of Donald Trump, loss of paradigms that put humans in the center of everything, sad fate of Don Quixote who was brought back to reality by a cruel Carrasco, and finally hope that all this would eventually lead to the better place.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I find it quite funny how many a product of contemporary academia manage simultaneously write tracts diminishing humanity overall, while kind of aggrandizing themselves. It is also funny how they consider their duty to say something bad about the Donald. Other then these funny things, it is a nice catalogue of old ideas that nobody seriously consider operational any more. Obviously humanity is not in the center of everything, so what? It still has lots of knowledge and power to do what it had been doing for the last few hundred thousands years – change environment to fit its own needs. Actually humanity is not unique in this either: every ant and every bird do it by building anthill or a nest. It is just that human capability are much higher, especially cognitive abilities, resulting in the new environment where humans’ concerns include ants, birds, and a lot more that makes it better for humans, even if it is quite different from original environment.

 

20190512 – The Future of Capitalism

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea is to demonstrate that current increase in political division all over the western world between left and right is destructive to society and should be overcome. In order to achieve this author suggests establishing new system that he calls Social Materialism, which he defines as mostly capitalist system with big government that plays active role. This system would be based on everything “ethical”:  State, Firm, Family, and overall world, meaning recognition of the network of reciprocal obligations between everybody and everything.

DETAILS:

Part One: Crisis

  1. The New Anxieties

It starts with discussion of contemporary crises of Western societies when globalization and technology led to deterioration of quality of life of less educated people mainly in working and lower middle classes. It caused these people to give up on existing long-term arrangements and practically rebel against elite in power. This rebellion so far is within democratic framework, leading to election of Trump and other similar figures, but with increasing elite resistance, nobody knows how far it will go. Author presents his own story to demonstrate familiarity with both camps: successful and unsuccessful in the new economy.  He then discusses success of social democracy in XX century with its welfare state, unions, big government, and intellectuals’ activity in politics that grew during this period.  Author ends the chapters with Manifesto of what he calls Social Materialism – the mainly capitalist system in which government plays very active role in economics and social life, with tax policy “restraining powerful”. As usual for such cases, author claims pragmatic solution and presents his ideology as non-ideology crossing left-right continuum.

Part Two: Restoring Ethics

  1. The Foundations of Morality: From the Selfish Gene to the Ethical Group

This starts with typical complain that capitalism provide for material wellbeing, but is immoral and does not provides for meaning of life.  Then it goes to discuss “Wants vs. Oughts” where author talks about seemingly contrarian demands between economic and moral objectives, concluding that both are needed and key is in the balance.  Then he moves to emergence and wide use of reciprocity in human relations, which is developed evolutionary, somehow coming to conclusion that conservative philosophy could not be right because it support existing institutions, which are necessary dysfunctional because the world is changing all the time. The final part is about obligations to each other and to “society” and development of norms and organizations to make all this work.

  1. The Ethical State

Author’s philosophy is pretty much demonstrated when he states that “New Deal” was ethical and people recognized this. This follows by brief panegyric to Keynes, glorification of social democracies (ethical states) circa mid XX century and lament on their decline and fall. Author seems to see the cause of this fall in division of population into well educated and prosperous in market economy and less educated who fail to find place in it. Ideologically population divided into libertarians on one side and identity and rights obsessed leftists on another. Both groups undermined common identity one in the name of unified global market, another in the name of ever multiplying groups of victims, and both successfully suppressing conservatives who were protecting this identity, albeit in outdated format of nation and religion. Then author proceed to look at ways to restore common identity and patriotism in order to return to “ethical state”.

  1. The Ethical Firm

Here author moves to the idea of ethical firm by which he seems to mean the firm that exist not in interests of people who owns it, but in interests of somebody else who cares about some other, more important things than returns on investment. He also discusses problems with hired management who care about their own benefit, even if it would kill the business.  Author proposes rethinking role of big firms in society and changing legal constrains on its management. He discusses in details how and why regulation and nationalization do not provide effective solution for ethical firms and suggests to look at 3 other approaches: Taxation, Public interest representation on corporate boards, and Policing public interest.

  1. The Ethical Family

The chapter about family starts with discussion of how it used to be highly normalized foundation of society until 1950s. Then came shock at the top when birth control changed sexual relations. Then came shock from expansion of education that somewhat led to loss of respect to older people. Then came shock at the bottom from technology and globalization that deprived lower classes not only of income, but also of self-respect from a job. This led to social divergence and dissolution of traditional family at the bottom. Author suggests that it is possible to restore “ethical family” through commitment technology and extended family that include 4 generations due not increased life span.

