Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Today's Free Lunch

As Paul Krugman taught us all more than 20 years ago, it makes little sense to apply the concept of competitiveness to countries, which can’t go out of business, unlike companies, which can. National prosperity depends not on competitiveness but on productivity.
from "Get real about competitiveness" by Martin Sandbu

Monday, August 08, 2016

High-Cultured Barbarism

Hans Hotter’s outstanding 1942 recording of Schubert’s Winterreise seems to call for an intentionally anachronistic reading: it is easy to imagine German officers and soldiers listening to this recording in the Stalingrad trenches in the cold Winter of 42/43. Does the topic of Winterreise not evoke a unique consonance with the historical moment? Was not the whole campaign to Stalingrad a gigantic Winterreise, where each German soldier can say for himself the very first lines of the cycle:

“I came here a stranger,
As a stranger I depart"?

[...]The obvious counter-argument is that all this is merely a superficial parallel: even if there is an echo of the atmosphere and emotions, they are in each case embedded in an entirely different context: in Schubert, the narrator wanders around in Winter because the beloved has dropped him, while the German soldiers were on the way to Stalingrad because of Hitler’s military plans. However, it is precisely in this displacement that the elementary ideological operation consists: the way for a German soldier to be able to endure his situation was to avoid the reference to concrete social circumstances which would become visible through reflection (what the hell were they doing in Russia? what destruction did they bring to this country? what about killing the Jews?), and, instead, to indulge in the Romantic bemoaning of one’s miserable fate, as if the large historical catastrophe just materializes the trauma of a rejected lover.
from "Lenin As a Listener of Schubert" by Slavoj Zizek

In my diary I called this phenomenon Goethe Oak, after the ancient oak tree on the Ettersberg, near Weimar, under which Goethe had supposedly written his sublime “Wanderer’s Night Song,” but which was then enclosed on the grounds of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Goethe and Buchenwald, the highest and the lowest in human history, together in one place. A place called Weimar. A place called Germany. A place called Europe.
from Timothy Garton Ash - "The File: A Personal History"

Addendum: Bach or Mozart? - a scene from Schindler's List

Friday, August 05, 2016

On Practical Political Reality

I had the sense that [Ignatieff] could not emphasize enough to an outsider—or, in another sense, entirely explain—how practicing politics was utterly unlike philosophizing about it at the front of a classroom or, for that matter, in the back seat of a car: there are no philosopher-kings, or even philosophical prime ministers. To praise something for being “undertheorized” was to address it in all its practical political reality.

“It’s a completely different role,” he said. “The thing that politics most strongly resembles is being on soccer teams and hockey teams when I was a child. It’s not a lonely writer in his den thinking thoughts. You’re mostly listening all day long to people, trying to take the measure of their personalities—their strengths, their weaknesses. It’s much closer to being a journalist. You sit with other politicians: what does this person really want? You hear what she’s saying. But what does she really want? That’s a political moment. You’re in a town hall with two hundred and fifty people, and you’re trying to get a sense of the room, of what makes these people tick. It’s a very different skill from being a writer. Isaiah himself was fascinated by the question: what is it that a great politician knows? What is that form of knowledge? Last night, Zsuzsanna and I were watching the Detroit Red Wings goalie, and he knows something: what is it that he knows? What is it that a great politician knows? The great ones have a skill that is just jaw-dropping, and I’m trying to learn that.”

Had it been a steep learning curve? I wondered out loud.

“Vertical!” He exploded in laughter. “Face of the Eiger!” Then he said, “As an intellectual, you can speculate, you can ruminate, you can muse about things. Can’t do that in politics. They want to know what you think, what you do. A lot of the time, intellectuals are engaged in the business of showing how clever they are. The public isn’t interested in how clever you are. It wants something very different, which is, Can I trust this guy? Does this guy understand me and will this guy be with me when times are difficult? There’s a totally different relationship between the politician and his audience and the intellectual and his audience.”
"The Return of the Native" by Adam Gopnik (the first article I read by him). And of course, let's not forget the "fire and ashes" that resulted from Ignatieff's leadership.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

To Write History

To write history is to make an argument by telling a story about dead people [...] Historians tend to write in both expository and narrative modes. In the writing of history, a story without an argument fades into antiquarianism; an argument without a story risks pedantry. Rarely does any historian choose one mode to the exclusion of another, but how to balance these modes is a crucial choice.
Jill Lepore - How to Write a Paper for This Class

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

This and That: Sovereign Defaults Edition

When a country goes bankrupt
When a country defaults
How Greece restructured its debt
How Jamaica turned its debts around

The Economist explains: What happens when a country goes bust

The Economics of Sovereign Defaults
Public finances: A world of debt
"Financial and Sovereign Debt Crises: Some Lessons Learned and Those Forgotten" by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff

"A New Approach To Sovereign Debt Restructuring" by Anne Krueger
"Too Little, Too Late: The Quest to Resolve Sovereign Debt Crises"
"The Costs of Sovereign Default" by Eduardo Borensztein and Ugo Panizza

Free Lunch: Flat-pack sovereign debt restructuring
"Revisiting sovereign bankruptcy" by Lee Buchheit
Sovereign debt: Curing defaults
How Hedge Funds Held Argentina for Ransom by Martin Guzman and Joseph Stiglitz
The clause that wouldn’t die

Monday, August 01, 2016

Цитаты дня

В разные времена настоящее выглядит по-разному.
Память - сеть, которую не следует чересчур напрягать, чтобы удерживать тяжелые грузы. Пусть все чугунное прорывает сеть и уходит, летит.
То, что не помнилось, переставало существовать.
Юрий Трифонов - «Дом на набережной»