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20201129 – The Great Debate


The main idea of this book is to present two different types of ideas derived from enlightenment via lives and work of two individuals: Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke. Former representing the French revolutionary approach of overturning existing system and rebuilding everything from the scratch and latter representing British conservative approach of upgrading the system via incremental changes with as little disruption as possible.



Author begins this chapter by describing meeting between Burke and Paine that occurred in 1788-  a few years before French revolution when their differences were not that obvious as to prevent this meeting from being friendly encounter. Then author describes lives and general approach to understanding of humanity by each of these two men. The Burke’s approach was based on this:” Burke argues that human nature relies on emotional, not only rational, edification and instruction—an idea that would become crucial to his insistence that government must function in accordance with the forms and traditions of a society’s life and not only abstract principles of justice. “The influence of reason in producing our passions is nothing near so extensive as it is commonly believed,” Burke writes. We are moved by more than logic, and so politics must answer to more than cold arguments.”  Paine’s approach was based on believe in all powerful reason that should allow people to consciously redesign and rebuild the system in logical and efficient way as designed by such intellectually superior individuals as himself, in process suppressing or even eliminating inferior individuals that refuse comply with demands of their betters.

Author then describes approach of each of them first to American revolution, about which both were mostly in sync and the French revolution which completely divided them. This division was expressed in their competing books: Burke’s “Reflection on the Revolution in France” and Paine’s “Rights of Man”.  Author briefly describes chronology of their dispute and additional works that each of them produced in support of his ideas.


This chapter is about philosophical foundation of these two people’s views about nature of human society. Paine’s view is that history is irrelevant and one should look at human nature:” And by “nature,” he means the condition that preceded all social and political arrangements and therefore the facts regarding what every human being is, regardless of social or political circumstances. Our nature remains just as it was at the beginning of the human race, since our various social arrangements don’t change what we are by nature—what every human being always has been and will be. And so, our basic nature must remain the foundation of our political thinking—of our understanding of what human beings are and how they ought to live together.”

Correspondingly Burke’s view is historical. He thinks exactly opposite to Paine: it is that original nature is hardly relevant and current condition is more result of historical development. “The beginnings of any society, Burke writes, are almost certain to involve some form of barbarism (not to say crime). But over time, by slowly responding to circumstantial exigencies, societies develop more mature forms—a process that, as Burke puts it in the Reflections on the Revolution in France, “mellows into legality governments that were violent in their commencement.” A return to beginnings would thus not offer an opportunity to start anew on proper principles, but would rather risk a reversion to barbarism. “There is a sacred veil to be drawn over the beginnings of all governments,” Burke argues, because there is little to be learned by exposing them, and there is a very real risk of harm in the exposure itself—especially the risk of weakening the allegiance of the people to their regime by exposing its imperfect origins.”


Here author reviews difference in approach to Justice and Order. As elsewhere it is between Paine’s main problem being the suffering of masses from traditional regimes that should be destroyed by any means necessary, while for Burke it is suffering of everybody, with individuals at the top of old regime suffering from the mob included. Author also reviewing approach of each of them to Moral Order and Morals law, Natural Equality and the Order of Society, and relevant issues.


Here author discusses their approach to the very purpose of politics:” For Paine, the natural equality of all human beings translates to complete political equality and therefore to a right to self-determination. The formation of society was itself a choice made by free individuals, so the natural rights that people bring with them into society are rights to act as one chooses, free of coercion. Each person should have the right to do as he chooses unless his choices interfere with the equal rights and freedoms of others. And when that happens—when society as a whole must act through its government to restrict the freedom of some of its members—government can only act in accordance with the wishes of the majority, aggregated through a political process. Politics, in this view, is fundamentally an arena for the exercise of choice, and our only real political obligations are to respect the freedoms and choices of others. For Burke, human nature can only be understood within society and therefore within the complex web of relations in which every person is embedded. None of us chooses the nation, community, or family into which we are born, and while we can choose to change our circumstances to some degree as we get older, we are always defined by some crucial obligations and relationships not of our own choosing. A just and healthy politics must recognize these obligations and relationships and respond to society as it exists, before politics can enable us to make changes for the better. In this view, politics must reinforce the bonds that hold people together, enabling us to be free within society rather than defining freedom to the exclusion of society and allowing us to meet our obligations to past and future generations, too. Meeting obligations is as essential to our happiness and our nature as making choices.”


This chapter is about application of reason to the management of society. Here is author’s main point:” Paine understood his own time as “The Age of Reason” (as he dubbed it in the title of his last book). He thought that the combination of new insights into the science of politics and greater freedom for citizens to exercise their own individual reason upon public questions would free liberal societies of countless ancient prejudices and open the way to a new politics of liberty. Burke thought the governing of human communities was much too complex a task to be simplified into a series of pseudoscientific questions and resolved by logical exercises. It required, in his view, a degree of knowledge and wisdom about human affairs that could only be gathered from the experience of society itself. Their views, in other words, were direct extensions of the broader worldviews presented thus far and offer a deeper understanding of the foundational political questions of modern politics. Their dispute therefore deepens as it moves from the ends to the means of political thought.”

