The Great Degeneration by Niall Ferguson

The book offers a cogent theory of how our economic crisis has its roots in the the debasement of our institutions.  My highlights:

The second hallmark of the stationary state was the ability of a corrupt and monopolistic elite to exploit the system of law and administration to their own advantage. p. 9

It is our laws and institutions that are the problem.  The Great Recession is merely a symptom of a more profound Great Degeneration. p. 10

Its members can stoutly uphold the interests of their constituents (including those who voted against them), or they can be in hock to the vested interests that financed their election campaigns. p. 13

My over-arching questions is: what exactly has gone wrong in the Western world in our time? I answer that question in the belief that, until we understand the true nature of our degeneration, we will be wasting our time, applying quack remedies to mere symptoms. p. 20

In a similar vein, Francis Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order defines ‘the three components of a modern political order’ as ‘a strong and capable state, the state’s subordination to a rule of law and government accountability to all citizens.’ p. 26

Could it be, by the same token, that the economic, social and political difficulties of the Western world today reflect a degeneration of our once world-beating institutions? p. 35

It is surprisingly easy to win the support of young voters for policies that would ultimately make matters even worse for them, like maintaining defined benefit pensions for public employees. If young Americans knew what was good for them, they would all be fans of Paul Ryan. p. 44

I believe there is a way of making such leadership more likely to succeed, and that is to alter the way in which governments account for their finances.      …   The present system is, to put it bluntly, fraudulent.  There are no regularly published and accurate official balance sheets.  Huge liabilities are simply hidden from view.  Not even the current income and expenditure statements can be relied upon.  No legitimate business could possibly carry on in this fashion.  The last corporation to publish financial statements this misleading was Enron. p. 46

Facebook’s network is a vast tool enabling like-minded people to exchange like-minded opinions about, well, what they like.  p. 122

The education revolution of the twentieth century was that basic education became available to most people in democracies.  The education revolution of the twenty-first century will be that good education will become available to an increasing proportion of children.  If you are against that, then you are the true elitist: you are the one who wants to keep poor kids in lousy schools.  p. 132

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tough Love on July 29, 2013 at 1:52 am

    Quoting …. “It is surprisingly easy to win the support of young voters for policies that would ultimately make matters even worse for them, like maintaining defined benefit pensions for public employees. If young Americans knew what was good for them, they would all be fans of Paul Ryan. p. 44”

    If the young voters correctly understood the “facts” (not the Public Sector Union BS), other than perhaps those with immediate family members on the collecting end of this morass, NONE would vote for maintaining DB Plans even for CURRENT Public Sector workers.

    Reply

  2. Posted by bpaterson on July 29, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    we are watching (and unfortunately participating) in the slow spiral downward to the destruction of the USA. And for some reason, more than likely under delusion of self preservation without concern for others, everyone has an excuse why that path should continued to be followed. Our elected officials via the vaunted public service should be sacrificing their personal mundane lives and working on the big picture of how to reverse the degeneration, instead just following the same path we are. We supposedly elected them for that purpose.

    Reply

    • Posted by Tough Love on July 29, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      The “solution” is simple (implementing it is not) ….. outlaw all Public Sector Union (AND,in fairness, Corporate) campaign contributions. It’s simple. The Unions bribe the elected officials (with campaign contributions and election support) and these officials gladly accept them, and in return approved these absurdly generous pensions & benefits.

      Of course throwing a few Union officials and elected officials in jail for bribe giving and taking would certainly help make the point.

      Reply

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