Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Contrasting Argument

In the UK, and other common law jurisdictions, the executive and legislature are closely entwined. The Prime Minister and a majority of his or her ministers are Members of Parliament and sit in the House of Commons. The executive is therefore present at the heart of Parliament.

By contrast, in the USA, the President may not be a member of the legislature (Congress), and is elected separately from congressional elections. This may result in the President being a member of a different political party from the majority of members of Congress.

The UK’s integration of executive and legislature is said to provide stability and efficiency in the operation of government. It has been described as “a system that intentionally promotes efficiency over abstract concerns about tyranny”. For example, the Prime Minister is usually both head of the executive branch and leader of the majority party in the legislature, which gives the executive branch much more freedom of action than a president usually enjoys in a presidential system of government.
Briefing on the separation of powers from the Parliament of the UK

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Wisdom of Larry Summers

Lessons from Government Service 

KRISTOL: Any special tips you would have for people? I was at a much lower level position of having been a professor and suddenly being in government and having to do things and take responsibility for things. Any advice anyone gave you that was particularly useful? Any book you read that you would tell some 35-year-old Harvard or anywhere else professor who’s now going into the next administration to think about? Or just your own advice?

SUMMERS: I’d say some lessons I learned, Bill, are people – you should maintain a very strong presumption that people are acting reasonably by their lights. And that if it seems to you that somebody’s taking a position that’s completely stupid or unreasonably, it’s probably not because you’re smart and they’re stupid and you should just explain it to them.

It’s probably because given where they sit, given where they sit as part of the government of Japan or given where they sit as part of the Department of Commerce, or given as where they sit as part of General Electric, or given where they sit as a person with responsibility for getting reelected in six months, and that you will achieve your objectives much more effectively if you try to understand why other people are taking a position different than yours. Rather than just simply tell then they should take your position and take more arguments.

That was probably the most important lesson that was uncongenial to me. That in academics what you do is your persuade people with intellectual argument, and what I realized was people probably were taking positions that corresponded to their interest and you had to figure out how to make it work given their interest. That was probably the most important initial lesson learned.

Getting Stuff Done

Graduate school has provided you world-class training in quantitative skills. You are well versed in data analysis, game theory, decision matrices, and linear regression models.

This training offers an excellent foundation.

But what is really exciting about making public policy isn’t evaluating and analyzing and predicting.

It’s getting stuff done.

And if you really want to get stuff done outside the classroom, quantitative analysis needs to be to be complemented by qualitative analysis – the political, bureaucratic, behavioral, social, cultural, and ethical skills.
from “Getting Stuff Done” by Robert B. Zoellick

Addendum: An Insider’s Advice for Obama’s New Team

À une heure du matin

At last! I am alone! Nothing can be heard but the rumbling of a few belated and weary cabs. For a few hours at least silence will be ours, if not sleep. At last! The tyranny of the human face has disappeared, and now there will be no one but myself to make me suffer.

At last! I am allowed to relax in a bath of darkness! First a double turn of the key in the lock. This turn of the key will, it seems to me, increase my solitude and strengthen the barricades that, for the moment, separate me from the world. [...]

Dissatisfied with everything, dissatisfied with myself, I long to redeem myself and to restore my pride in the silence and solitude of the night. Souls of those whom I have loved, souls of those whom I have sung, strengthen me, sustain me, keep me from the vanities of the world and its contaminating fumes; and You, dear God! grant me grace to produce a few beautiful verses to prove to myself that I am not the lowest of men, that I am not inferior to those whom I despise.
from Baudelaire's Paris Spleen (Louise Varèse's translation)

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Simple Advice to Potential Policymakers

The advice to potential policymakers is simple: Learn as much as you can, for most of it will come in useful at some stage of your career; but never forget that identifying what is happening in the economy is essential to your ability to do your job, and for that you need to keep your eyes, your ears, and your mind open, and with regard to your mouth--to use it with caution.
"Reflections on Macroeconomics Then and Now" by Stanley Fischer

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

An Idea Made Architecturally Visible

And there, when the cherry blossom is doing its shameless thing, and the streets of Adams Morgan are warming to the kids on the block, it’s entirely possible to see Washington as not just DC, not just ideology made visible, but as an American community; and a good one at that.
from "Washington DC" by Simon Schama

Stolid Presence and Immobile Features

Xi conveys Napoleonic self-confidence in the importance of his mission and its inevitable success. In person he is said to be affable and relaxed. But his carefully curated public persona follows Mao in displaying a stolid presence and immobile features that seem to convey either stoicism or implacability, depending on whether he is sitting through a boring speech or giving one. The propaganda agencies labor to generate a huggable image of “Daddy Xi,” and Xi appears to be genuinely popular among the public, although this is changing as the economy slows. But his anticorruption campaign affecting a great many people has ground on, leading intellectual and official elites to read his expression as inscrutable and frightening.
from "Who is Xi?" by Andrew J. Nathan

