Thursday, February 28, 2013

Putin’s Ph.D.: Can a Plagiarism Probe Upend Russian Politics? By Simon Shuster.

Putin’s Ph.D.: Can a Plagiarism Probe Upend Russian Politics? By Simon Shuster. Time, February 28, 2013.

Benedict’s Choice and the Crisis of the Western Church. By Walter Russell Mead.

Benedict’s Choice and the Crisis of the Western Church. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, February 24, 2013.

Yahoo CEO’s Work-from-Home Ban Spurs Feminist Debate.

Yahoo CEO’s Work-from-Home Ban Spurs Feminist Debate. Video. The Willis Report. Fox Business, February 28, 2013.

Marissa Mayer Is Wrong: Working From Home Can Make You More Productive. By Derek Thompson. The Atlantic, February 25, 2013.

The worst decision Marissa Mayer has made in her tenure as Yahoo CEO. By Vickie Elmer. Quartz, February 25, 2013.

The new Mommy Wars. By Joanne Bamberger. USA Today, February 25, 2013.

Get Off of Your Cloud. By Maureen Dowd. New York Times, February 26, 2013.

Marissa Mayer’s Job Is to Be CEO—Not to Make Life Easier for Working Moms. By Anne-Marie Slaughter. The Atlantic, February 28, 2013.

Making Teleworking Work. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, March 1, 2013.

Divorce Rate Booms Among Boomers Over 50.

The Gray Divorce Revolution: Rising Divorce Among Middle-Aged and Older Adults, 1990–2010. By Susan L. Brown and I-Fen Lin. The Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, Vol. 67, No. 6 (November 2012). PDF. Also find it here. Figure 1.

Baby Boomer Divorces on Rise. Video. The Willis Report. Fox Business, February 28, 2013. Also find it here.

Boomer divorce: A costly retirement roadblock. By Rodney Brooks. USA Today, February 26, 2013.

Are Baby Boomers Still Pushing Up the Divorce Rate? By Robert Hughes, Jr. The Huffington Post, November 2, 2012.

Past 50 And Still Having Sex? You’re Not Alone. By Susan Krauss Whitbourne. The Huffington Post, February 28, 2013.

What Your Grandmother Didn’t Tell You About Her Sex Life. By Susan Krauss Whitbourne. Psychology Today, February 12, 2013.

Baby boomer divorce rate doubles. By Greg Clary and Athena Jones. CNN, June 27, 2012.

More Americans Rejecting Marriage in 50s and Beyond. By Rachel L. Swarns. New York Times, March 1, 2012.

Post-50 divorce rate doubled in 20 years. By Leslie Mann. Chicago Tribune, February 27, 2013.

Age gap: She’s old enough to be his . . .wife. By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz. Chicago Tribune, September 19, 2012.

Shock and Awe: The Exodus Narrative. By Mary Joan Winn Leith.

Shock and Awe: The Exodus Narrative. By Mary Joan Winn Leith. Video. Lecture at Stonehill College, November 23, 2008. Biblical Archaeology Society Library. (BAS Library subscription required.)

Regular Biblical Archaeology Review contributor Mary Joan Winn Leith provides a fresh perspective on the language and imagery of the Book of Exodus by exploring ancient Egyptian iconography of power and authority. Through their acute awareness of Egyptian propaganda and art, the biblical writers and storytellers successfully inverted the very same imagery to illustrate Pharaoh’s ineptitude when confronted by Moses and the Israelite God Yahweh.

Running Time: 53 minutes.

West Complacent Over Why Nations Fail. By Gideon Rachman.

West complacent over why nations fail. By Gideon Rachman. Financial Times, February 25, 2013.


The success of a book can sometimes tell you as much about the times as about the book itself. That may be the case with Why Nations Fail, which was published last year to great acclaim from reviewers and prize juries, and even compared to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.

The book, by Professors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, is certainly erudite and interesting. But the excited reception for Why Nations Fail may also have something to do with the fact that its message is deeply reassuring to many in the west. I finished the book this weekend, surrounded by newspapers predicting that the US will, this week, slash its budget so deeply that it puts hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk. Meanwhile, the Italian elections threaten to reignite the eurozone crisis.

But do not despair. Hurl the newspapers to one side – and take the long view. Based on a magpie-like assembly of evidence from many centuries, the authors of Why Nations Fail have concluded that, for all its difficulties, western-style democracy is the key to long-term prosperity. The professors argue that countries “such as Great Britain and the United States became rich because their citizens overthrew the elites who controlled power and created a society where political rights were much more broadly distributed”. Professor Ian Morris, a reviewer, summarises their argument, thus: “It is freedom that makes the world rich.”

In part, the discrepancy between the newspapers and the thesis of Why Nations Fail is simply a question of time. The book deals with the evolution of societies over centuries. This week’s Italian elections and the US sequestration are, by comparison, mere stitches in the great tapestry of history.

But that is not quite reassurance enough. The political situations in Italy and the US have similar, and disturbing, long-term implications. They point to the tendency of modern democracies to pile up debt by making unaffordable spending promises to voters, that politicians then cannot wind back.

Investor confidence in Italy has been restored over the past year by a government led by Mario Monti, an unelected technocrat. But in the elections, Mr Monti looks likely to trail in an undistinguished fourth. His reforms won the approval of the markets – but not of the voters. Similarly, in the US, the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission offered a more rational way of controlling government spending than the meat axe of the sequestration. But the technocrats’ solution has failed to pass the political test in Washington.

The uneasy sense that western democracy is not working very well is heightened by the counter-example of China’s rapid economic progress. Chinese success challenges the conventional political wisdom formed after the cold war about the superiority of democracy as an economic system. China’s ascent also appears to challenge the insistence of Messrs Acemoglu and Robinson that prosperity can be secured only by “inclusive” economic institutions, rooted in political pluralism.

The professors spend some time grappling with Chinese success in Why Nations Fail and conclude that “Chinese growth ... is just another form of growth under extractive political institutions, [and] unlikely to translate into sustained economic development.”

This seems a remarkably dismissive verdict on almost two generations of double-digit growth, which has dragged hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and transformed China into the second-largest economy in the world. Nonetheless, it reflects a strong tendency in American academia to talk down the rise of China – and to stress the enduring strengths of the US system.

All of this might not matter much if the arguments were confined to seminar rooms. But, in fact, versions of the argument made in Why Nations Fail dominate western political debate. No presidential election in the US is complete without all candidates paying obeisance to the idea that “freedom” is not just morally superior – it is also what makes America strong.

This unquestioning assumption of the superiority of the American way may, in fact, be part of what ails the US. I think that Why Nations Fail makes a strong case that, over the long term, there is a clear correlation between political freedom and economic success. But, in the US, a generalised attachment to liberty has somehow turned into an unquestioning veneration of the constitution that has become almost quasi-religious.

As a result, Americans may be unable really to address the fact that their political system is not working well. There is a similar problem in Europe, where the compulsion to pay homage to the European ideal stopped many politicians from asking hard, but necessary, questions about the continent’s single currency, the euro.

The Chinese system clearly has its own terrible flaws, including brutality and corrosive corruption. But it has also had the virtue of a radical pragmatism, captured in Deng Xiaoping’s maxim that “it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.”