What I’ve been reading

1. Rob Reich, Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How it Can Do Better.  A sustained argument that current manifestations of philanthropy are not very egalitarian or necessarily realizing democratic ideals.  My views stand “to the right” of this book, but for some of you it will serve as a very good articulation of why philanthropy might be making you nervous.

2. Edmund White, The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading.  An exquisitely written book, yet his reading narrative leaves me cold (too much an insider? not eccentric enough?).  I found the chapter on his husband and their relationship extraordinarily compelling.  A highly intelligent book, at the very least.

3. Jason Brennan, When All Else Fails: The Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice.  A well-argued libertarian take on exactly what the subtitle promises.

4. Robert Skidelsky, Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics.  The history of macro and money told through its historical development, which in my view is the right approach.  The coverage ranges from the classical economists up through the present day.  I hope this book does well.

5. Nicola Gennaioli and Andrei Shleifer, A Crisis of Beliefs: Investor Psychology and Financial Fragility.  An “as smart as you would expect” take on the hypothesis that investor over-extrapolation of recent price trends can cause financial crises, including our recent financial crisis.


Nice list. A. Shleifer made several hundred million as an economist in the post Soviet republics, giving conventional IMF/World Bank type advice and getting in on the ground floor of the kleptocracy. Not bad work if you can get it. I'm sure he doesn't care you and I think.

3. In the webpage of the book, PUP writes

Why you have the right to resist unjust government

The economist Albert O. Hirschman famously argued that citizens of democracies have only three possible responses to injustice or wrongdoing by their governments: we may leave, complain, or comply. But in When All Else Fails, Jason Brennan argues that there is a fourth option. When governments violate our rights, we may resist. We may even have a moral duty to do so.

For centuries, almost everyone has believed that we must allow the government and its representatives to act without interference, no matter how they behave. We may complain, protest, sue, or vote officials out, but we can’t fight back. But Brennan makes the case that we have no duty to allow the state or its agents to commit injustice. We have every right to react with acts of “uncivil disobedience.” We may resist arrest for violation of unjust laws. We may disobey orders, sabotage government property, or reveal classified information. We may deceive ignorant, irrational, or malicious voters. We may even use force in self-defense or to defend others.

The result is a provocative challenge to long-held beliefs about how citizens may respond when government officials behave unjustly or abuse their power.

Jason Brennan is the Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. His many books include Against Democracy and The Ethics of Voting (both Princeton).


“A superb book. Brennan clearly and convincingly defends the radical idea that ordinary citizens may use force against injustice perpetrated by government officials, just as they would against fellow citizens.”—Christopher Heath Wellman, Washington University in St. Louis
End of quote

First, we should not confuse Jason Brennan with John Brennan who has been resisting Trump’s resistance to John&Co.’s involvement in violating the rights of Trump’s 'deplorables'. Perhaps this confrontation of two opposing governments —each one violating the rights of the other as if the U.S. had been facing a coup d'état— will be a good test of how far Jason’s proposed response may go. Although I doubt that resort to violence will solve it, neither compliance with the law nor complaining in all its varieties (protest, sue, or vote officials out) will provide a solution. We can bet that both parties will continue deceiving ignorant, irrational, AND malicious voters for a long time, but I laugh at the idea of deceptions as acts of uncivil disobedience. They are part of the normal arsenal of all politicians, and as long as politicians believe that those voters are an absolute majority they will continue using them (the emergence of “socialism” in the U.S. political competition is a clear example that some, old and new, politicians believe that today the number of those voters is much larger than one suspects).

Second, although all the information that I have about the forthcoming book is the one copied above, I wonder how Jason Brennan may argue in favor of acts of civil disobedience that have a long history of failure (for example, the past few days some articles and posts were circulated about what happened 50 years ago in Chicago: the rebels of the Democrat Convention in Chicago “succeeded” in not electing HH but the winner was RN). More important, I wonder under what conditions JB regards the use of force as legitimate and effective because resort to violence is a “solution” only when followed by the elimination or a radical transformation of most losers. I hope JB brings new ideas to these old debates.

'famously argued that citizens of democracies have only three possible responses to injustice or wrongdoing by their governments'

Odd how such a famous argument does not include the one action open to those living in democracies, an action that pretty much defines the very concept of democracy - the ability of citizens to vote and replace those in charge or involved in injustice or wrongdoing .

I think that PUP's presentation of the book includes voting officials out of office as a form of complaining. Anyway, this inclusion is consistent with Hirschman's view. This is why in my first point I referred to a variety of complaining.

Fair enough, but voting people out office is the essence of a functioning democratic system - to call it a form of complaining seems to miss the point of the mechanism involved.

As I said the book is not yet available and I have read only what Princeton University Press (PUP) says about it.

