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Today in cruise missile liberalism

By Fred Bethune on Saturday February 5, 2011 08:16 AM

Economics takes a lot of flak around here, and some of it is well-deserved. There is, however, one discipline that really ought to get it even worse: political science.

I had the misfortune of taking a couple classes in political "science". It's dreadful stuff; a rancid stew of un-examined assumptions, moral equivocations and pointless abstractions of the most worthless variety. It seems that political science departments are roughly divided into three camps: the quantitative political scientists who are concerned almost solely with voting behaviour and electioneering, the Straussians occupying the political theory wing, and the theorists of Democracy, Freedom, Statecraft and Diplomacy, the Fulbright fodder. Of these groups, the last is by far the worst, and within this group Fareed "Death's Head" Zakaria is the most heinous of all.

As might be expected, India's answer to Rudyard Kipling has a new cover story in Time on the Egyptian uprising. There's no shortage of howlers in there, but I'm going to skip straight to the economics part. Zakaria's thesis is that Egypt's revolt was actually caused by too much prosperity rather than too little:

Egypt has had some successes, and ironically, one of them has helped foment change. Over the past decade, Egypt has been reforming its economy. From the mid-1990s on, Egypt found that in order to get loans from the IMF and the World Bank, it had to dismantle the most inefficient parts of its somewhat socialist economic system. In recent years, Mubarak — persuaded by his son Gamal, a Western-trained banker — appointed a set of energetic reformers to his Cabinet, who embarked on an ambitious effort to restructure the Egyptian economy, lowering taxes and tariffs, eliminating regulations and reducing subsidies. Egypt, long moribund, began growing vigorously. From 2006 to 2008, the economy expanded about 7% a year, and even last year, after the economic crisis, growth came in at almost 6%.


Why would economic progress spur protests? Growth stirs things up, upsets the settled, stagnant order and produces inequalities and uncertainties. It also creates new expectations and demands. Tunisia was not growing as vigorously as Egypt, but there too a corrupt old order had opened up, and the resulting ferment proved too much for the regime to handle. Alexis de Tocqueville once observed that "the most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it begins to reform itself." It is a phenomenon that political scientists have dubbed "a revolution of rising expectations." Dictatorships find it difficult to handle change because the structure of power they have set up cannot respond to the new, dynamic demands coming from their people. So it was in Tunisia; so it was in Egypt. Youth unemployment and food prices might have been the immediate causes, but the underlying trend was a growing, restive population, stirred up by new economic winds, connected to a wider world. (Notice that more-stagnant countries like Syria and North Korea have remained more stable.)

Growth necessarily causes upheaval, and stagnation promotes political stability? Um, Africa? China? USSR? America? Somehow they don't seem to be on Zakaria's radar.

As far as Egypt's "economic progress" is concerned, consider the evidence that Zakaria chooses to provide. He casually dismisses unemployment and food prices, two things that actually matter to regular people, while the evidence he cites has no necessary link to the well-being of ordinary Egyptians. GDP growth is all well and good, but in and of itself it doesn't say much about the conditions faced by Egyptians. The pie may be growing, but if the slice being offered to working people is shrinking, then what difference does it make? If your salary is shrinking, but your company's revenues are rising, would you be happy about that? Even if some of the growth does trickle down to the working people, it's beside the point. Would you rather have a salary of $50,000 that grows by 1% every year, or a salary of $5,000 that grows TWICE AS FAST at 2% per annum? Distribution matters.

Fareed has internalized the idea that neo-liberal policies ostensibly aimed at providing certain goods are simply good in and of themselves. In his world, it doesn't matter if the policies actually deliver anything to the people. Just implementing them is "economic progress". Eight years of Harvard will do that to a man who once arrived as a young, bright-eyed imperialist lickspittle.

Comments (26)


So the gas pipeline to Israel has exploded.
The gas line was used to sell under-priced gas to Israel and was a source of discontent.


Originally they were calling it sabotage and now they are saying that it's a leak. The timing seems like quite a coincidence.


The conservative mind-set loves to drop names like "deToqueville", subtly intimating the gap between its culture and the culture of the rest of us proles.

Can't say I disagree that political "science" is more lowly than "economics."

But not by much.

Both pretend at science, both play wet-finger-in-the-wind-justified-by-egocentric-lies.

Economics tries harder to baffle with polysyllables and jargon.

PoliSci doesn't try to baffle -- it just pretends it's relevant and real.

Wait, so does Econ.

They both suck.

Those who try to elevate either above the realm of Pure Bullshit -- ought to be ashamed.


"Those who try to elevate either above the realm of Pure Bullshit -- ought to be ashamed"

but we aren't


so you don't think increasing federal deficits will increase employment ???

I wonder exactly who or what benefits from "increased employment."

Surely it's not the employer, who doesn't work at all, yet reaps the benefits of his employees' working.

When, exactly, will Econ step out of the Feudalist perspective?


