Saturday, April 9, 2005

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

April's Books of the Month

The international relations book for April [It's a bit late--ed. Look, I've been on the road a little bit.] addresses two issues that plague the study of the global political economy: how to explain the independent effect of economic ideas and ideology, and the overestimation of Karl Polanyi's Great Transformation as a guide to understanding political economy.

Various IR scholars have tried to put forward arguments for how ideas -- distinct from material interests or pre-existing institutions -- influence outcomes. As someone who generally assigns a lot of causal weight to interests and institutions, I've neverheless wanted to see a serious exploration of the role ideas can play in the world. And, at the very least, I'm in the middle of reading a good-faith effort to do this very thing: Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century, by Mark Blyth. Great Transformations looks at how the United States and Sweden have reacted to economic crises by changing their ideas about how to run an economy. To explain the role of ideas, Blyth goes back to a very old but still useful typology that economist Frank Knight made between risk and uncertainty (though this distinction remains a subject of debate among economists). Risk is a situation in which there are a number of possible outcomes, and it is possible to estimate the probability of each of those outcomes taking place. Uncertainty, in contrast, is a situation in which all of the possible outcomes aren't necessarily known, and it is impossible to estimate the probabilities of future events. It is under conditions of uncertainty -- i.e., when an economic crisis causes policymakers to lose faiths in previously accepted truisms about the economy -- when ideas can have causal potency.

Also, I like any book that opens with the sentence: "While Polanyi's description of the economic disorder caused by the self-regulating market still has great resonance, his prediction of that same market's denouement seems precipitous, at least with the benefit of hindsight."

The general interest book is Brian C. Anderson's South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias. Anderson's book is an expansion of a City Journal essay he wrote in autumn of 2003 (about which I blogged here) -- in which he argued that the rise of cable news and satire, blogs, and conservative publishing houses was leading to a level playing field in the media. South Park Conservatives also has chapters on talk radio and campus conservatives. Here's the closing paragraph:

Over time, a greater number of right-of-center voices will find audiences, whether it's via talk radio, cable news, the press, the entertainment world, and even academe. The Left will have to re-examine, argue, and refine its positions, so many of which proved disastrously wrong, and stop living off the past. It's hard to imagine that this development won't result in a broader, richer, deeper national debate--something liberals of an older, John Stuart Mill stripe would have welcomed.

The one coda I would attach to this is that the rise of a conservative media elite can lead to the same kinds of arrogance and sumgness perpetrated by the old liberal media elite. Eric Boehlert makes this point in Salon in his autopsy of the Schiavo memo meme. For more on this incident, see Jack Shafer's essay in Slate about the comparative advantage of bloggers vs. journalists.

Go check them out!

posted by Dan on 04.09.05 at 12:43 AM


Institutions are ideas that have become habits.

Habits powerful forces and usually overcome our self interests.

Changing technology drives cultural/social changes and it takes ideas to adjust to technology.

Politics one arean where ideas tested and evaluated and eventually implemented to become habitual. There are other arenas though..Churches being one. A healthy pluarlistic society should have multiple linked arenas for discussion. No Dutch and European style pillorization of society. We need intergration and sharing of ideas and habits.

United States a source of permanent revolution because we've institutionalized technological change and constantly push the world into upheaveal grappling with new ideas to habitualize the constant change.

A lot of $60 words and ideas here for before 8am CST on a sunday.

posted by: Bill Baar on 04.09.05 at 12:43 AM [permalink]

A "Lieral" I suppose is a lying liberal?

posted by: big al on 04.09.05 at 12:43 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?