  1. The Ethical World

Here author kind of combines ideas of “ethical everything” in 3 precepts:

Precept 1. Recognition of obligations to other societies that are not dependent upon reciprocity: the duties of rescue. These cover obligations to groups such as refugees, those societies facing mass despair, and those lacking the rudiments of justice. Precept 2. The Construction of more far-reaching reciprocal obligations among chose countries willing to go further.

Precept 3. Such reciprocity is supported by recognition of common membership of a group, based on common purposive actions that further the enlightened self-interest of each participant.

Then he discusses erosion and potential rebuilding of such ethical world.

Part Three: Restoring the Inclusive society

This is pretty typical discussion of different aspects of contemporary division of population into winners and losers who benefit or fail to benefit from huge changes in methods of production and distribution of goods and services.

  1. The Geographic Divide: Booming Metropolis, Broken Cities;

After discussing diversion between prosperous metropolises and declining towns author proposes a number of possible solutions for specific problems, but ends up stating that none of them ready for implementation and need careful experimentation to define their viability.

  1. The Class Divide: Having it All, Falling Apart;

For this author suggest implementing “Social Materialism” when state cushions family with practical support could fix these problems by substituting what author calls “Social Paternalism” when state policies family.

  1. The Global Divide: Winners, and the Left Behind;

This is a bunch of Mea Culpa that author offers as professional economist: in regard to: Trade, Regulations, and Migration. The final professional Mea Culpa is in regard to economic profession glorifying globalization and closing its eyes on its negative effects.

Part Four: Restoring Inclusive Politics

10: Breaking the Extremes

This is the author’s lament that capitalism divides people and that right now everybody seems to be moving to extremes. He calls to establish process that would move main parties to the center. In order to do this he suggest to leave selection of leaders to party insiders and generally move into direction of decreasing divide in wealth and everything else at the global level, but most important is to build shared identity. He believes that the period of left’s dominance by Utilitarism and Rawlsian ideas of redistribution and victimhood and right’s dominance by ideas of individualism is coming to the end and the future would bring movement of left to their communitarian roots and right to restoring their “ethical bearings” and all happily moving in non-existing past when there was little division and no ideological struggle.

MY TAKE ON IT:

I think that idea of “social materialism” is plainly not realistic because it demands from people some abstract commitment to reciprocation to others even if these people to not include themselves and this other in one entity. I believe in evolutionary developed duality of humans with one side based on individual survival and another on survival of the group one belongs two. The complexity comes from existence of multitude of different groups that individual belongs to and frequent contradictions between objectives of these group. The idea that some bureaucratic entity such as state or firm could be made “ethical” meaning it would start caring for outsiders is not supported by the history. I think that the solution is not change in people or even their attitudes, but rather in change of group structures and hierarchies that would minimize contradictions and perhaps even reconcile objectives of different groups to extent possible so the resource production and allocation would be conducted on non-zero sum basis.

 

20190505 – A Brief History of Everyone

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MAIN IDEA:

The main idea of this book is that humans are not necessary that different from other apes and have a lot in common with everything living in their DNA. It also provides history of human expansion all over the world and elimination of all our close relatives like Neanderthals who left us a bit of DNA and a few bones to discover. Author contemplates on commonality of our DNA so we all have common ancestors from not that long a go, and meaningless of primitive division of humans into races and such.  Finally the big point here is that evolution is continuing and future changes are not really predictable.

DETAILS:

Introduction

This book is about humans and their DNA. It discusses multiple humanoid species that existed in the past and then for one reason or another disappeared leaving ecological space for the one and only survivor specie – contemporary humans. It is also about our DNA history, its present and what future can bring to us via results of DNA research.

Part One: How We Came to Be

  1. Horny and mobile

This starts with evolution and continuously changing life forms, of which humans is just one example. Author then discusses rejection of usual tree like interpretation and proposes somewhat different graph:

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Then he follows with discussion of DNA structure and how to read it into separate genes. After DNA author moves to human movement from their place of origin in Africa all over the world:

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Author goes into a bit of details about archeological, paleontological, and DNA analysis methods for obtaining this information.

  1. The First European Union

Here author discusses European population and how it come to be from the time of Neanderthals, that where successfully disappeared by humans. There is interesting discussion of type of food our ancestor subsisted on based on our DNA’s enzymes production such as Amylase. Then author discusses impact of cooking that started some 300,000 years ago and invention of agriculture that practically led to wiping out hunter-gatherers.  He provides supporting evidence including typical discussion of lactose tolerance and not so typical discussion of blond and red hair. Author looks in some details on DNA make up of British Islands’ population and impact of plague. He ends chapter with the note about slow tempo of human advancement out of Africa, which was slow enough to provide time for evolutionary development of DNA differences. The evidence discussed consists of DNA variances and different cultures, such as Clovis, identified by tools used. The inference is that all Native Americans Indians are genetically close enough to confirm the idea of movement via Bering when continents were connected.