"It's been three years since the financial crisis flared up and the recession began. Yet the unemployment rate is still over 9%—double what it was before the recession—and it's been stuck above 9% for 20 consecutive months. Why the extraordinarily high and prolonged unemployment? My research shows that discretionary government interventions—deviations from sound economic principles and policies—have been largely responsible."


that's the calabre and slant of economics worth scorning

I'd like them to discuss real unemployment, if "employment" is their big gig.

Real unemployment would include people well-trained with broad experience, working menial jobs because nobody will hire them on their background, because so much of the "work" being done in America is bullshit middle-management, a thing which isn't work at all. The only way to get a job doing bullshit middle management is to have "experience" in a thing that doesn't require experience at all!

Yes, let's talk about "employment," but ignore completely the POINT of employment, shall we?


I just came across a couple of similar reactions on this blog:


The author seems to have some unfortunate Dembot proclivities, but anyone who has 534 posts under the "CLASS WAR" tag has to be doing something right.


"Yes, let's talk about "employment," but ignore completely the POINT of employment, shall we?"

and what is the point of employment?

It ain't money, son.

Unless you're a Feudal Lord.

In which case the only point of employment is money, earned for you, by others.

So I'd keep working in Feudalism, if I were you. Surely you'll become a Lord some day, and what finer station in life?


So what then, is it a means of self-realization?

No, it's really a means to demean one's self, to supplicate in the presence of a Lord, to admit one is but a serf.

Thank the Lord there are Priests and Pastors who can help navigate this bramble. They are... the Economists! Hallelujah! They will tell us that our "jobs" are the most important indicator of a society's well-being!

Nice work, that.

Besides, any Economist knows that the Working Class are too fucking stupid to seek self-actualization. They just want a paycheck. Can't play Chess without a bunch of pawns!


"No, it's really a means to demean one's self, to supplicate in the presence of a Lord, to admit one is but a serf."

No wonder all the job openings are swamped with applications. People just can't wait to realize their serfdom, I guess.

What can I say to that?

You hold the secret keys to the secret kingdom, and you possess the secret handshake manual.

Nobody wants to quarrel with the Alchemist, he's readying to turn strontium into titanium. There's so much value in titanium, so little value in strontium. We're all waiting, breath abated, faces turning blue.

Yes, the most we want out of life is to make money, because really, money is the thing. Not existence itself, not what we can do with our time when not making money, but the money itself. It is all, it rules over all.


"what we can do with our time when not making money"

You're getting there...

Afraid I'm already there, old sport. Been there a while. Not too sure about anyone who fancies him/herself an "economist," though. Most such folks can't get there from here.


Both pretend at science, both play wet-finger-in-the-wind-justified-by-egocentric-lies.
Economics tries harder to baffle with polysyllables and jargon.

No shortage of math envy for Pol Sci practitioners these days, especially in places far removed from the regular East Coast hangouts of budding and former policymakers.

Zakaria is fulfilling a useful role for his mentors:

Hailing from the periphery, they also instruct old and sclerotic elites in the ways of renewal and renovation. Joseph de Maistre, a jurist and diplomat from Savoy, tutored counterrevolutionary France, even though he never was a subject or citizen of that country. Edmund Burke, the bourgeois Irishman, defended aristocratic England against the Jacobins. Alexander Hamilton, bastard child of the Caribbean and rumored son of racially mixed parentage, led the Federalist reaction. Disraeli the Jew gave the Tories confidence and style. Kristol the Jew — like Scalia the Italian, Fukuyama the Asian and all the hyphens of today's conservative movement — gave the Republicans ideas and zeal.


"Afraid I'm already there, old sport. Been there a while. Not too sure about anyone who fancies him/herself an "economist," though. Most such folks can't get there from here."

That's kind of the point that I was trying to make. It's not that you're wrong and Economics is right: I was just trying to point out that your view is almost certainly the same as that of mainstream economics and 99% of the population. The way that economics treats employment, consumption, leisure, etc. is not really complex or controversial at all. It's really simple, and it seems like you agree with it, even though you seem to think that economics claims something else.


I certainly agree with the anathemata against "political science", a "subject" professed at our elite institutions by the likes of Melissa Huffle-Puffle. It's well known that the only major that attracts more numskulls than Poli Sci is -- you guessed it -- Education.

I am amused, FB, but not convinced. Every YKWeil says he has the mark's perspective and vice-versa, and every YKWeil is good at understanding the mark's perspective too. It's part of the confidence racket's landscape, the earning of trust. And trust is often earned by saying "yes, you and I we see things the same."

You remember what Ronnie Ray-Gun said about trust, right?


MJS, I'd rate "Communications" pretty far up on the badness scale too.


Thank God there was no such thing as a "communications" major back in the dim days when I attended Cretaceous U, T. Rex, president.

David H:

When trying to prove the efficacy of neoliberal policies, pure bullshit is about the only tool in your arsenal.

Speaking of unemployment, does anyone really believe 9% means anything? U6 is a better approximation, and it's dropped all the way down to...16%! Good times, just around the corner.

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