Rafe’s Roundup 14 March

Breaking news. This morning I am having coffee with the Thought Brokers. Who are the Thought Brokers? Leonie Phillips and Parnell Palme McGuinness.

World News. Interesting moves in China.

The most interesting messages are reserved for China’s political and business elite.

The report is a blueprint for an ambitious and comprehensive reform agenda that could impact huge swathes of the economy from breaking up government monopolies to corporatising financial services.

If implemented, it would be a big step towards giving China a better market economy and a more transparent system of governance.

Culture. Demon News. Sport. Movies. But is it Art?

Science. Slate Videos.

Leftoid of the week. Jenna Price.

Humour. After Grog Blog.

Around the town: IPA HEY. The Sydney Institute. Australian Taxpayers Alliance, Liberty on the Rocks, the notice board for the ATA: Quadrant on line, Mannkal Foundation, Centre for Independent Studies.

Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog [refreshed on Friday afternoon]

New on the block. Regular contributor Jim Rose has gone feral and utopian!

Around the town off shore. The Adam Smith Institute in London. The British Libertarian Alliance and Spiked.

How we live. Launching boats. Snakes of Australia. Cruelty to animals, teasing a French Bulldog.

Education. More about Powerpoint.

For nerds. Melvyn Bragg’s radio program. A concise account of the causes, progress and the outcome of World War I h/t Barry Williams. The American Scholar.

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11 Responses to Rafe’s Roundup 14 March

  1. Jim Rose says:

    Thanks Rafe, I love the bar fight analogy for the start of work war 1. Wars are like bar fights. Both are about not backing down.

    No-one could back down in 1914. Tom Schelling even said that once a country mobilised for war in 1914, it had no plans hand on how to stop this mobilisation.

    In Schelling view, many wars including World War 1 were products of mutual alarm and unpredictable tests of will. Schelling and others in the 1950s and after studied World War 1 to learn how to not blunder into wars when nuclear weapons now would be used.

    When people discuss the futility of World War 1, they under rate the role of unintended consequences and the dark side of human rationality in situations involving collective action as explained by David Friedman:

    Consider a barroom quarrel that starts with two customers arguing about baseball teams and ends with one dead and the other standing there with a knife in his hand and a dazed expression on his face.

    Seen from one standpoint, this is a clear example of irrational and therefore uneconomic behavior; the killer regrets what he has done as soon as he does it, so he obviously cannot have acted to maximize his own welfare.

    Seen from another standpoint, it is the working out of a rational commitment to irrational action–the equivalent, on a small scale, of a doomsday machine going off.

    Suppose I am strong, fierce, and known to have a short temper with people who do not do what I want.

    I benefit from that reputation; people are careful not to do things that offend me. Actually beating someone up is expensive; he may fight back, and I may get arrested for assault. But if my reputation is bad enough, I may not have to beat anyone up.

    To maintain that reputation, I train myself to be short-tempered. I tell myself, and others, that I am a real he-man, and he-men don’t let other people push them around. I gradually expand my definition of “push me around” until it is equivalent to “don’t do what I want.”

    We usually describe this as an aggressive personality, but it may make just as much sense to think of it as a deliberate strategy rationally adopted.

    Once the strategy is in place, I am no longer free to choose the optimal response in each situation; I have invested too much in my own self-image to be able to back down…

    Not backing down once deterrence has failed may be irrational, but putting yourself in a situation where you cannot back down is not.

    Most of the time I get my own way; once in a while I have to pay for it. I have no monopoly on my strategy; there are other short-tempered people in the world. I get into a conversation in a bar.

    The other guy fails to show adequate deference to my opinions. I start pushing. He pushes back. When it is over, one of us is dead.

    It is even harder to get out of a war than into one. The problem is credible assurances that the peace is lasting rather than a chance for the other side to rebuild and come back to attack from a stronger position.

    An understudied issue is peace feelers in World War 1 such as by the German chancellor in 1916 and the Reichstag peace resolution on 19 July 1917. Pope Benedict XV tried to mediate with his Peace Note of August 1917.

  2. Nato says:

    Do you have a humour site suggestion that might have been updated at some point in the last 15 months?

  3. hammy says:

    Parnell Palme McGuinness

    Another P. P. McGuiness. Actually his daughter. Hopefully one day she’ll clear out the shackles of her old man and complete the circle back to the light.