Correspondingly Burke stresses need of careful approach and cautious change because reason is limited, causing unintended consequences. For Paine reason is unlimited so the consequences can be limited to intendent, but if bad unintended consequences happen to occur, it is a small price to pay. Author also discusses relevant difference in approach to theoretical and global and specific and particular. At the end of chapter author also discusses Meaning of America, defined differently by Burke and Paine, but in such way that each believed American experience supported his view.


The question of Revolution vs. Reform once again clearly demonstrate difference in approach, which later became designated as right and left. For left revolution comes with massive destruction of whatever was before to clean up field for the new beautiful construction based on superior reason. For right reason’s limitation points to preference of reform with as little destruction as possible not only because it causes suffering, but, even more important, the limited reason could not possibly create much better arrangements because of its own limitations.  


Here author looks at Burke-Paine debate in relation to generations of people:” Paine seeks to understand man apart from his social setting, while Burke thinks man is incomprehensible apart from the circumstances into which he is born—circumstances largely the making of prior generations. Burke describes a densely layered social whole that defines the place of each of its members, while Paine thinks each person is born with an equal right to shape his destiny. Paine’s case for a politics of reason argues for direct recourse to principle in the face of long-established but unreasonable practices. Burke’s case for prescription is based on generational continuity. This argument leads Burke to prefer gradual reforms that preserve what has come down from the past, while Paine pursues a revolutionary break as the only way to escape the heavy burden of long-standing injustice. The question of the generations recurs so frequently in their discussions because the Burke-Paine debate is about Enlightenment liberalism, whose underlying worldview unavoidably raises the problem of the generations. Enlightenment liberalism emphasizes government by consent, individualism, and social equality, all of which are in tension with some rather glaring facts of the human condition: that we are born into a society that already exists, that we enter this society without consenting to it, that we enter it with social connections and not as isolated individuals, and that these connections help define our place in society and therefore often raise barriers to equality. These facts suggest either that Enlightenment liberalism is in some important ways unworkable in practice given the relations between generations or that those relations must be transformed to make such liberalism possible. Because they took up the question of Enlightenment liberalism at the moment when it was becoming a question of practice, Burke and Paine were unusually attentive to these problems and approached the matter of generational relations as a genuinely practical and open question.”

Eventually author puts it into philosophical temporal framework: Paine’s “Eternal Now” when reason allows setup perfect order after removing everything that was before vs. Burke’s “Eternal Order” when reason has limited use of carefully reforming existing order to adjust this order to new circumstances. Instead of Paine’s “destruction first”, Burke’s approach is “first do not harm what is working and change only what is not working anymore.”


I guess I am mostly on the side of Burke now since I am not that young and therefore do not have illusion that world is simple. However, I do not believe that Pain/Burke’s approaches are polar. It pretty much depends on circumstances of any given society at any given time. Probably the most important part of culture of any society is its ability of supporting effective feedback connections between individuals at the top and at the bottom of this society. Strong feedback typical for democracies lead to effective reaction to changing world via freedom of speech and fair elections when there is little lag between emerging unhappiness of population and correcting measures to resolve the issue. In this case Burke’s approach would be the most effective. However, if such feedback is lacking either due to decay of society’s institutions such as press and education, or, in extreme cases, due to dictatorship of some hierarchical organization, then Paine’s revolutionary approach could become just about impossible to avoid despite it being very inefficient and often murderous. The reason is simple: because the suppression of unhappiness does not make it disappear, but rather keeps I hidden while it accumulates explosive potential until this potential becomes more powerful than forces off suppression. At this point explosion-revolution is triggered by some relatively insignificant event, leading to period struggle before the new order, often somewhat worse than it was before, would be established.

20201122 – The Mystery of Capital


Here is how author defines objective of this book:” In this book I intend to demonstrate that the major stumbling block that keeps the rest of the world from benefiting from capitalism is its inability to produce capital. Capital is the force that raises the productivity of labor and creates the wealth of nations. It is the lifeblood of the capitalist system, the foundation of progress, and the one thing that the poor countries of the world cannot seem to produce for themselves, no matter how eagerly their people engage in all the other activities that characterize a capitalist economy. I will also show, with the help of facts and figures that my research team and I have collected, block by block and farm by farm in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, that most of the poor already possess the assets they need to make a success of capitalism. Even in the poorest countries, the poor save. The value of savings among the poor is, in fact, immense—forty times all the foreign aid received throughout the world since 1945. …. Because the rights to these possessions are not adequately documented, these assets cannot readily be turned into capital, cannot be traded outside of narrow local circles where people know and trust each other, cannot be used as collateral for a loan, and cannot be used as a share against an investment.”


CHAPTER ONE: The Five Mysteries of Capital

Here author expresses his view that poor countries are poor mainly because they failed to create legal and cultural conditions necessary to use  available resources as Capital, which means applying resources into process of generation of goods and services in such way that they would generate profit that would increase amount of available resources, creating eventually self-supporting process of economic growth. Author notes that it did happed in currently developed Western countries centuries ago and in Asian Tigers economies after WWII, but it did not happen in Latin America and Africa.  In order to analyze why and how such process occurs or fails to occur author defines what he calls 5 mysteries of capital:

  1. The Mystery of the Missing Information
  2. The Mystery of Capital
  3. The Mystery of Political Awareness
  4. The Missing Lessons of US History
  5. The Mystery of Legal Failure: Why Property Law Does Not Work Outside the West

Then author dedicates one chapter of this book to each “mystery” and concludes by suggesting solution.

