Book Review: ‘Worthy Fights,’ by Leon E. Panetta


October 10, 2014

On Actions Taken, or Not

‘Worthy Fights,’ by Leon E. Panetta

by Michiko Kakutani (10-06-14)

Book Review: ‘The Innovators,’ by Walter Isaacson


October 4, 2014

Sunday Book Review

Geek Squad

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/books/review/the-innovators-by-walter-isaacson.html?ref=review

Innovators--Book

‘The Innovators,’ by Walter Isaacson

Krugman’s Review of ‘Seven Bad Ideas,’ by Jeff Madrick


October 2, 2014

Sunday Book Review

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/28/books/review/seven-bad-ideas-by-jeff-madrick.html?ref=books

The Dismal Science

‘Seven Bad Ideas,’ by Jeff Madrick

The Colour of Inequality: Development and Malaysia’s New Economic Policy


September 21, 2014

The Colour of Inequality: Development and Malaysia’s New Economic Policy

by Kamal Salih@www.nst.com.my

Dayak Headhunter

IN development thinking and practice, no policy has captured the imagination nor created more controversy in its implementation among scholars, politicians and the public alike than the New Economic Policy (NEP), introduced some 45 years ago. A generation had debated, lived and benefited from the NEP, until its formal ending in 1990. Or so it seems in hindsight.

The policy debate and the concerns surrounding the policy never really ended, for the issues of inequality along class and ethnic lines in our multiracial country remained stubbornly intransigent, even after its success (a controversial notion in itself) and new incarnations of the NEP in subsequent years. Emotions, politics and myth-making continue to track the development debate even when statistics were adduced to support its successes (read economic growth, poverty eradication, rising middle class, inter-ethnic distribution).

Now a new post-NEP generation has taken over. Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid is a member of this second generation of scholars and policymakers. His book is an important scholarly contribution to development economics in Malaysia, in particular, to clarifying the controversies surrounding the NEP.

Employing historio-statistical narrative, his book, The Colour of Inequality, rightly addresses the core ofInequality the NEP debate. This latest entry into the development policy debate, now clothed in the notion of inclusive growth, deals head-on with the central issue of development in this millennium: inequality in all its dimensions.

Most importantly, as the Latin American economist Hernando de Soto had shown two decades ago, that asset ownership and wealth are crucial to success and livelihood in the capitalistic economy. In my view, Muhammed, at some risk of being politically incorrect, has bravely succeeded, by using the latest data at his disposal, to cut through to the core issues of economic inclusion and inequality through the prism of ethnicity and class.

NajibThe NEP reincarnations, in particular the Bumiputera agenda, slowly lost steam towards the end of the Mahathir era, was regenerated under the Abdullah Badawi administration through the Ninth Malaysia Plan and generalised further the distributive mission in the Malaysia Plans through the introduction of the New Economic Model.

In many ways, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, our second Prime Minister and the main author of the NEP, had launched the first transformation in Malaysia’s development experience. The New Economic Model and the ETP/GTP, introduced by Datuk Seri Najib Razak, a generation after his father, is the second transformation.

For those wanting to understand the history of development policy in Malaysia over the last 45 years, to know what had been achieved, what has failed and what’s next in our drive towards developed status and social justice, Muhammed’s book is indispensable reading. This is his contribution to the next generation of politicians, policy advisors and implementors, as well as the new millenials.

NOTE:

Ini lah Melayu by Usman Awang. The NEP is not about helping the Malays at the expense of other Malaysians. It is about national unity and eradication of poverty.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Political Order and Political Decay’


September 16, 2014

Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Political Order and Political Decay’

From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy(Vol.2)

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama published an essay in The National Interest entitled “The End of History?” that thrust him into the center of public debate. Although often misunderstood and maligned, its central argument was straightforward and sensible: With the collapse of Communism, liberal democracy stood alone as the only form of government compatible with socio­-economic modernity. Over the years since, Fukuyama has continued to argue the case, and has now summed up his efforts with a two-­volume magnum opus that chronicles global political development from prehistory to the present. A quarter-century on, he remains convinced that no other political system is viable in the long run, but concludes his survey with a sobering twist: Liberal democracy’s future is cloudy, but that is because of its own internal problems, not competition from any external opponent.

