Tag Archives: politics

Book: China Since 1911

China Since 1911

Explains 1911 to 1989 in more political detail than you’ll ever need to know!
315 pages, 

China Since 1911 is told from a purely political perspective. This book is a concise, authoritative historical account of the 1911 Nationalist revolution to the anti-reform protests of 1989. This period of history was one of China’s most tumultuous: warlords fought each other in the 1910s, the Nationalist regime collapsed into mini-states in the 1920s, Japan invaded in the 1930s, then World War II broke out in the 1940s. Widespread famine took root in the 1950s, the Cultural Revolution uprooted what little progress China had made in the 1960s, Mao’s death in the 1970s left China politically divided and spiritually lost, then anti-corruption protests spread across the nation from west to east in the 1980s, the most famous of which took place in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Only the last chapter of this book, when the dust starts to settle, does China show any signs of hope!

You’ll learn almost nothing about Chinese culture from this book. It documents the internal political struggles that gave rise to certain (crazy) decisions, but makes almost no comment on the social implications of those decisions. The text is littered with names of medium-level Chinese officials whom I’ll never remember. For a social history, I recommend reading Mao’s Last DancerWild Swans or the soothing 窈窕淑女的标准(宋尚宫女论语研习报告)(Chinese) instead.

While China Since 1911 is extremely well-researched, there was not enough social emphasis for my liking. This book should be renamed China’s Political Leadership since 1911 instead. 


Book: Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (Schumpeter)

Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy
Intellectual hundredweight. Medicine for avid intellectual Marxists. Since I'm neither Marxist nor intellectual, reading this book made me feel like a tourist.

Heavy. Like swimming through treacle.
442 pages, ★★★★

Schumpeter begins this book with an intelligent analysis of Karl Marx to grip Marxist readers. In the book’s later chapters, he analyses the logical flaws of socialism only implicitly, allowing Marxists to criticise their own position.

Schumpeter flatters Marx for predicting the rise of private “big businesses”. He also explains Marx’s simplistic two-class ideology by calling it the only means of achieving Marx’s “dictatorship of the proletariat” goal. Schumpeter explains that a revolution’s success can only be measured if the heir to the throne (such as “the proletariat”) is clearly-defined; and if rule were to be given to some nebulous group such as the “middle class”, chaos would result (before the old ruling class settles back in). In musing about global uprising, Marx had no choice but (wrongly) to divide society in two.

While Schumpeter acknowledges the end of capitalism and the onset of socialism, he says (famously), “If a doctor predicts that his patient will die presently, this does not mean that he desires it.” According to Schumpeter, socialism will arrive not by a revolution but by evolution, in which socialist governments are elected democratically with increasing frequency.

This was a very heavy read. It muses over stuff. Here are some highlights:

p47: Schumpeter tells us that big businesses take advantage of a country’s contempt for the rest of the world when advocating protectionist policies. Such policies always prioritize profits for that business over the interests of the country being protected.

p69: Schumpeter criticizes the buying up of patents as investments or to stifle competitors because to prevent the use of technology is invariably a hinderance to human development, and this is morally unjust.

p118: We learn that in the absence of continued innovation, capitalism becomes atrophic and yields to socialism. In other words, capitalism requires growth. This reminded me of Tim Jackson’s poorly-written, CO2-obsessed book, Prosperity Without Growth. Tim Jackson made ridiculous assumptions, extrapolated economic data ad absurdum then drew ridiculous conclusions (for example, that by 2050, a thriving human economy will be primarily concerned with removing CO2 from the atmosphere). Shortly after this outrageous book was published, the environmental quango he headed was cut by the coalition government. Hooray!

p188: the discipline of workers in a capitalist economy was created and handed down by feudal society. Schumpeter tells us that all progress is a result of disciplined, authoritarian training undergone in the past. It follows that socialism would fail unless it fosters more discipline than the capitalist society it replaces (see my review of On Revolution).