CHAPTER TWO: The Mystery of Missing Information

Here author discusses lack of information about savings and overall wealth of poor countries due to lack of formal property accounts. Author reviews multiple obstacles to legalization of business and real estate property such as overwhelming bureaucratization of all processes that makes it just about impossible to open legal business. Based on research of his group author developed table demonstrating amount of dead capital:

CHAPTER THREE: The Mystery of Capital

Here author discusses damages from the lack of legality:” Capital, like energy, is also a dormant value. Bringing it to life requires us to go beyond looking at our assets as they are to actively thinking about them as they could be. It requires a process for fixing an asset’s economic potential into a form that can be used to initiate additional production.” After this author enumerates specific effects that would result from obtaining ability to use potential of dormant capital, for example a house that could  be used as collateral. These effects are:

Property Effect No. 1: Fixing the Economic Potential of Assets

Property Effect No. 2: Integrating Dispersed Information into One System

Property Effect No. 3: Making People Accountable

Property Effect No. 4: Making Assets Fungible

Property Effect No. 5: Networking People

Property Effect No. 6: Protecting Transactions

Author summarizes this using metaphor of Bell Jar, which makes capitalism in poor countries isolated from majority, limiting effective use of wealth concentrating in the hands of lower classes unavailable for productive use.  

CHAPTER FOUR: The Mystery of Political Awareness

Author’s definition of this mystery:” If there is so much dead capital in the world, and in the hands of so many poor people, why haven’t governments tried to tap into this potential wealth? Simply because the evidence they needed has only become available in the past forty years as billions of people throughout the world have moved from life organized on a small scale to life on a large scale. This migration to the cities has rapidly divided labor and spawned in poorer countries a huge industrial-commercial revolution—one that, incredibly, has been virtually ignored.”

Author then discusses mass movement of people from rural areas to cities and industrial revolution that is occurring in poor countries. This often happens despite legal restrictions on relocations so much so that around and inside of big cities there is huge population living extralegally and this population is beginning process of self-organization, forming into political power. This is the same process that occurred in developed countries a few centuries ago during industrial revolution.

CHAPTER FIVE: The Missing Lessons of U.S. History

Author’s definition of this mystery:” What is going on in the Third World and the former communist countries has happened before, in Europe and North America. Unfortunately, we have been so mesmerized by the failure of so many nations to make the transition to capitalism that we have forgotten how the successful capitalist nations actually did it. For years I visited technocrats and politicians in advanced nations, from Alaska to Tokyo, but they had no answers. It was a mystery. I finally found the answer in their history books, the most pertinent example being that of U.S. history.”

Here author looks in details at American history, quite convincingly demonstrating that it was far from nice and clean with squatting and “tomahawk rights” being examples of extralegal acquisition of property, “shooting the sheriff” a way to protect acquired property, and political organization, with elections and legal struggle eventually resulting in formal legalization of this property and establishment of such legal system that supported effective functioning of mainly peaceful control over property rights.

CHAPTER SIX: The Mystery of Legal Failure

Author’s definition of this mystery:” Since the nineteenth century, nations have been copying the laws of the West to give their citizens the institutional framework to produce wealth. They continue to copy such laws today, and obviously it doesn’t work. Most citizens still cannot use the law to convert their savings into capital. Why this is so and what is needed to make the law work remains a mystery.”

Here author defines reasons for this failure as based on basic misconceptions:

•​all people who take cover in the extralegal or underground sectors do so to avoid paying taxes;

•​real estate assets are not held legally because they have not been properly surveyed, mapped, and recorded;

•​enacting mandatory law on property is sufficient, and governments can ignore the costs of compliance with that law;

•​existing extralegal arrangements or “social contracts” can be ignored;

•​you can change something as fundamental as people’s conventions on how they can hold their assets, both legal and extralegal, without high-level political leadership.

Author then provides detailed description for how to move from extralegal to legal capital. Here is top level graphical representation:

Then author discusses challenges to this process in details, allocationg a part of the chapter to each:

Part I: The Legal Challenge

Part II: The  Political Challenge

The final part of the chapter is discussion from perspective of the poor and how to coopt elite into supporting this process of legalization and conversion of resources into capital.

