What I've Been Reading | November 2023
This one is a short one – China and tribalism
I started, but did not finish many books this month. There are truly only two I can report on.
📖 Political Tribes by Amy Chua
Fine and fast book about the importance of ethno-cultural identity – something that should be incorporated into everyone's picture of politics.
The strongest part of the book is its discussion of American failures in Vietnam. Great example about how ideology (anti-communism) can blind.
The discussion of American identity politics is the weakest. It's not that deep, even if it's better than most discussions of the matter. She also spends too much time on ephemeral issues that American centrists and liberals were too obsessed about around 2016.
As a provocation about an issue that is only going to matter more over the next few decades, it's a good book.
📖 China After Mao by Frank Dikötter
Many are long China for a mix of economic, political, and cultural factors. China is the superpower of the 21st century and all that.
One way to read this book, despite its subtitle, is as a solid short China book.
The behavior of the main actors is often best explained by with the simple goal of keeping the party in power, or more specifically, their faction in power. The party didn't understand basic economic and financial principles until the end of the 20th century. Many market successes are short term with serious strategic costs, waste, and heavy debt. Corruption is rampant. Anti-corruption campaigns are corruption in another name. Political and economic liberalism is not and has never been on the horizon. The party has consolidated power over the past few decades (there's reason to think that its power was overrated for much of the 20th century) and that's good for state-capacity. Given the party's track record we should expect China to continue to grow in an unstable fashion for the next few decades and then eventually implode.
There's much to quibble with and I am not qualified to fully assess whether that case or reading is correct. On this model there's always the question – why hasn't China imploded yet?