"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Notes on the London Review of Books

In the 18 July 2019 (vol. 41/14) issue of the London Review of Books, I spy several interesting publications.

Perhaps the most interesting is a major long review essay of many recent books on the topic of a universal basic income (UBI). This is a topic I have not yet seen taken up and discussed in, e.g., Catholic social teaching; nor have I seen other Christians who are working on social and political ethics discuss UBI, but it certainly should be looked at. The reviewer notes the divergent pictures in the literature and the incomplete nature of several experiments that have been attempted on a small scale in economies around the world.

The books he reviews include Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy by Philippe Van Parijs and Yannick Vanderborght  (Harvard UP, 2019), 400pp; Basic Income: A Guide for the Open-Minded by Guy Standing (Yale UP, 2017); and Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World by Annie Lowrey  (Crown, 2018). I'm no expert, but there seems to be more than enough small-scale evidence to proceed with larger scale experiments of several of these proposals, all of which to date have shown promising signs but seemingly without clearly and easily reproducible conditions to answer some important and lingering questions.

Similar issues are taken up in another long review essay, looking at several English and German books, including Germany's Hidden Crisis: Social Decline in the Heart of Europe by Oliver Nachtwey, trans David Fernbach and Loren Balhorn (Verso, 2018), 256pp., about contemporary German politics, including especially the deliberate decline in Germany's social-welfare state as a result of the ideology of "austerity" that has gripped many parts of Europe.

For those interested in slavery, British imperialism, Irish politics, and international trade, there is a review of the bewilderingly complicated life of Colonel Edward Despard and his execution in 1803 on what clearly seem fabricated charges of high treason. All this is told in Red Round Globe Hot Burning: A Tale at the Crossroads of Commons and Closure, of Love and Terror, of Race and Class, and of Kate and Ned Despard by Peter Linebaugh (University of California Press, 2019), 488pp.

For contemporary international politics involving intrigue, death, and huge amounts of money and corruption in an atomic shadow, then Pakistan's Nuclear Bomb: A Story of Defiance, Deterrence and Deviance Hardcover by Hassan Abbas  (Oxford UP, 2018), 356pp. makes for harrowing reading.

I read with great interest a review of Freedom's Laboratory: The Cold War Struggle for the Soul of Science by Audra J. Wolfe  (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018), 312pp.

The book would seem to offer a very useful reminder that "science" is not some kind of stand-alone oracle dispensing infallible results untainted by human deception, error, or political machination and manipulation. It can, with depressing ease, be hijacked by those with money and the desire to do so, to get it to reproduce the results desired by its political overlords--or to kill undesirable results.

Finally, Princeton University Press advertises several interesting new books, including The Wealth of Religions: The Political Economy of Believing and Belonging by Robert J Barro and Rachel McCleary (2019), 216pp. About this book the publisher tells us this:
Which countries grow faster economically―those with strong beliefs in heaven and hell or those with weak beliefs in them? Does religious participation matter? Why do some countries experience secularization while others are religiously vibrant? In The Wealth of Religions, Rachel McCleary and Robert Barro draw on their long record of pioneering research to examine these and many other aspects of the economics of religion. Places with firm beliefs in heaven and hell measured relative to the time spent in religious activities tend to be more productive and experience faster growth. Going further, there are two directions of causation: religiosity influences economic performance and economic development affects religiosity. Dimensions of economic development―such as urbanization, education, health, and fertility―matter too, interacting differently with religiosity. State regulation and subsidization of religion also play a role.
The Wealth of Religions addresses the effects of religious beliefs on character traits such as work ethic, thrift, and honesty; the Protestant Reformation and its long-term effects on education and religious competition; Communism’s suppression of and competition with religion; the effects of Islamic laws and regulations on the functioning of markets and, hence, on the long-term development of Muslim countries; why some countries have state religions; analogies between religious groups and terrorist organizations; the violent origins of the Dalai Lama’s brand of Tibetan Buddhism; and the use by the Catholic Church of saint-making as a way to compete against the rise of Protestant Evangelicals. Timely and incisive, The Wealth of Religions provides fresh insights into the vital interplay between religion, markets, and economic development.

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