  4. Rafe says:

    Thanks Jim, that reminds me that I meant to include a link to your new blog.

  5. Mique says:

    Leftoid of the week. Jenna Price.

    Objection, Your Honour. Price is a fine nomination indeed, but well beaten I suggest by Elizabeth Farrelly.

  6. Jim Rose says:

    Rafe, I should add that the theory of expressive voting pioneered by Buchanan and Brennan offers much insight into why democracies push on in terrible wars of attrition. The unwillingness to discuss peace terms in world war 1 is an example.

    A voter might, on instrumental grounds, prefer peace to war; but the expressive value of patriotism might outweigh this. this is the dark side of human rationality in group settings.

    • One candidate offers a policy of appeasement, recognizing the enormous cost in lives and resources that further fighting might involve.

    • The other candidate stands for national integrity — “By God, we are not going to be pushed around by these bastards.”

    A few voters, making a careful calculation of the costs and benefits to themselves and those they care about, would actually opt for war.

    Some individuals in situations of interpersonal strain, will often swallow their pride, shrug their shoulders, and stroll off rather than commit themselves to an all-out fight (particularly one that might imply someone’s death), so the interest of most voters would be better served by drawing back from the belligerent course.

    A careful reflection on the costs and benefits of the alternative outcomes to herself is precisely what the voter does not entertain: Any such computation is essentially irrelevant. What is relevant is the opportunity to show one’s patriotism, one’s antipathy to servility, one’s strength of national purpose.

    The point is expressive voters are not disciplined by outcomes even on questions of war and peace.

    the public resp0nses to Putin’s latest misadventures runs the risk of the expressive voter overruling private common sense such as that of Canon Sydney Smith:

    “For God’s sake, do not drag me into another war!

    I am worn down, and worn out, with crusading and defending Europe, and protecting mankind; I must think a little of myself.

    I am sorry for the Spaniards – I am sorry for the Greeks – I deplore the fate of the Jews; the people of the Sandwich Islands are groaning under the most detestable tyranny; Baghdad is oppressed, I do not like the present state of the Delta; Tibet is not comfortable. Am I to fight for all these people?

    The world is bursting with sin and sorrow. Am I to be champion of the Decalogue, and to be eternally raising fleets and armies to make all men good and happy?

    We have just done saving Europe, and I am afraid the consequence will be, that we shall cut each other’s throats. No war, dear Lady Grey! – No eloquence; but apathy, selfishness, common sense, arithmetic!”

    HT: Murray Rothbard

  7. honesty says:

    Rafe can you add a “Nanny” of the week from now on please. I would nominate Tanya although she fell asleep in her rocking chair.

  8. Myrddin Seren says:


    The point is expressive voters are not disciplined by outcomes even on questions of war and peace.

    This speaks to one of my own little hobbyhorses.

    My understanding from some of the writings of Christopher Booker and Richard North is that the founders of what eventually became the EU were appalled by the ‘passion of the mob’ leading Europe into ruin in 1914. Booker makes a neat summary here.

    Almost needless to say – the pride and/or idiocy of the aristocrats of 1914, who in some instances were supplanted by autocrats by 1918 – were not found favourable by the fathers of the EU either.

    They wanted a supranational United States of Europe run by a technocratic elite whose loyalties rose above the nation state to be Europe’s benevolent masters and prevent a recurrence of The Guns of August. Europe had to utterly exhaust itself with the continental war operations of 1939-45 before the Eurocrats gained traction.

    What I find richly ironic in all this is that, filled with righteous and missionary zeal, the Eurocrats are seemingly blundering around the regions of interest bordering the Russian Federation looking to extend their influence and control as far as the Caspian Sea.

    Richard North dives deep into the EU morass to state:

    It was very much part of a concerted programme to detach Russia from its allies, under a programme called the “Eastern Partnership policy“, encompassing Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

    Launched in 2009, the Partnership is regarded as a “key objective of EU foreign policy”

    Whatever you think of Vlad Putin’s policies and actions, the efforts by the EU to eat his lunch seem dangerously naive and hubristic to me. Here we go again.

  9. ChrisPer says:

    On a Roundup, today also has a roundup article at Online Opinion:
    What coalition-friendly media? Your A to Z guide

  10. Jim Rose says:

    Myrddin Seren, thanks for the reply, good points.

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