“Why Nations Fail” by Acemoglu and Robinson. An incredibly thorough examination of the success and failures of nation formation and stabilization. Of course, it has to be said that their ideas of what constitute failure modes are built from a Western academic background and successes are thus self-perpetuating liberal democracies. However, I cannot find much fault with their thesis that a society that organizes itself in a mode of self-governance by democratic processes will fail if a certain threshold of political exclusion is reached. One could wonder about how the current redrawing of electoral maps and court rulings on politically and racially motivated gerrymanders fits along the timeline toward failure. Further, as a parallel track toward failure, a nation that orients its economic activity away from inclusive attitudes with regards to access to a market and democratized practices with respect to capital distribution will create ever growing subclasses with righteous resentment toward the supraclass. All of that is probably obvious to some, but the authors use a tremendous amount of historical data solidify their theory of institutional causes.
“Why Liberalism Failed” by Deneen. I cannot say this enough: This book is awful. I wanted to find kernels of arguments that I could engage with through to their end. The author starts with an observation that liberalism as conceived in the 17th and 18th centuries is conceived as a maxim of total self-liberation, which is not quite true, and then engages with some perverse, almost Randian, version where self-liberation only leads to pure self-interest that destroys a sense of community. The author then spends the rest of the book turning his inner David Brooks up to 11 with a moralizing screed against modern personal romance and the decay of the family. His solution to all of this is in essence Christian based Feudalism. Pure dreck. As a side note, the praise on the dust jacket from Cornell West is quite amusing given Mr. Deneen spends a lot of time backing up his claims with quotes from, of all people, Charles Murray. Astounding.
“Capital in the 21st Century” by Piketty. This has been on my list for a while, and I am glad that I waited until now to read it. It is massive, thorough, and innovative. While the author spends some time getting bogged down in restating the point in any given chapter seemingly without end, it is surprisingly enjoyable to read. The author takes a look at basic states and the dynamical backgrounds for capital distribution, valuation, and its ability to generate income from the late 18th century to the present day. It is an exhaustive look at some of the so-called laws of economics that still seem to be used today despite being posited in the 19th century. His examples of are clear and illustrative, and he builds a convincing case for his proposed solution to what he sees as a dangerous re-emergence of the importance of capital in the likely low-growth future: a progressive tax on capital and radical transparency of the global financial system. It is something that I will likely revisit as long as I have it on my shelf.