CHAPTER SEVEN: By Way of Conclusion

Here author suggests solution to all the mysteries reviewed in this book. In pretty much in expansion of real property rights to people outside elite, making just about everybody into capitalist. Author looks at Marx’s ideas and finds them outdated in the West, but still highly popular elsewhere. Author makes an interesting point that industrialization pretty much means that small business owners, legal or extralegal, practically deprived of their businesses by increasingly big corporations not only because of competition, but also because of government intervention. Marx’s solution was removing multitude of big corporations and substitute them with one huge super corporation: government. Author generally rejects this idea as historically failed in communist countries, leaving capitalism as “the only game in town”. He believes that the problem could be resolved if: governments are willing to accept the following:


My believes and ideas are pretty close to author’s with quite a few differences:

I do not think that term “capitalism” is meaningful because I do not think it is possible separate resources into capital owned by capitalist and resources controlled by everybody else, including ability to work, as non-capital. For me the difference in not qualitative, but quantitative. When individual who owns business (capitalist) and individual who owns only self (in Marx’s term proletary) cooperate in creation of new resources and then divide these resources unequally the problem is not ownership, but market value of input, which for non-capitalist could be so low that capitalist may decide not cooperate at all. In this case non-capitalist has no other choice as to use violence and coercion to obtain resources necessary for survival, which is usually done via political struggles forcing governmental transfers. Historically societies were capable maintain stability because non-capitalists had clear path of either becoming capitalist by acquiring business experience and some initial assets. As result any individual starting in live has option of working hard and either become small business owner or high market value specialist. Since majority of population possess physical and mental ability to use this option, it is quite realistic to achieve satisfactory level of resource acquisition usually identified by term Middle Class. The author’s stress on formalization of property rights would definitely open the way to such achievement for many people in developing countries, the same way as it did occur in developed countries before. This would allow much better use of resources leading to some economic catching up to occur. The bigger problem is that such, historically Western, road to prosperity is getting outdates because human labor is increasingly redundant for production of goods and services, but this problem is outside of the scope of this book.

20201115 -Ideological Origins of American Revolution


The main idea of this book is to review literary and philosophical sources of American revolution and analyze the processes by which, starting from these sources, American ideas developed and by mid 1760s become not just popular, but dominant intellectual force in the minds of colonial population. Another idea is to demonstrate how these ideas become reality of American constitution and society and how it impacted social development all over the world.



Here author reviews various types of literature popular in pre-revolutionary period, being the main method of information flow and debates. First and foremost, there were brief pamphlets, produced by all sides participating in discussions after every significant event. Author reviews various types of pamphlets and notes that written discussions were conducted for 20 years leading to revolution on increasing scale. Author also discusses personalities of writers from Adams and Jefferson to quite a few of less known pamphleteers.  


 In this chapter author looks at sources of colonial thinking and finds it in general western culture going back to: “Homer, Sophocles, Plato, Euripides, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Aristotle, Strabo, Lucian, Dio, Polybius, Plutarch, and Epictetus, among the Greeks; and Cicero, Horace, Vergil, Tacitus, Lucan, Seneca, Livy, Nepos, Sallust, Ovid, Lucretius, Cato, Pliny, Juvenal, Curtius, Marcus Aurelius, Petronius, Suetonius, Caesar, the lawyers Ulpian and Gaius, and Justinian, among the Romans”

However, author also points out that actual knowledge of these works was lacking and they often were cited without real understanding.

Author stresses that” More directly influential in shaping the thought of the Revolutionary generation were the ideas and attitudes associated with the writings of Enlightenment rationalism — writings that expressed not simply the rationalism of liberal reform but that of enlightened conservatism as well.” These were works of “Locke, Montesquieu, Vattel, Beccaria, Burlamaqui, Voltaire, or even Rousseau.”

The third source were “The great figures of England’s legal history, especially the seventeenth-century common lawyers, were referred to repeatedly — by the colonial lawyers above all, but by others as well. Sir Edward Coke is everywhere in the literature: “Coke upon Littleton,” “my Lord Coke’s Reports,” “Lord Coke’s 2nd Institute” — the citations are almost as frequent as, and occasionally even less precise than, those to Locke, Montesquieu, and Voltaire. The earlier commentators Bracton and Fortescue are also referred to, casually, as authorities, as are Coke’s contemporary Francis Bacon, and his successors as Lord Chief Justice, Sir Matthew Hale, Sir John Vaughan, and Sir John Holt.11 In the later years of the Revolutionary period, Blackstone’s Commentaries and the opinions of Chief Justice Camden became standard authorities.”

Another source was religious Puritanism and its link to English history that produced specific ideological strain.  “The ultimate origins of this distinctive ideological strain lay in the radical social and political thought of the English Civil War and of the Commonwealth period; but its permanent form had been acquired at the turn of the seventeenth century and in the early eighteenth century, in the writings of a group of prolific opposition theorists, “country” politicians and publicists.”

After defining ideological sources, author goes into more detailed discussion of ideas and writers of the period from Glorious revolution to 1760s during which all these sources were intellectually reprocessed into more or less consistent ideology of what it means to be freeborn Englishman and what rights and duties should apply to colonials in America.


