You Can’t Make Lenin-ade Without …

Length estimate: Long (words > 1000)

’Tis almost the centenary of the Russian Revolution and hence, the perfect occasion to revisit that most momentous occasion of the modern era. Whatever you may believe about how history reproduces itself – that it merely rhymes, repeats or is repeated by those who fail to learn from it – there is little doubt that it creates brief space of opportunity – tiny, fleeting vacuums bereft of logic and continuity – where the wedge of human will can be driven in. This wedge can occasionally force the course of history onto a new, unforeseen path; it forecloses the possibility of continuity and leads inexorably towards an unfathomable future. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was just such a wedge and its relevance to the present era has never been greater.

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The Material Basis of Right-Wing Populism in 500 Words

Globalization and its Discontents: Explaining Brexit* (below) is a thing I wrote about Brexit for an essay contest in the Undergraduate Berkeley Economics Review. The essay  had to account for the economic factors that have driven the rise of right-wing populism*, a subject that kicked off this blog, in 500 words. The analysis turned out to be worth $50 in Amazon credit, so it may be worth your time.

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The State of Surveillance

The UK is about to wield unprecedented surveillance powers. So runs the headline of a Verge article detailing the new Investigatory Powers Bill that was recently passed in the British parliament and is awaiting royal assent. A short summary of the bill’s salient features:

The bill will legalize the UK’s global surveillance program, which scoops up communications data from around the world, but it will also introduce new domestic powers, including a government database that stores the web history of every citizen in the country. UK spies will be empowered to hack individuals, internet infrastructure, and even whole towns — if the government deems it necessary.

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Demonetization: Too Much Too Soon

Length Estimate: Long (words > 1000)

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Sorry for the absence last week. I was derailed by an event of world-historical proportions – the American election results  the conclusion of my research on Indian land reforms and colonial peasant revolts. I actually wrote the following piece on the Great Indian Demonetization last Monday and sent it out to various online news outlets as a contribution. Due to the lack of response I have decided to post it below. A week has passed since this piece was written and many of the concerns that are outlined below have been vindicated in the meantime. The long-running tropes of administrative inadequacy and legislative myopia were baked into the demonetization cake and many commentators were similarly skeptical about its likely outcomes. Although I don’t want to ascribe more importance to this event than it deserves by making it the subject of an article, its resonance with the themes covered in this blog makes it fair game.

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Using Cheat Codes

Length Estimate: Long (words > 1000 )

Anyone who played video games in the era of the early Grand Theft Autos and Warcraft remembers the amazing power of cheat codes. Here was a way to transcend all the grinding and hard work through a simple keyboard or controller combination to progress further in the game. I recall punching in “allyourbasearebelongtous” to advance through nearly all of Warcraft III just to get through its incredibly compelling storyline. The problem with cheat codes, quite obviously, was that they didn’t make you better at the game at all; I realized that after I got comprehensively beaten in almost every Warcraft game I played online. Cheat codes unlinked the theoretical relationship between game completion and player competency that made video games a nominally productive exercise. On the other hand, being competent at Grand Theft Auto makes for rather low stakes.

The purpose of this labored meditation on cheat codes is to set up an analogy. Continue reading “Using Cheat Codes”

Of States, Narco-Outfits and the Economist

Length Estimate: Long (words > 1000)

In its August 27th, 2016 issue, the Economist magazine ran articles on two prominent extralegal organizations that relied on the trade in narcotics for funding their organization. The organizations in question are Camorra, the Italian mafia outfit and subject of Robert Saviano’s book Gomorrah, and the FARC, a Colombian left-wing guerrilla army. The magazine’s treatment of these topics is a glaring example of the inconsistencies of its liberal, free market ideology.

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A Technical Issue

Length Estimate: Medium (500 < words < 1000)

In his books Thinking Like A State and Two Cheers for Anarchy, the scholar James C. Scott writes extensively about how high-level bureaucratic actors like governments and corporations attempt to fit existing situations into a legible schema in order to achieve some pre-determined goal. One of his striking examples is the advent of scientific forestry in Germany, where monoculture forests were designed in order to maximize the output of lumber per unit of forest. The state saw the forest not as a complex ecosystem with multiple uses but as the repository of a single useful resource that ought to be extracted with the greatest possible efficiency. This experiment yielded spectacular results for a century – i.e., three generations – before things fell apart. Disaster struck when the benefits of a rich soil created by centuries of mixed, natural forest wore out and the “scientific” forest was exposed to threats that it had not been designed to overcome. This is only one of the many times that an understanding of a problem in purely technical terms – as something to be solved through the application of scientific understanding of natural laws – has resulted in utter failure.

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The Abyss Stares Back

Length Estimate: Medium (500 < words < 1000)

2016 has demonstrated that right-wing populism is no longer a reactionary force that rears its head precisely when people are at their most vulnerable – in the aftermath of political and economic crises.

In 2016, it has become a creative force. And a titanic one at that. Donald Trump and Brexit are two of its very real, and very potent, products. And that is just counting two of the obvious (and apparently only newsworthy) ones. Right-wing populism is no longer just a spike of vented racism and bigotry that emerges in the brief interval between a crisis and return to things-as-usual. It is now an organized and anticipatory force that can not be dismissed either as frustrated racism or opportunistic politicization of legitimate public concerns.

The rise and persistence of this phenomenon has confounded many observers; the traditional forces of centrist rationalism are scrambling to respond.

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