Weekend Reading

May 9th 2021

Every weekend I’m going to be publishing a short digest of some interesting things I’ve been reading and listening to. Here’s the first.

Irish Anti-Imperialist Economics

Since the 1990s Ireland has pursued one of the most hyper-globalized economic and political models in the world, based on ultra low taxation of multinational corporations, also featuring a lot of foreign property speculation and an absurdly outsize international NGO sector. This week I’ve been reading two essays from a young economic researcher Peter Ryan, who published an interesting piece on his website about the very deliberate and strategic rejection of financialization among Ireland’s leading revolutionary thinkers here. He has also just published another piece on the influence of the economist Friedrich List on Sinn Fein founder Arthur Griffith here. Griffith described him as “the man who thwarted England’s dream of the commercial conquest of the world… hated and feared more than any man since Napoleon… the economic teacher of nations… whose work on the National System of Political Economy I would wish to see in the hands of every Irishman”. As Ireland has effectively lost most of its economic and political sovereignty once again, I hope a new generation will revisit, reimagine and take inspiration from the ideas explored in these excellent pieces, including from the modern heterodox revival of List found in Mazzucato and others.

Saved by China?

Meanwhile in America, many are declaring the end of neoliberalism. Aris Roussinos has written at Unherd that competition with China and a global pandemic may have been enough to save America from itself and forced the current administration’s surprising turn toward big national infrastructure spending and a proposed capital gains tax rise. Citing Charles Tilly, who argued “war makes the state” he concludes by saying that great power competition is about to remake America. “The death of the state was announced too early” he concludes, “the dawning age of Western state capitalism has only just begun”. We’ll soon find out.

Caesar of the bayous

Pedro Gonzalez has written a spirited populist call-to-arms about the great Huey P Long, the most charismatic figure in all of American political history and one of many assassinated greats who leave you wondering what might have been. My friends over at the Good Ol Boyz podcast have been reviving Long over the last few months to what I suspect is mainly a disillusioned ex-left audience. Gonzalez pitched his piece specifically to the right, encouraging a shift in political tactics away from the beautiful loser-ism of Conservatism - a common gripe among the younger American right. Given the ultra-rich are bankrolling the cultural left by the billions, I can see how the less money they have to do so would be a double win for right wing populists. I do think Long really was a man who defied these categories. In fact his refusal to make economic justice secondary or a means to an end for a moral or cultural vision was what made him so totally repugnant to all elites and difficult to hijack. But I also wonder if, given what Roussinos has argued above, the boiling point moment of opportunity for this kind of populism has passed in America for now. Regardless, Long got very far before they assassinated him and you can learn a lot from his mastery of populist tactics against all odds. And because elites will always find a way, as Tony Benn famously said, “There is no final victory, as there is no final defeat. There is just the same battle to be fought, over and over again.”

I also highly recommend the Long biography by T. Harry Williams for those who want to read more and the Ken Burns documentary on him, in which journalists and others casually recall how every elite gathering at the time ended in the same tormented discussion about how they were going to get rid of Huey Long.