This chapter about power discusses its aggressiveness, meaning strive to expand and difficulty of controlling it. So, the problem was to allow legitimate use of power to protect community and limit its expansion beyond legitimate borders.  Author describes the process of ideas development this way:” The clarity of the modern assumption of a tripartite division of the functions of government into legislative, executive, and judicial powers did not exist for the colonists (the term “legislative,” for example, was used to mean the whole of government as well as the lawmaking branch), and in any case the balance of the constitution was not expected to be the result of the symmetrical matching of social orders with powers of government: it was not assumed that each estate would singly dominate one of the branches or functions of government.” Author describes influence of events in states that used to be free, but then succumb to despotism like Poland or Denmark at the time. Author points out that this analysis demonstrated that “the preservation of liberty rested on the ability of the people to maintain effective checks on the wielders of power, and hence in the last analysis rested on the vigilance and moral stamina of the people. Certain forms of government made particularly heavy demands on the virtue of the people”. Author discusses in details not only influence of English constitution, but also influence of the real-life practices that were well familiar to colonists.


The logic of rebellion actually was not revolutionary, but rather conservative: to retain traditional freedoms of Englishmen and English constitution. Here is how author puts it:” It was this — the overwhelming evidence, as they saw it, that they were faced with conspirators against liberty determined at all costs to gain ends which their words dissembled — that was signaled to the colonists after 1763, and it was this above all else that in the end propelled them into Revolution.”

 Author first discusses religious aspect of this related to attempt of domination by Anglican church over religiously diverse population. Then came Stamp Act and other taxes, which, while comparatively small, nevertheless were designed to establish precedent of parliament control over colonials. Then came attempt to establish control from outside over colonial judiciary via control over salaries and undermining of jury system. The next steps were increase of power of royal governors and rejection of attempt to achieve representation in parliament (John Wilkes). In addition, the burden of standing army arrived with British troop moving to colonies in peace time. Author describes these processes and increasingly negative reaction to it by population.

Note on Conspiracy

This is detailed description of colonial perception of events as a conscious conspiracy to deprive people of their rights. Author reviews conspiracy literature and other documents and pretty much concludes that it was effective idea, which was not necessarily correct evaluation of situation.  


 Author builds the main thesis of this chapter around John Adams evaluation:” But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”  He then discusses specific parts of this revolution.

1. Representation and Consent

Here author looks at processes of representation in English society and demonstrates how and why event developed in such way that Americans felt being deprived of proper representation.  

2. Constitutions and Rights

Here author first discusses notion of unwritten English constitution as “assemblage of laws, customs, and institutions which form the general system according to which the several powers of the state are distributed and their respective rights are secured to the different members of the community.” In this view constitution was fixed and could be changed only organically, which it did, but differently in different places, getting eventually out of synch. Unlike organic development external intervention by distant power of English parameter was perceived as violation of constitution that could not and should not be tolerated.

3. Sovereignty

The final part of this chapter is about sovereignty. Author reviews discussion about it, but it was basically contest of sovereignty of the country as represented by parliament vs. sovereignty of the people as represented by locally elected powers.


This last chapter is about consequences of American revolution that it had on various long existing institutions all over the world. Here are these institutions:

1. Slavery

2. Establishment of Religion

3. The Democracy Unleashed

4. “Whether Some Degree of Respect Be Not Always Due from Inferiors to Superiors”


Here author comments on final result of revolution: the new constitutional order unmatched to anything that existed before. Author reviews three distinct phases that led to this outcome:

“The first was the years of struggle with Britain before 1776 when, under the pressure of events and the necessity to justify resistance to constituted authority, the colonists developed from their complex heritage of political thought the set of ideas, already in scattered ways familiar to them, that was most illuminating and most appropriate to their needs. Centered on the fear of centralized power and rooted in the belief that free states are fragile and degenerate easily into tyrannies unless vigilantly protected by a free, knowledgeable, and uncorrupted electorate working through institutions that balance and distribute rather than concentrate power, their ideas were critical of, and challenging to, the legal authority they had lived under. The writings of this early period drew together the basic ideas which would flow through all subsequent stages of American political thought, and provide the permanent foundation of the nation’s political beliefs.2 The second phase saw the constructive application of these ideas and the exploration of their implications, limits, and possibilities in the writing and rewriting of the first state constitutions, from 1776 through the 1780’s. Obliged now to construct their own governments at the state level, American leaders were forced to think through the fundamentals of their beliefs, and establish republican polities that expressed the principles they had earlier endorsed. They did not work from clean slates. Constrained by institutions that had long existed and by entrenched leadership groups, they were revisers, amenders, elaborators, and conceptualizers, as they applied fresh ideas to existing structures and brought them as close as possible to their ideal. So they explored the nature of written constitutions and of constituent power; worked through the problems of separating functioning powers of government to form balances within single-order societies; and probed the nature of representation, the operative meaning of sovereignty of the people, and individual rights. Few of their conclusions were applied uniformly or in absolute and complete form. But everywhere the institutional problems of republican government at the state level and the principles on which it was based were probed in this constructive phase of the ideological revolution.3 The third phase — the writing, debating, ratifying, and amending of the national constitution — resembles the second phase in that it was constructive and concentrated on constitution writing; many of the ideas that had been developed in the writing and discussion of the state constitutions were applied to the national constitution and further refined and developed. But in its essence this phase was distinct. For in the 1780’s, under the pressure of rising social tensions, economic confusion pointing to the possible collapse of public credit, frustration in international affairs, and the threat of dissolution of the weak Confederation, the central task was reversed. Now the goal of the initiators of change was the creation, not the destruction, of national power — the construction of what could properly be seen, and feared, as a Machtstaat, a central national power that involved armed force, the aggressive management of international relations, and, potentially at least, the regulation of vital aspects of everyday life by a government dominant over all other, lesser governments.”