Thursday, May 12, 2016

On Conviction

Ana Pauker was a minister in the infamous Stalinist administration that ruled Romania in the early fifties; she was noted for her unswerving devotion to the orthodoxies of Moscow. A favourite anecdote of the day described how she was seen in the streets of Bucharest on a warm spring day under a large umbrella: why? 'Because', she said, 'it's raining in Moscow.'
from the Chatham Lecture at Trinity College, Oxford - "Convictions, Loyalties and the Secular State" by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams


Kubla Khan
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Хубилай Хаан
Б.Амарсанаагийн орчуулга

Хүмүүний зүйрлэлд оршил үгүй ангалыг шувтлан
Гэрэл үгүй түнэр тэнгисийг зорих
Буртаг үгүй ариун Альп мөрөн урсах
Шанду нутагт таашаалын асар цогцлуулахаар
Хубилай хаан зарлиг буулгав.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Distinction Between College and Graduate School

"I don't think we should have majors. I don't understand what majors are about. Majors are very late in the [inaudible]--I think just post-WWI or during WWI is when they were introduced. I make the distinction in my own thinking between college, which is for education, and graduate school, which is for professional training."
from Mark Mancall on education

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Preëmptive Comment on the Pleasures of Competition

I have played sports (tennis, cricket), I have done a lot of cycling, but in all of this my aspiration has simply been to do as well as I can. Winning or losing—who cares? How I judge whether or not I have done well is a private matter, between myself and what I suppose I would call my conscience.

I don’t like forms of sport that model themselves too closely on warfare, in which all that matters is winning and winning becomes a matter of life and death—sports that lack grace, as war lacks grace. At the back of my mind is some ideal—and perhaps concocted—vision of Japan, in which one refrains from inflicting defeat on an opponent because there is something shameful in defeat and therefore something shameful in imposing defeat.

All the best,

The Better Player by Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee

Klavierkonzert No.5

Glenn Gould's brilliant rendition of Beethoven's Klavierkonzert No.5 (my personal favorite is the second movement; watch from 19:20)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

On this day 26 years ago

Найруулагч Ж.Солонгын "Найм хагас" баримтат кино. Өдгөөгөөс яг 26 жилийн өмнөх тэр өдөр яалт ч үгүй Монгол түмний заяа түшиж саруул ухаанаар асуудлаа шийдэцгээсэн юм аа.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Delivering Steadily on Our Promise for a Long Time

We must remember that our international reputation is of a country with great promise, which has under-delivered in the past. This is why we are still the poorest country on a per capita basis among the BRICS. We need to change perceptions by delivering steadily on our promise for a long time – by implementing, implementing, and implementing. We cannot get carried away by our current superiority in growth, for as soon as we believe in our own superiority and start distributing future wealth as if we already have it, we stop doing all that is required to continue growing. This movie has played too many times in India’s past for us to not know how it ends.
"Words Matter but so Does Intent" address by Dr. Raghuram Rajan, Governor of Reserve Bank of India on April 20, 2016 at the 12th NIBM Convocation, Pune

Monday, April 18, 2016

Something to be Said for Proximity

Historians have been overconfident about the wisdom to be gained by distance, believing it somehow confers objectivity, one of those unattainable values in which they have placed so much faith. Perhaps there is something to be said for proximity. Lord Acton, who delivered the first, famous lectures on the French Revolution at Cambridge in the 1870s, was still able to hear firsthand, from a member of the Orleans dynasty, the man's recollection of "Dumouriez gibbering on the streets of London when hearing the news of Waterloo."

Suspicion that blind partisanship fatally damaged the great Romantic narratives of the first half of the nineteenth century dominated scholarly reaction during the second half. As historians institutionalized themselves into an academic profession, they came to believe conscientious research in the archives could confer dispassion: the prerequisite for winkling out the mysterious truths of cause and effect. The desired effect was to be scientific rather than poetic, impersonal rather than impassioned. And while, for some time, historical narratives remained preoccupied by the life cycle of the European nation-states—wars, treaties and dethronements—the magnetic pull of social science was such that "structures," both social and political, seemed to become the principal objects of inquiry.

[...] the Revolution seem any longer to conform to a grand historical design, preordained by inexorable forces of social change. Instead it seems a thing of contingencies and unforeseen consequences (not least the summoning of the Estates-General itself). An abundance of fine provincial studies has shown that instead of a single Revolution imposed by Paris on the rest of a homogeneous France, it was as often determined by local passions and interests. Along with the revival of place as a conditioner have come people. For as the imperatives of "structure" have weakened, those of individual agency, and especially of revolutionary utterance, have become correspondingly more important
from Simon Schama's Citizens

Cf. this statement + an attempt to counter this "overconfidence" about the wisdom to be gained by distance