Francis-Fukuyama

Fukuyama (above)began the first volume, “The Origins of Political Order,” which appeared in 2011, by stating that the challenge for contemporary developing countries was how to “get to Denmark” — that is, how to build prosperous, well-governed, liberal democracies. This, in turn, required understanding what “Denmark” — liberal democracy — actually involved.

Drawing on the insights of his mentor Samuel Huntington, Fukuyama argued that political order was all about institutions, and that liberal democracy in particular rested on a delicate balance of three distinct features — political accountability; a strong, effective state; and the rule of law. Accountability required mechanisms for making leaders responsive to their publics, which meant regular free and fair multiparty elections. But elections alone were not enough: A true liberal democracy needed to have its institutions of accountability supplemented by a central government that could get things done and by rules and regulations that applied equally to ­everyone.

Fukuyama showed how throughout human history these three factors had often emerged independently or in various combinations. China, for example, developed a state long before any existed in Europe, yet did not acquire either the rule of law or political accountability. India and much of the Muslim world, by contrast, developed something like the rule of law early on, but not strong states (or, in much of the Muslim world, political accountability). It was only in parts of Europe in the late 18th century, Fukuyama noted, that all three aspects started to come together simultaneously.

“Political Order and Political Decay” picks up the story at this point, taking the reader on a whirlwind tour of modern development from the French Revolution to the present. Fukuyama is nothing if not ambitious. He wants to do more than just describe what liberal democracy is; he wants to discover how and why it develops (or does not). So in this volume, as in the previous one, he covers a vast amount of ground, summarizing an extraordinary amount of research and putting forward a welter of arguments on an astonishing range of topics. Inevitably, some of these arguments are more convincing than others. And few hard generalizations or magic formulas emerge, since Fukuyama is too knowledgeable to force history into a Procrustean bed.

Thus he suggests that military competition can push states to modernize, citing ancient China and, more recently, Japan and Prussia. But he also notes many cases where military competition had no positive effect on state building (19th-century Latin America) and many where it had a negative effect (Papua New Guinea, as well as other parts of Melanesia). And he suggests that the sequencing of political development is important, arguing that “those countries in which democracy preceded modern state building have had much greater problems achieving high-quality governance than those that inherited modern states from absolutist times.” But the cases he gives as examples do not necessarily fit the argument well (since Prussia’s state eventually had trouble deferring to civilian authorities and the early weakness of the Italian state was probably caused more by a lack of democracy than a surfeit of it). In addition, he surely understands that authoritarianism is even more likely to generate state weakness than democracy since without free media, an active civil society and regular elections, authoritarianism has more opportunities to make use of corruption, clientelism and predation than democracies do.

Perhaps Fukuyama’s most interesting section is his discussion of the United States, which is used to illustrate the interaction of democracy and state building. Up through the 19th century, he notes, the United States had a weak, corrupt and patrimonial state. From the end of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century, however, the American state was transformed into a strong and effective independent actor, first by the Progressives and then by the New Deal. This change was driven by “a social revolution brought about by industrialization, which mobilized a host of new political actors with no interest in the old clientelist system.” The American example shows that democracies can indeed build strong states, but that doing so, Fukuyama argues, requires a lot of effort over a long time by powerful players not tied to the older order.

Yet if the United States illustrates how democratic states can develop, it also illustrates how they can decline. Drawing on Huntington again, Fukuyama reminds us that “all political systems — past and present — are liable to decay,” as older institutional structures fail to evolve to meet the needs of a changing world. “The fact that a system once was a successful and stable liberal democracy does not mean that it will remain so in perpetuity,” and he warns that even the United States has no permanent immunity from institutional decline.