I assume that Brennan chooses talks about complaining because his analysis is focused on situations in which people want to respond to government actions that they reject. Hirschman used the word voice to refer to responses to good and bad actions.

EB postulates: "For centuries, almost everyone has believed that we must allow the government and its representatives to act without interference, no matter how they behave."

Nonsense. Even in medieval philosophy - hardly a radical affair - there was a long-standing tradition according to which it was not merely legitimate to slay a tyrant: one had a duty to do so. John of Salisbury's Policraticus contains the most influential version of the argument. See e.g. Cary J. Nederman (1988) "A duty to kill: John of Salisbury's theory of tyrannicide", The Review of Politics, 50(3). https://doi.org/10.1017/S0034670500036305

Sorry, that is what the PUP's presentation of the book states. I quoted the presentation as a background to my two points.

Summary of #1: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/06/against-philanthropy/563834/

It isn't the public's money just because there's a tax break, idiot. And no, "experts" and politicians aren't any better or more public-spirited than rich philanthropists. What worse are the complaints from the public school establishment, especially the despicable teachers' unions.

"Third, they are donor-directed. The employees—the people on the ground— 'can’t determine the mission' of the organization. Fourth, the donor’s intent must be respected even when the donor has died. Societies grow and change, but the mission defined by the creator of the foundation remains the mission in perpetuity."

That is a major source of corruption by employees. The Olin Foundation was smart in limiting the duration of its existence to prevent that from happening (I was a small beneficiary as a grad student via one of Allan Bloom's former students).

1. The notion as stated is silly. It's not the purpose of philanthropy to 'support' 'democracy'. The purpose is to provide services which do not emerge naturally on the open market.

2. It's Robert Reich. That old wreck could have been so much better than he is. Indubitably, his complaint will be that philanthropic organizations (which are, as we speak, staffed by liberals stem to stern) are too inner-directed ant insufficiently incorporated into the Borg creature that includes the Democratic Party. More gleichschaltung is what these people are about these days.

I don't think you're talking about the same Robert Reich. Rob Reich is just a political theorist on philanthropy, not the Democratic politician.

From the reviews:

“Rob Reich (no relation) shows how, through the charitable tax deduction, philanthropy is subsidized by the public but unaccountable to the public. So as wealth accumulates at the top and as government reduces its support for many nonprofit activities, decisions by family foundations and wealthy individuals about whom and what to support pose a profound challenge to democracy. Important, lucid, and timely.”―Robert B. Reich, author of The Common Good

3. Jason Brennan, When All Else Fails: The Ethics of Resistance to State Injustice. A well-argued libertarian take on exactly what the subtitle promises.

You mean an argument by a tenured academic that his preferred clientele should get in the face of police officers. His other forthcoming book is a brief for open borders. IOW, he's a promoter of chaos, and the implications of his arguments in practical terms he doesn't get because he's a sperg-bonehead.

Can we 'resist' the injustices promoted by academics? Say, by giving libertarian twits the bloody good hiding they've earned and deserve?

5. So it's the investors' fault. The president's recent gaffe exposed that lie. What gaffe? He threatened the Fed chair if stock prices flatten out or fall. Today, prosperity is promoted and defined by rising asset prices, not consumer prices, but real estate and financial assets. Sure, behavioral economics plays a big part, including the behavior of the owners of the assets: the wealth effect promotes consumption when asset prices are rising. The implication of this book is that crazy investors cause financial instability. What about the crazy policy makers who rely on those crazy investors to achieve prosperity. Yesterday, Cowen suggested that it's capital mobility that has caused flat productivity and wage growth in the U.S. True enough, but the returns from that capital, when invested abroad in productive capital, often are realized by American companies and reflected in American companies' profits, thereby causing their stock prices to rise. Who benefits from this arrangement? Is there an alternative? Crazy policy makers produce crazy investors.

'Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy' .. As I recall from the book Growing Public (2004) Lindert does a solid job of making the case that social spending through philanthropy, mostly church donations, was never remotely up to the levels of amounts found to work effectively by large government programs. (But I haven't read it since 2004.) (Award-winning book about the growth of government social spending programs over the centuries in many countries not being an economic race-to-the-bottom of fiscal bankruptcy, but rather if anything the reverse. I'd say, think human capital infrastructure improvement and maintenance.)

1. Related, from Ed Dolan


Are any of the books self-recommending? Also did you do a regular read or a Straussian read of the books? Markets-in-everything Libertarians need to know.

Hi, very good article.
Thanks for sharing, keep up the good work.

Hey I hope you are still reading "Clarissa Harlowe". I know it is a long long book but the last few hundred pages are really really good.

1. Most foundations are run by left-wing ideologues. "The Burden of Bad Ideas". Heather MacDonald

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