On page 136, he talks about higher education. He makes three points:

  1. Higher education is an ineffective means of creating supply. Higher education will lead to sector-specific unemployment.
  2. For the same reason, higher education will lead to unsatisfactory conditions of employment (e.g. white collar workers earning less than manual laborers)
  3. And then there’s my favorite quote from the whole book (pages 136-137),

[Higher education] may crease unemployability of a particularly disconcerting type. The man who has gone through a college or university easily becomes psychically unemployable in manual occupations without necessarily acquiring employability in, say, professional work.His failure to do so may be due either to lack of natural ability—perfectly compatible with passing academic tests—or to inadequate teaching; and both cases will, absolutely and relatively, occur more frequently as ever larger numbers are drafted into higher education and the required amount of teaching increases irrespective of how many teachers and scholars nature chooses to turn out. The results of neglecting this and of acting on the theory that schools, colleges and universities are just a matter of money, are too obvious to insist upon.

One last point of interest: on page 235,

“[ignorance] persists even in the face of the meritorious efforts that are being made to go beyond presenting information and to teach the use of it by means of lecture, classes, discussion groups. Results are not zero. But they are small. People cannot be carried up the ladder.

Everyone will find something of interest in this book. But I couldn’t follow everything. Reading Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy is like walking into a cinema then realizing that the film’s in a language that you don’t speak very well. Fans of politick with a lot of time on their hands will enjoy reading this book the most. And by reading this, I learned that I’m neither of those things. Well-written. ★★★★

Book: Class Warfare: Inside the fight to fix America’s schools

Class Warfare: several heroic Americans busted a trade union to make education better and cheaper for all.

Written from the front lines of politics, not from in front of a blackboard.
478 pages, ★★★ 

Reading this book feels like skimming the travel journal of a candidate on a presidential campaign. Class Warfare is dry, piecemeal, littered with bureaucratic bullshit and lacks clear direction. This is a book about politics, not about education. In total, students are granted less than one page of attention. Teaching techniques are mentioned even less often and can be condensed down to, “put your kids in a U-shape—bad ones go in the middle”.

This is a book about politics, not about education

This book was irrelevant for me. I expected to learn how to reform broken schools, how to train teachers, or at least how to teach a class. Instead, reading Class Warfare just tells us there are two problems with America’s education system: (1) incompetent teachers (some of them sleep during class); and (2) unions. Since the former are locked in overpaid employment by the latter, the unions can be blamed for America’s declining public schools (and basically everything else—this is clearly a Republican book). Busting those unions (and laying off incompetent teachers) is described repeatedly as the best remedy.

A few heroic characters join the fight against unions: Bill Gates, Jon Schnur, and Jessica Reid. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded school reform in New York, in which, the right to bypass unions was central to the program’s success. Bypassing the teachers’ union gave schools the right to pay less, fire people, reward good performance, and, most importantly, allowed education managers to do their jobs without fear of excessive, crippling derailment from co-ordinated (angry) teachers and parents. Teachers unions had schools in a straightjacket.

Yes, unions have been partly responsible for the decline of America’s public schools because they turned teaching from a respected (but low-paid) profession into a comfortable safety net for the otherwise unemployable (for every great teacher, there are several idiots who just get by on the same salary). But after reading this book, I still think that busting those unions is not the best way to reform public schools. Ideally, the unions could lead the reform. Unions could set up classes where “good” teachers teach “bad” teachers; or provide teacher training rather than saying “more money for teachers” repeatedly. Unions caused problems in America’s public schools, but, as groups of interested professionals, they also have the potential to fix them.

Anyone interested in political bickering should read this. Republicans, especially, will get a buzz from this book even if they don’t learn much from it. Democrats should read this as a fictional drama, which is at worst, just slightly offensive. The political divide gives Class Warfare very mixed reviews on Amazon.

What did I learn? I’m done with education, and I’m done with politics. And I’m extremely happy to be independent and self-employed in an industry with zero regulation. That’s all the relevant knowledge I need from this book. ★★★