Over the past few decades, American political development has gone into reverse, Fukuyama says, as itsFukuyama From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy state has become weaker, less efficient and more corrupt. One cause is growing economic inequality and concentration of wealth, which has allowed elites to purchase immense political power and manipulate the system to further their own interests. Another cause is the permeability of American political institutions to interest groups, allowing an array of factions that “are collectively unrepresentative of the public as a whole” to exercise disproportionate influence on government. The result is a vicious cycle in which the American state deals poorly with major challenges, which reinforces the public’s distrust of the state, which leads to the state’s being starved of resources and authority, which leads to even poorer performance.

Where this cycle leads even the vastly knowledgeable Fukuyama can’t predict, but suffice to say it is nowhere good. And he fears that America’s problems may increasingly come to characterize other liberal democracies as well, including those of Europe, where “the growth of the European Union and the shift of policy making away from national capitals to Brussels” has made “the European system as a whole . . . resemble that of the United States to an increasing degree.”

Fukuyama’s readers are thus left with a depressing paradox. Liberal democracy remains the best system for dealing with the challenges of modernity, and there is little reason to believe that Chinese, Russian or Islamist alternatives can provide the diverse range of economic, social and political goods that all humans crave. But unless liberal democracies can somehow manage to reform themselves and combat institutional decay, history will end not with a bang but with a resounding whimper.

 

In ‘World Order,’ Henry Kissinger Sums Up His Philosophy


September 10, 2014

Books

Long View of History Includes Today

In ‘World Order,’ Henry Kissinger Sums Up His Philosophy

Mr. Kissinger, now 91, strides briskly from century to century, continent to continent, examining the alliances and divisions that have defined Europe over the centuries, the fallout from the disintegration of nation-states like Syria and Iraq, and China’s developing relationship with the rest of Asia and the West. At its best, his writing functions like a powerful zoom lens, opening out to give us a panoramic appreciation of larger historical trends and patterns, then zeroing in on small details and anecdotes that vividly illustrate his theories.

This book is less concerned than Mr. Kissinger’s earlier ones — including “Diplomacy” (1994), which thisnixon volume draws upon heavily at times — with spinning or with rationalizing his own policy-making record as National Security Adviser and Secretary of State under President Richard M. Nixon. Still, there are troubling passages: the handful of pages dealing with Vietnam, for instance, will remind many readers of Mr. Kissinger’s disingenuousness on that subject. Once again, he sidesteps questions about decisions that he and Mr. Nixon made that prolonged and expanded the war, as well as their devastating consequences.

As for Mr. Kissinger’s descriptions of prominent acquaintances or colleagues, they tend toward the anodyne or ingratiating. He doesn’t provide a plausible explanation for why he supported the invasion of Iraq, a position that weirdly aligned him more with Wilsonian neo-conservatives eager to export democracy than with realists like his former associate Brent Scowcroft, who presciently warned of the dangers of implementing regime change in Iraq. Instead, Mr. Kissinger talks vaguely about his respect and affection for President George W. Bush, praising him for guiding the country “with courage, dignity and conviction in an unsteady time.”

Mr. Kissinger also plays down his role as an informal, outside adviser to the George W. Bush White House. (In his 2006 book, “State of Denial,” Bob Woodward wrote that Mr. Kissinger had “a powerful, largely invisible influence” on that administration’s foreign policy, and met regularly with Vice President Dick Cheney.) In a 2005 essay, Mr. Kissinger wrote that “victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy” for the United States in Iraq; in this book, he writes that seeking to implement American values “by military occupation in a part of the world where they had no historical roots” proved “beyond what the American public would support and what Iraqi society could accommodate.”

TalleyrandMr. Kissinger’s sketches of historical figures like Talleyrand and Cardinal Richelieu remind us of his gifts as a portraitist while fleshing out his belief in the ability of great leaders to sway — or at least moderate — the course of history. He also provides a succinct summary of his long-held views on the destabilizing dangers of revolution: The French Revolution, he writes, “demonstrated how internal changes within societies are able to shake the international equilibrium more profoundly than aggression from abroad,” a lesson underscored by the upheavals of the 20th century, from Russia to Iran.

