Morning Must-Read: Buce on the Robert Gates Memoir
Notes for "In the Shadow of Malthus": Making Big-Picture Sense of History from 10,000 BC to 1500

Things to Read at Lunchtime on January 19, 2014


  1. Buce: Underbelly: Slow Boring of Hard Boards: Gates, Shultz, Acheson And the Art of the Political Memoir: "I'm barreling through Robert Gates' much-hyped memoir... it is a delight--one of the very best memoirs of actual governing that I've ever read... not remotely that farrago of political gamesmanship that the prince of courtiers, Bob Woodward, described... why anybody still takes that guy seriously is beyond me. It is... a remarkably unbuttoned affair.... The thrust, the heft of the book lie not so much in the sharp judgments but in the rich and densely textured account of what it is to be a cabinet secretary, juggling a trunk full of hot knives every day for something like four years... the kind of book you would want every one to read before they took up a position of such trust and responsibility--except that if you did, the chances are that all the people you really want on the job would run yelping for the door."

  2. Steven Fazzari: Rising Income Inequality Set the Stage for the  Great Recession: "During the 'Consumer Age' period from the early 1980s through 2007, much of U.S. demand growth was generated by the rapid growth of consumer spending financed by unprecedented increases in household debt.... The debt-income ratio for households... was stable from 1960 through 1983 and then began to increase.... This correspondence was not a coincidence: rising income inequality was a central factor that led to increased household debt and therefore to the forces that created the housing bubble and, finally, the Great Recession..."


  1. Ralph Dahrendorf: When Are Public Services Successful? - Project Syndicate: "Administrative training for public services taught both relevant skills and an ethos of civic commitment... made it a matter of honor to perform well. Self-interest and charity are not the only human motivations; there is also the motive of service, and it needs to be cultivated. At the other end... trains should run on time. But beyond that is the human judgment of those most affected. This is why parents' councils for schools, or committees of users of public transport, or patients' boards for hospitals are crucial... provide an invaluable check on sloppy and inefficient providers.... We must beware of overly business-guided approaches to public service. At certain times and in certain countries, services that need not be public had to be privatized and run along business lines in order to make them run better--or to keep them running at all. But core public services in health, education, transport, and a few other areas will forever be just that, services , and will therefore need to be appreciated in more complex ways than meeting measurable targets..."

  2. Jeff Jordan: The Tipping Point (E-Commerce Version): "The news around shopping during the holiday season was dominated by two separate stories. One talked about how traffic to brick-and-mortar stores was well below expectations, and that these retailers were forced to discount tremendously to drive sales. The other talked about how an enormous late surge in packages coming from e-commerce companies overwhelmed the capacity of UPS and, to a lesser extent, FedEx, and caused many of these packages to arrive after Christmas. But, to me, these two stories are not at all separate, they simply reflect different sides of the same narrative: We’re in the midst of a profound structural shift from physical to digital retail.... Online retail has strong cost advantages... offline players have high operational leverage and many cannot withstand declining top-line revenue growth for long... resulting bankruptcies of physical retailers remove competition for online players, further boosting their share gains.... Recent data suggests that it’s happening faster than I could have imagined..."

  3. Jonathan Chait: ‘Obamacare Bailout’: The New Death Panel: "Repentant immigration reformer Marco Rubio leading the charge with a bill in Congress to repeal the 'Obamacare bailout'. There is no Obamacare bailout. A bailout is an ad hoc reward for a company that takes an egregious risk for profit and loses. The 'Obamacare bailout' is a provision in the law called risk corridors. Edwin Park has a long explanation, and Jonathan Cohn has a short explanation, but the even shorter explanation for the lazy among you is that it’s a provision designed to make insurance companies in the Obamacare exchanges compete on the basis of price and quality, rather than cherry-picking the healthiest customers."

Brian Murphy: Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer: Chris Christie Team Shook Us Down for Sandy Relief | David Cole: The Disconnect between Theory and Practice in Obama’s NSA Speech | Tara Culp-Ressler: The Myth Of The Absent Black Father |

Should Be Aware of:

  1. Ezra Klein: The problem for Christie isn’t what his aides did. It’s what they thought he wanted them to do: "Chris Christie's problem was never that some of his closest aides thought it would be a good idea to punish a mayor by closing lanes on a bridge. Christie's problem was that some of his closest aides thought he would think it was a good idea to punish a mayor by closing lanes on a bridge. And now the press is going to start finding out why his top aides thought that..."

  2. Adam Kotsko: History’s Greatest Monster: Antiochus Epiphanes and the Devil: "In my talk over the devil at Shimer College, I insisted that the figure of the devil... had to be distinguished from the generic 'trickster' figure that is found in many different mythological traditions. One of my colleagues later asked me when this distinctive devil figure emerged, and I had a ready answer: 'When Antiochus Epiphanes profaned the Temple'. That was the moment that the 'prophetic paradigm' that explains world-historical events as either punishing or restoring Israel broke down. Antiochus was simply too evil to be God’s unwitting servant on the model of Nebuchadnezzar... and... the people were... too faithful... for his persecution to make sense as a purification. Politically, this led to the... repeated waves of Jewish militancy that really only ended with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Theologically... the Book of Daniel [is] an attempt to expand the old schema... make sense of Antiochus’s gratuitous evil... by making Antiochus’s qualitatively different evil the last step before God’s qualitatively different apocalyptic intervention, symbolized by the resurrection of the dead.... When the earthly ruler becomes intolerably evil... he is no longer simply God’s unwitting pawn, he is God’s adversary--and yet still somehow his servant..."

  3. G.W.F. Hegel: Preface to The Philosophy of Right: The Owl of Minerva: "Only one word more concerning the desire to teach the world what it ought to be. For such a purpose philosophy at least always comes too late. Philosophy, as the thought of the world, does not appear until reality has completed its formative process, and made itself ready. History thus corroborates the teaching of the conception that only in the maturity of reality does the ideal appear as counterpart to the real, apprehends the real world in its substance, and shapes it into an intellectual kingdom. When philosophy paints its grey in grey, one form of life has become old, and by means of grey it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known. The owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering..."


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