3 These American Lands

This chapter starts with Viking and Columbus, and then quickly moves to American Indians and how they get here. For some reason author discusses contemporary method of joining Indian tribes in USA retelling Navasupai story.  At the end of chapter author points out that Americans, as nation of immigrants, have all kind of DNA mixes and discusses a bit his own family DNA.

  1. When We Were Kings

This is about impossibility of pure DNA because of geometrical progression of ancestors: 2 parents, 4 grandparent and 2100 for 100 generation, which is something like 2500 years – clear impossibility. The inference is that we all relatives and math confirm that it is correct.  Author then go into a bit of genealogical discussion and ends up with explanation of problems with inbreeding.

Part Two: Who We Are Now

  1. The End of Race

Author starts this chapter with his recollection of encountering some racist teasing as a child and then moves to DNA and the story of unsuccessful search for biological foundation for racism retelling story of   Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton – founder of eugenics movement. Obviously there are lots of differences of characteristics between individuals of different races, but most important point is that they do not exceed differences between individuals of the same race, making the very notion of race meaningless. To illustrate this author discusses results of research of genetic grouping of people. This grouping starts with division of everybody into two groups and then expanding it to more and more groups. The result is unexpected when algorithm groups people by DNA in such ways that is completely different from their races. After that author discusses various genetic diseases and inclination such as alcoholism, concluding that genetic influence is greatly overstated.

6 The Most Wondrous Map Ever Produced by Humankind

This starts with discussion and betting by the group of scientists on DNA length in 2000 when it was in process of decoding.  Everybody overestimated its length because the common notion was that genes have direct link to specific function of organism, when in reality it is much more complicated and it is rather: complex, environmentally dependent genes combination link to function. Now, decades after DNA decoding the huge progress was made, but we are still far away from complete understanding how this staff works. Author discusses “genome-wide association studies” (GWAS) that seek to establish understanding of diseases by analyzing genome association of multiple people with the disease. He also discusses twins’ studies that demonstrate that link of DNA and some disease is not really simple and direct.

  1. Fate

This is about link between genome and crime and other behavioral problems. As example author uses MAOA – the chemical disproportionally found in individual with behavioral deviations. Nevertheless the link is complex and could hardly be defined as having causal character. The final part of the chapter discusses intergenerational transmission of environmental impact. It is done on very interesting case of consequences of mass starvation in Netherlands in 1944. The key here is that it is highly developed country with great levels of documentation of all events, including health histories over generations. The result is interesting because it does support suggestion that this artificial famine did have impact across generations. Finally author spends a bit of time discussing epigenetics that kind of brings back Lamarckian approach.

8 A Short Introduction to the Future of Humankind

The main point here is that future is already here including modifications to DNA. It happens via mutations all the time. Research demonstrated that the same gene checked in 6500 people has 1.5 million single letter mutations. Since there are billions of people in the world the much more complex mutations are bound to happen all the time. There is also phenomenon of the same functional changes due to mutations in different genes, which makes sense because few functions and features linked to one gene only. So we are good with variety, but the second part – selection is becoming mute because survival pressures are not what they used to be if one takes into account abundance of food, shelter and advanced medicine.  Nevertheless author final conclusion is that humanity is still in process of evolution because evolution is change + time and neither of this could be eliminated.

Epilogue

Author completes it with brief discussion of uniqueness of both species and individuals, which is created by constant recombination of bits and pieces of DNA present in millions of lives in the past so genome could be considered a history book without end and it would be read, reread, and updated for future as long as humanity exists.

MY TAKE ON IT:

So I guess it is not a big news that we are all relatives and have 99% common DNA. It is interesting how exactly humans moved around the globe and how much it could be traced in our DNA. Similarly it is obvious that there is no real scientific foundation for the notion of race because DNA variety within any race is higher that between races. I guess the problem is that DNA has little to do with cultural differences and human propensity to divide everybody into US and Non-US is more related to culture than to DNA. It is also interesting how author narrates impact of DNA decoding with unexpected number of genes: too few to explain features of human organism that eventually led to creation of new, supplemental to genetics field – epigenetics. I think that eventually it would open the new area of conscientious efforts to use epigenetics to improve development of young humans by creating individually designed environment with ability to control real impact by analyzing epigenetic changes. It would probably take a lot of time to move there, but result could be much happier people that we are now.