Known in the Nixon White House for his backstage maneuvering, Mr. Kissinger delivers some shrewd analysis here of the role that psychology can play (both in the case of individual leaders and entire countries) in foreign policy. He writes as well about how patterns of history often repeat themselves. For instance, of Russia, he asserts that “it has started more wars than any other contemporary major power, but it has also thwarted dominion of Europe by a single power,” holding fast against both Napoleon and Hitler; at the same time, he notes, it has undergone tidal rhythms of expansionism that have remained extraordinarily consistent “from Peter the Great to Vladimir Putin.”

The model for world order that Mr. Kissinger repeatedly returns to is the so-called Westphalian peace, negotiated in Europe at the end of the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-48 at a time when conditions in Europe, he says, roughly approximated those of the contemporary world: “a multiplicity of political units, none powerful enough to defeat all the others, many adhering to contradictory philosophies and internal practices, in search of neutral rules to regulate their conduct and mitigate conflict.”

Old forms of hierarchical deference, he says, were quietly discarded by the dozens of battle-hardened, battle-weary parties (“the delegations, demanding absolute equality, devised a process of entering the sites of negotiations through individual doors, requiring the construction of many entrances”). And a set of straightforward ideas was embraced, most notably the recognition that the state — not the empire, dynasty or religious belief — was “the building block of European order,” and the establishment of state sovereignty (“the right of each signatory to choose its own domestic structure and religious orientation free from intervention”).

Balance of PowerThe Concert of Europe

The principle of balance of power (ensuring that no country augmented its strength to a point where it threatened to achieve hegemony) became a key to maintaining equilibrium in the Westphalian system, Mr. Kissinger says, even though it would often be “maligned as a system of cynical power manipulation, indifferent to moral claims” (charges that would frequently be made by critics of Mr. Kissinger’s own policy making).

Sometimes, in this volume, Mr. Kissinger assumes the role of history professor. In that sense, “World Order” brings his career full circle, back to the doctoral dissertation about the 19th-century statesmanship of Metternich and Castlereagh that he wrote six decades ago at Harvard and that contained all the seeds of his doctrine of realpolitik, now well-known.

As he’s done in earlier writings, Mr. Kissinger argues here that there are two main schools of American foreign policy: the realist school (based on national interests and geostrategic concerns, and exemplified by Theodore Roosevelt) and the idealist school (based on a sense of moral mission, and exemplified by Woodrow Wilson).

Mr. Kissinger, renowned as a practitioner of realpolitik, often sounds as if he were mouthing platitudes when he tries to articulate the importance of the idealistic strain in American diplomacy. (“There is a special character to a nation that proclaims as war aims not only to punish its enemies but to improve the lives of their people.”) He is way more persuasive when dissecting the dangers of the Wilsonian urge to “base world order on the compatibility of domestic institutions reflecting the American example” and the perils of failing to analyze “the cultural and geopolitical configuration of other regions and the dedication and resourcefulness of adversaries opposing American interests and values.”

When efforts to export democratic American ideas of order have fallen short, Mr. Kissinger argues, the country has frequently responded by abruptly retreating, resulting in a pattern that has risked “extremes of over extension and disillusioned withdrawal.” Three times in two generations — in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan — he adds, “the United States abandoned wars midstream as inadequately transformative or as misconceived.” With the volatility of the world today, he writes, it is crucial for the United States to stay engaged on the world stage as a “balancer” in places like the Middle East and Asia, especially at a time when Europe seems to be turning inward.

There has always been a dark, almost Spenglerian cast to Mr. Kissinger’s thinking, and he sees ominous signs today of a descent back into a Hobbesian state of nature — in the bedlam overtaking Syria and Iraq, where “no common rules other than the law of superior force” seem to hold; in the spread of weapons of mass destruction and “the persistence of genocidal practices”; and in the Wild West of cyberspace, which has “revolutionized vulnerabilities.”

In fact, he says, we are “insistently, at times almost desperately, in pursuit of a concept of world order,” at this moment in history when “chaos threatens side by side with unprecedented interdependence.”