This book is a classic and is used as main source for teaching American revolution for decades. The important point of this book is that intellectual development of American colonials, which made the revolution possible, was developing for many decades and became engine that moved people to act. Another important point that is completely in agreement with this approach is about power, its control, and search for balance between centralized and local powers without which any country falls either into tyranny or anarchy. Not all revolutions are as beneficial for population as American revolution 1776 was. Other revolutions such as Russian of 1917, German of 1933, or Chinese of 1948 brough catastrophic consequences for population of these countries. The current American revolution of 2020 is in process so it is not possible to tell which outcome will become reality: renovation and upgrade of American revolution of 1776 that would come with victory of republicans or turn to rejection of 1776 and attempt to repeat “success” of Chinese Communist party that would come with victory of democrats. I believe that this attempt could not possibly be successful for two reasons:

  • The first reason is economic success of communists did not really happen in China in the first place. The economic success was achieved not by fully implementing socialism in Chinese or any other known form, but from making China into manufacturing attachment to Western economies, leaders of which transferred technology and investment to country with no labor and environmental protections. This provided for huge competitive advantage initially based on low price of products and now increasingly on established supply chains. However, now when China has to turn inside, all-natural features of socialism such as massive corruption, waste of resources, irresponsible, centralized, and highly hierarchical management will kick in, eventually leaving Chinese model in ruins.

The second and probably more important reason is the American population, which is armed and habituated to be free in expression of their opinions, believes, and actions either personal or political or economic. Socialism in any of its forms is not compatible with freedom in any of its forms, so the clash is inevitable. Whether this clash will be relatively peaceful and brief or as bloody and long lasting as in Russia or China depends on balance of power in society between indoctrinated youths and beneficiaries of big government on one side and mass of population of mainly effective and productive people on the other.

20201108 – You will be Assimilated


The main idea of this book is to raise alarm about Chinese intentions, which CCP is not particularly shy to declare, to become the hegemonic power of the world with all other countries including USA being subservient to. It supposed to be achieved by obtaining and developing superior technology in a few important areas such as 5G, AI, new materials, quantum computer processing and so on. When this is achieved CCP leadership believes that real full-scale war would not be necessary. Author’s secondary objective is to propose steps that would help USA maintain its technological and military superiority. These steps are mainly modeled on American success against Soviet Union in 1980s: government support for science, high technology, and implementation of industrial policy.


Introduction: Everything You’ve Heard About China is Wrong (or Not Right Enough)

In introduction author goes through pretty much complete list of current media reports on China and kind of manage to both confirm and deny them at the same time. Example would be:” You’ve been told that China has “a secret strategy to replace the US as the Global Superpower.”  Author confirms that China does has strategy to overcome USA, but states that there is nothing secret about that.

Then he proceeds to present his main thesis:” we’re up against Mandarin elite, cherry-picked from the brightest university graduates of the world’s largest country. America faces something far more daunting than moth-eaten Marxism: a five-thousand-year-old empire that is pragmatic, curious, adaptive—and hungry. China’s regime is cruel, but no crueler than the Qin dynasty that buried a million conscript laborers in the Great Wall. China always was and remains utterly ruthless.” This intellectual elite is much more sophisticated and smarter than American elite and is dedicated to getting technological advantage over USA in all important areas, especially military and then dictate new order when world would be subordinate to CPP. Autor also discusses what he calls five western myths about China:

Myth #1: America’s Economy is Bigger Than China’s

Myth #2: “China is a Poor and Backward Nation”

Myth #3: “China Can’t Innovate”

Myth #4: “China’s Economy Will Be Crushed by a Mountain of Debt”

Myth #5: “China has Devalued its Currency to Gain Unfair Advantage in Trade”

Finally, he discusses and rejects both: idea of Thucydides Trap and what he calls Don Quixote charges against CPP.

Chapter One: An Empire of Emperors: What Is China, and Why You Should Worry About It

Here author discusses what he believes is true and unchangeable nature of Chinese society: social contract between population and elite when elite is, at least partially, open for best and brightest from all layers of society via formal selection process of difficult high stakes testing, This arrangement provides stability and protection by elite using all means necessary including unsurpassed cruelty. In exchange people provide loyalty to the emperor as long as conditions of bargain are met.

Author the discusses nature of Chinese society as polyglot society of many people speaking different languages, but united via written language. However, it is society where everyone can have unlimited ambition and clear way to satisfy it. Here how author characterizes one of the key differences:” China is a ruthless meritocracy. Americans say, “No child left behind”, but the Chinese say, “Only the exceptional survive”. A high school student with a top score on the Gaokao will attend Peking University, Tsinghua University, or another elite institution, with a clear path to a top career in government or business. University admission depends only on examination scores. Top officials and billionaires can buy admission to Harvard for their children, but not to Peking University.”

