Politics

Why Some Nations Succeed

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Why is it that some nations, such as Switzerland, respond quickly to the need for reform – improving railroads, health care systems and schooling – even before the systems break down? And why do other nations, such as Italy and France, wait until major crises are upon them before introducing institutional change? Some, such as Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, take a deterministic stance. The acclaimed writers of  Why Nations Fail  believe that cultural and geographical differences, or even historical accidents, put countries on to different trajectories of institutional development which are more or less conducive to growth. Although clearly relevant, this view is incomplete.  read more »

Subjects:

Don't make big-city mayors regional rulers

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Given the quality of leadership in Washington, it’s not surprising that many pundits are shifting focus to locally based solutions to pressing problems. This increasingly includes many progressives, who historically have embraced an ever-more expansive federal government.

In many ways, this constitutes an extraordinarily positive development. Political decentralization is built into the very framework of American democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville, among others, recognized.  read more »

Guess What? The Parties are About Even!

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I’ve written extensively about American presidential elections, trying to understand the nature of Democratic success in 2008 and 2012. Many pundits use these elections and changing demographics and public attitudes to write off the future of the Grand Old Party. But this would be a mistake, because we also know that Republicans have a majority in the House of Representatives and in the state legislatures. They also could well get a majority in the US Senate in 2014. Hardly a death spiral.  read more »

Ukrainian and Russian: The Geo-Politics of Language

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The Russian-speaking population of Ukraine has been at a disadvantage since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the Ukrainian parliament, this occasionally erupts in violent brawls caught on YouTube; for average citizens, it is a humanitarian problem. Early on in this conflict the Peace Corps instructed its volunteers in Ukraine to avoid speaking Russian whenever possible. This almost certainly stoked the tensions that have now, years later, destabilized the country.  read more »

Subjects:

Concentrated Wealth or Democracy, but Not Both

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In many uncomfortable ways, American politics now resemble those that arose late in the Roman Republic. As wealth and land ownership concentrated in few hands, a state built on the discipline of soldiers who tended their own farms became ever more dominated by fractious oligarchs. As property consolidated into huge slave-owning estates, more citizens became landless and ever more dependent on the patronage of the rich generals and landowners who increasingly seized control of politics.  read more »

Leadership and the Challenge of Making a City Visible

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Cities of varying sizes struggle with two related, but seemingly opposing, global and local forces. At one level, every city would like to benefit from the global flow of capital and the emerging landscapes of prosperity seen in “other” places. At another level, to be a recipient of such attention, a city has to offer something more than cheaper real estate and tax benefits.  read more »

Crimea and Ukraine: What Putin Could Learn from Yugoslavia

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While American government officials respond to the Russian Anschluss in Crimea by mobilizing their Twitter feeds and making the rounds of the Sunday morning meetings of the press, the Moscow government of Vladimir Putin reinforced its occupation forces around Simferopol and Sebastopol, perhaps at some point passing out small Russian flags to local sympathizers, who can wave them gratefully when the symbolic gates between Russia and Crimea are thrown open.  read more »

East of Egan: Success in California is Not Evenly Distributed

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The New York Times ran a Timothy Egan editorial on California on March 6.  The essay entitled Jerry Brown's Revenge was reverential towards our venerable Governor.  It did, however, fall short of declaring Brown a miracle worker, as the Rolling Stone did last August.  These and other articles are part of an adoring press's celebratory spasm occasioned by the facts that California has a budget surplus and has had a run of strong job growth.  read more »

Welcome to Chicagoland

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As part of his plan to boost sagging ratings at the network, CNN chief Jeff Zucker commissioned an eight part reality series about Chicago and its mayor called Chicagoland that premiers tonight at 10pm ET. The show is produced by the same people who did the Brick City series about Newark Mayor Cory Booker, with support from mega-star executive producer Robert Redford.  read more »

Drought Stokes California's Class War

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As all the Californians who celebrated the deluge of rain that fell the week before last know, it did not do much to ameliorate the state’s deep drought. We are likely to enter our traditionally dry spring, summer and fall in a crisis likely to exacerbate the ever greater estrangement between the state’s squabbling regions and classes.  read more »