NB that there are two differences between this post and my last one. First – there are substantial spoilers beneath the fold. Second, Stross’s book (Powells, Amazon)is a _very_ plausible Hugo nominee for this year (MacLeod’s book isn’t, for the obvious reasons of publication dates etc). Hugo nominations close this week – I’ll try to cover another couple of books that I think could be nominated tomorrow.

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Somewhat later than promised, I was motivated to write my follow-up post to the Greece choose-your-own adventure one. If you recall, the decisions in that post were motivated by advice from “Maynard”, your advisor working for “The One World Government”. In actual fact, there isn’t a One World Government, and the people who have jobs similar to Maynard’s all work for a variety of international organizations which are tasked with doing a job similar to what a global government would do, but without any power to make anyone do anything. Alan Beattie of the FT (full disclosure – a mate, we were at the Bank of England together) has spent the last fifteen or so years covering these international institutions and has now written a book called “Who’s In Charge Here?” (Americans), which in a typically punchy and exasperated style, sets out the complete mess which is the state of global financial institutions today. I will now review that book in the “London Review of Books style” – ie, by writing an essay on a tangential subject of interest to myself, and then tacking on a paragraph or so about the book at the end.
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Oh noes! The lefties are mocking us!

by Chris Bertram on March 7, 2012

Julian Sanchez has a post up complaining about all us horrible lefties who are deriving great enjoyment from the fact that, in the Koch/Cato bunfight, shills for the rights of private property are being stiffed by those same private property rights. Corey Robin has a pretty good reply, so go read Corey.

Sanchez:

bq. when it comes to the ongoing Koch/Cato conflict, there’s a bafflingly widespread round of herp-derpery rippling through blogs on the left and the right, wherein people imagine it’s clever to point out the supposed irony of libertarian scholars failing to enthusiastically embrace a couple billionaires’ putative property rights over the institution. This is just strange. …I’m not arguing that Congress should intervene somehow. I’m arguing that exercising those rights as they seemingly intend to is a bad idea; that their direct control would, in itself, be damaging to Cato’s credibility; and that I’m not interested in working for the Republican talking-point factory that all evidence suggests they envision. Like rain on your wedding day and other infamous Alanisisms, that’s kind of crappy, but not “ironic” in any recognizable sense. I realize progressives think libertarianism is just code for uncritical worship of rich people, but as that’s not actually the case, the only irony here is that people think they’re scoring some kind of gotcha point when they’re actually exposing the silliness of their own caricature.

Well of course Sanchez is correct. Libertarians are as free as anyone else to criticize people for the way they exercise their rights, they just don’t think the state should coerce people to act in various ways. They can deplore Scrooge like selfishness just as sincerely as any leftie, they just think it would be wrong of the state to force Scrooge to be be nice to the poor. So it goes.

No doubt there are some soft and cuddly propertarians out there who insist on the rights to private property (and hence oppose enforceable positive duties) but who privately devote their time, money and other resources to helping the global (and local) poor. To those libertarians, I apologise in advance. However, to those libertarians who have spent ink and energy arguing that not only would it be _wrong_ to force to rich to help the poor but also that it would be _pointless_ or _counterproductive_ I do not. And then there are those libertarians who don’t even both with _pointless_ or _counterproductive_ but who argue that the strong helping the weak is just _wrong_, namely the Randians. So, pure-in-spirit rights-defenders (of whom Julian Sanchez may be one): just take it on the chin for now and spend some time arguing with the wealthy that, whilst they have a perfect right to spend their money funding Cato (or Heritage, or the AEI) they really could make better use of their rights by sending their cash to the sub-Saharan poor or similar. (See also, this “very old post of mine”:https://crookedtimber.org/2005/06/14/if-youre-a-libertarian-how-come-youre-so-mean/ ).

Mrs Beeton, the Voltaire of caffeine

by John Quiggin on March 7, 2012

Sighted at Port Arthur, Tasmania, this quote from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton (emphasis added):

-It is true, says Liebig, that thousands have lived without a knowledge of tea and coffee; and daily experience teaches us that, under certain circumstances, they may be dispensed with without disadvantage to the merely animal functions; but it is an error, certainly, to conclude from this that they may be altogether dispensed with in reference to their effects; and it is a question whether, if we had no tea and no coffee, the popular instinct would not seek for and discover the means of replacing them. Science, which accuses us of so much in these respects, will have, in the first place, to ascertain whether it depends on sensual and sinful inclinations merely, that every people of the globe have appropriated some such means of acting on the nervous life, from the shore of the Pacific, where the Indian retires from life for days in order to enjoy the bliss of intoxication with koko, to the Arctic regions, where Kamtschatdales and Koriakes prepare an intoxicating beverage from a poisonous mushroom. We think it, on the contrary, highly probable, not to say certain, that the instinct of man, feeling certain blanks, certain wants of the intensified life of our times, which cannot be satisfied or filled up by mere quantity, has discovered, in these products of vegetable life the true means of giving to his food the desired and necessary quality.