Author also stresses role of family in the world where one cannot expect support from anywhere else. At the end author discusses geographical and economic reasons for Chinese society to become the way it is, its tragic history, and implication of China’s turning around towards the world.

Chapter Two You Will Be Assimilated: China’s Plan to Take Over the Global Economy

Here author discusses Chinese intention to take over global economy via superior technology, specifically using example of Huawei and its 5G technology. Bottom line – who controls networks controls data in this network.

Chapter Three World Domination, One Country at a Time

This chapter is about China’s attempt to export its economic model: CCP top down control with technological and business management at the bottom. Author reviews situation in different countries of developing world, discusses China’s investments and plans of IT domination and presents graph of Global connectivity:

Chapter Four America’s Losing Tech War with China: The Biggest Strategic Disaster in US History

This is another chapter on Huawei dominance and author reviews multiple points of recent technological history and concludes that:

At the inception of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the United States has three strikes against it.

  • The US is dependent on imported chips, whose security it can’t guarantee.
  • The US lacks a national champion in the critical sector of telecommunications hardware.
  • The US has a regulatory system that impedes rather than encourages 5G rollout.

It’s no wonder the United States lost the first round of the tech war. Without an aggressive and comprehensive change in US policy, there may not be a second round to contest.

Author also finds American response to this challenge inadequate.

Chapter Five: The Twilight of the Spooks: Quantum Cryptography and the End of American SIGINT Hegemony

Here author moves into military area- cryptography and finds situation pretty bleak:

  • China Gets to the Holy Grail of Cryptography First
  • It’s Not Only That China Might Steal US Data—It Will Blind US Signals Intelligence

Chapter Six: Thucydides Claptrap: How China Plans to Win Without Firing a Shot

Here author reviews Graham Allison’s thesis that China as raising power and USA as declining power are bound to clash and even possibly military. Author rejects this idea, but not before claiming that China already has local military superiority. Author also suggest that it will increase, especially via technological advantages and eventually USA would have to retreat due to massive imbalance caused by China concentrating on high tech capabilities and USA fighting expensive and meaningless low-tech wars, while wasting resources and falling behind.

Chapter Seven: China’s Sovereignty Tripwire in Hong Kong

This chapter about China and Hong Cong was written before takeover, so it is already outdated. Author seems to expect CCP to back down a bit after massive riots in order to keep Hong Kong as example of “one country two systems”, but in reality CCP just took it over. Author also provides a bit of history on British sell-out of Hong Kong to CCP.

Chapter Eight How America Can Remain the World’s Leading Superpower

The last chapter contains author’s recommendations how to overcome this difficult situation and eventually prevent world takeover by China. It pretty much comes down to somewhat nostalgic solution to implement industrial policy with heavy government investment into fundamental science and military technology that author believes would eventually spill over into general economic performance, as it did in 1980s. Here are functional areas that author want to be paid more attention:

• Defeating the current generation of Russian air defense systems

• Enhanced use of drones in place of manned aircraft

Hardening of satellites against prospective enemy attack

• Cyber warfare

New physical principles in computing (e.g., quantum computing)

• Quantum communications and encryption

Detection of ultra-quiet submarines (the present generation of Chinese diesel-electric boats are practically undetectable, and submarine drones could be used to deliver nuclear weapons to coastal cities)

Detection and defeat of the next generation of hypersonic missiles

Countermeasures against anti-ship missiles (rail guns, laser cannon)


I pretty much agree with author about Chinese intentions and the level of danger they represent. However, I am much more optimistic about future probably because I know how socialist economy and technological development in such economy works, which would make any amount of investment ineffective. This ineffectiveness is due to bureaucracy, fear, and lack of individual freedom, all of which are huge impediments for any effective action. Author clearly understand that Chinese economic and technological success so far is to big extent occurred because their access to Western markets, technology and people. Good example is Huawei which employs huge number of western scientists and engineers. If western governments cut off this access, Huawei would be by far more damaged than just cutting off access to chips. It is not because Chinese are any less smart, educated, or even experienced, but because they are much more stifled by communist bureaucrats, and limitations on their quality of life, which are inevitable consequence of the lack of freedom. In short, I think that as bad as western bureaucracies are, communist bureaucracies are always worse. However, I completely agree that it is time to act now because however temporary would be Chinese technological superiority, West could not have enough time to recover. One always should remember lessons of WWII when it took 2 years to match Japan power in Pacific and 4 years to match German power, even if these countries were much weaker economically than USA. We just may not have these 2 or 4 years this time.  

Ridley, Matt – How Innovation Works


The main idea of this book is to review historical examples of innovation in various functional areas from energy to computing, to look at historical patterns of innovation from before humans become humans, to analyze societal conditions that promote or restrict innovation, and, finally, look at the future trying foresee where and how innovation will happen next.


Introduction: The Infinite Improbability Drive

Here author discusses improbability of everything due to the second law of thermodynamics, then discusses nature of innovation and offer this definition:” Innovation, like evolution, is a process of constantly discovering ways of rearranging the world into forms that are unlikely to arise by chance – and that happen to be useful. The resulting entities are the opposite of entropy: they are more ordered, less random, than their ingredients were before. And innovation is potentially infinite because even if it runs out of new things to do, it can always find ways to do the same things more quickly or for less energy.” Author also links it to the individual freedom without which innovation is nearly impossible.

