Niall Ferguson’s “The Great Degeneration”
Ferguson rightly remarks on China’s remarkable progress.
It is fast enough that we shall soon see if it can innovate.
I grant that China is not the liberal democracy celebrated by Fukyama, but its progress has depended upon some of the western virtues that Fukyama noted.
Ferguson has led me to doubt some of my opinions on current U.S. financial regulation.
I am not ready to switch.
His description of English common law is very interesting.
The Rise and Fall of Social Capital
As I begin this section I record an idea that I want to test against his presentation:
America’s democracy is better than most for Americans sometimes consider fairness in their voting as well as their own interests.
Thus some of the benefits of social capital show thru under the democracy heading.
Ferguson quoting Tocqueville on Americans:
There is nothing the human will despairs of attaining by the free action of the collective power of individuals.
I have to laugh when I come to Ferguson’s notes on public and private schools.
This is because I was feeling a bit down about not being a joiner and Ferguson’s cogent support of such.
I am suddenly partially relieved to agree at a gut level with Ferguson concerning schools.
My Own Thoughts
Here are some maxims that I consider for belief.
They are influenced by the book.
Even if I believed them they do not amount to a creed or plan, although they might guide such.
- Localized charity is more likely to be effective for:
- the same reasons of local knowledge that Hayek invokes to explain the difficulties of central planning,
- the nature of corruption,
- tyranny of the majority.
- Voluntary charity has a free rider problem.
- Internet provides opportunities for charities such as open source software and Wikipedia.
These serve real societal needs but those needs are largely disjoint from the needs whose service was celebrated by Tocqueville.
Tocqueville spoke of geographically limited needs that were seen and met when facile communication was only local.
Today Hayek’s observations about local knowledge now applies to subject matter localized by knowledge speciality rather than geography.
Scientific cooperation has usually been international but it proceeded with publishing latencies of months; now it is hours.
(Gestation of ideas is the new limiting factor.)
Hayek’s point is no less important in this case given cheap distance communication; indeed it may be even more important.
There remain important geographically limited problems to be solved and Internet does not address those well.
(Geographic community e-mail lists do contribute!)
I would tender the possibility that one sort of collective cooperation is displacing another sort in people’s capacity to contribute.
The older sorts of needs are not necessarily receding however.
- Murry’s Coming Apart, which I have read, or Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” of which I have read reviews, did not make me feel like joining a club.
Nor does this book but now I worry.