Passion of the Present has a detailed updae on the situation in Darfur. The most hopeful news in a generally depressing situation is that

The African Union is landing about 300 troops in a few days, to protect its monitors–some of whom are already in Darfur. The AU leadership is currently considering sending more.

This marks a welcome change from the past willingness of African governments to ignore each others’ crimes and failures in the interests of “African unity”.

It’s also promising that, while the Iraq war has made intervention more difficult (for example, by handing a readymade propaganda line to the Janjaweed thugs, who can present themselves as resisting “Crusaders”) it hasn’t stopped the US and “old Europe” co-operating to put pressure on the Sudanese government. That said, the situation in Darfur is bad, and not getting any better at present.

Here’s a report on the UNSC resolution

The Stalinist delusion

Tyler Cowen says

If I could have the answers to five questions in political science/sociology, the appeal of Stalinism to intellectuals would be one of them.

I don’t think this is as difficult a question as is often supposed.

Most of the intellectuals who professed support for Communism during the rule of Stalin (and Lenin) were primarily victims of (self-)deception. They supported the stated aims of the Communist Party (peace, democracy, brotherhood), opposed the things the Communists denounced (fascism, racism, exploitation) and did not inquire too closely into whether the actual practice of the Soviet Union and the parties it controlled was consistent with these stated beliefs. I developed this point, and the contrast with the relatively small group of intellectuals who supported the Nazis, in a review of[1] Mark Lilla’s book The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics
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I’ve been working on a piece about productivity, targeted as an Economics Briefing for the Fin Review. This used to be the Schools Brief, but they’re trying to broaden the appeal a bit. The target audience, I think falls into two groups

* Students with a year or two of economics under their belts

* The subset of the Fin audience with an interest in economic policy issues, as opposed to business news

Any suggestions or criticisms will be much appreciated.

By the way, I hope no-one minds being used as unpaid editorial advisers. The payoff is that you get to read stuff well before the print audience.
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Libertarians and war

Over at the Volokh conspiracy, Randy Barnett poses the question of what Libertarianism as a political philosophy tells us about foreign policy, and comes up with the conclusion “not much”, particularly in relation to war. He says his views are tentative and invites others to contribute to the debate. I’ll accept, partly because it’s intellectually interesting, partly because Jim Henley (who could, I think have done a much better job) has gone into hiatus, and partly because I think internationalism (at least my version of it) shares some points in common with libertarianism, while being opposed on others.
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Not a happy camper

Ross Garnaut has been highly critical of the FTA with the US and the way it has been debated. He has now broadened this criticism into a more generally pessimistic view of the Australian economy. Since Ross has historically been an optimist, this is quite a shift. He points to excessive domestic demand, the current account deficit and signs of incipient inflation, masked by favorable movements in terms of trade.

Garnaut argues that our impending decline is due to the abandonment of microeconomic reform. In my discussion of the Howard government in Robert Manne’s book of the same title, I also observed that microeconomic reform has slowed down substantially under Howard. However, I’m much less of a fan of microeconomic reform than Garnaut – the Kiwis had reform in spades, and it didn’t do them any good. In diagnosing the same imbalances, I’d point to causes such as the deliberate promotion of a boom, then a bubble in the housing market.

In addition, while I don’t believe in mechanistic business cycle models, I think there is some truth to the idea that, the longer an expansion goes on, the more fragile it becomes. A good run of luck breeds complacency, which encourages unsound investments and unwise consumption, and thereby brings about its own downfall. Garnaut rejects this view, saying “no economic expansion is doomed simply on account of its longevity”.