1. Energy

In this chapter author presents history of steam engine and overall conversion of heat into work going all the way back to 1700.  He moves the narrative through all various phases of industrial energy acquisition and use: steam, electricity, internal combustion engines, turbines, nuclear, and finally oil and gas acquired via fracking technology.

2. Public health

Here author also starts in early 1700s with initial attempts to use smallpox inoculation. He than moves to the story of Pasteur and discovery of vaccination. The next he jumps to 1908 and implementation of chlorine for water supplies. Other innovations with significant impact on health of population that author discusses in this chapter are: vaccination against whooping cough, penicillin, polio vaccine, anti-malaria nets with insecticide, and prevention of tabaco use.

3. Transport

The chapter on transportation starts with steam locomotive then moves to the use of screw for ships propelling, then to various engines: from internal combustion to diesel. Author also discusses here flight and innovations by individuals with passion such as brothers Wright versus government driven fake attempts by Samuel Langley. After that author extends discussion of engines and flight to jets and completes chapter with discussion of extreme safety of air travel.

4. Food

The chapter on food starts with the story of potato and its implementation in Europe. After that author moves to implementation of ammonia production that provided practically infinite amounts of fertilizer. The addition of new dwarf genes to existing plants in the second part of XX century and development of genetical engineering technology the humanity achieved practical independence of food production from normal range variations in weather leading to very recently unimaginable situation when problems of people in poverty changed from hunger to obesity.

5. Low-technology innovation

This chapter starts with discussion of numbers notation and how Indian numbers are much more effective than Roman and how much value this added to al numerical processing. Then author moves to another innovation that he considers low tech – sewage. He obviously not familiar how hi-tech sewage processing is, but at least he understands value of this process. Other low-tech, but highly valuable inventions author discusses are: corrugated iron, containers, wheeled baggage, restaurants, and the latest business methodology – shared services.

6. Communication and computing

Probably the most innovated area over last century is communication and information processing. Author starts this chapter with telegraph and then wireless transmission that practically moves increased speed of communications to speed of light, making them instantaneous. He then moves to discussion of computer, Moor’s law, and Internet, all of which so much increased human data processing ability that new and formerly unimaginable application become a reality.

7. Prehistoric innovation

Here author discusses slow moving, but critical innovation of developing agriculture, which actually was evolution of symbiotic development between humans and domesticated plants and animals. Author then discusses domestication of dogs, development of stone tools and use of fire. Author even classifies beginning of life as innovation.

8. Innovation’s essentials

In this chapter author concentrates on essentials: Innovation being gradual, different from invention, often serendipitous, and nearly always recombinant. Author also discusses conditions and methods under which innovations occur such as use of trial and error, team of people dividing effort according to skills and abilities. It is also occurring in conditions when governance is fragmented, opening options to try, while overall technological level of society achieved some level development that is causing multiple people coming up with similar ideas and products.

9. The economics of innovation

Here author touches on unusual economic characteristics of innovations such as increasing returns, sometime dramatically, advantage of bottom up development instead of economy of scale, practical development before there is scientific or theoretical understanding of corresponding processes. Author also makes somewhat interesting claims that it does not increase unemployment because opportunity for leisure is so widely distributed, that it increases independence.

10. Fakes, frauds, fads and failures

Here author discusses specifics of contemporary world when innovation became so popular that opportunities and rewards for cheating dramatically increased. Author provides examples: fake bomb detectors, phantom game consoles, and Theranos. Author also bring in failures of innovation through diminishing returns using example of mobile telephones. The final part of the chapter is about necessity for failure as part of the process of innovation.    

11. Resistance to innovation

Here author provides a few examples of resistance to innovation: coffee, which was considered a drink solicitous of subversion, GMO food, weed killer chemicals, and cell phones. Author also looks at forces that prevent innovation – government directives and law protecting monopolies, big companies suppressing competition, various requirements to obtain permission for this or that. Author also provides a brief note on successful evasion of limitations in digital domain of economy.

12. An innovation famine

In the last chapter author looks at contemporary world in which innovation in developed countries somewhat stalled, but it speeds up in China, expressing concern that West will be left behind. However, author believes that freedom is necessary condition for innovation, and China is far from being free, so he hopes that innovation will be expanding to India, which has huge and increasingly well-educated population combined with political freedom. The final word: the future is thrilling and innovation will grow.


It is an interesting review of innovation, but I think it a bit too heavy on technological history and not sufficiently concentrates on analysis of drivers of innovation in some societies, but not others. I also skeptical about author’s believe that China is the next big innovator. I think author underestimates to what extent current Chinese innovation in 5G, and what not, relies on Chinese companies’ R&D conducted in western world. Author understands value of freedom for innovation, but seems to believe that it is not completely applicable to China. Actually, I would say that Chinese people are great at innovation, but only when they are free. Corruption and suppression that are unalienable features of any socialist country, China included, would make innovation stop there as soon as decoupling with West become reality.