Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008


Posted by Simon Halliday | Sunday, July 06, 2008 | Category: , , |

Have a look at this recent article from the Economist (hat tip: Mike). Flag of

The article has a good sense of clarity and is quite typical of the economist in its biases (more sarcasm on this later). However, where it falls through is in its argument that
You cannot start again. In 1945 the UN’s founders had a clean slate to write upon, because everything had been destroyed.
The UN was based on the League of Nations, which had basically died because of its ineptitude and its inability to do anything to control or legislate its members. In fact as the Wikipedia article points out,
The United Nations replaced it (the League of Nations) after the end of the war and inherited a number of agencies and organizations founded by the League.
Was this a clean slate? Did I get taught really, really poor WWI and WWII history when we were told that the many of the UN institutions were derived in the LoN root institutions? If I was taught semi-decent history it would imply that the 'clean slate' assertion is in fact incorrect.

(Additionally it is worth consider, 'clean slate' in terms of whom? or which countries in particular? oohhh... yes Western democracies... of course, we can't have those not-yet-independent Africans and Asians running around 'our' institutions can we?)

Soviets with Lend-Lease Jeep
However, the author does make some valid assessments of the power-games inherent in the structuring of the UN and of the ways in which the individual governments assess and re-assess their own and their competitors positions. Moreover, when it discusses Senator McCain's arguments for a 'League of Democracies', it points out the shortcomings of that idea (what counts as a democracy these days?), moreover its final conclusion, is, I believe, a valid one when it states that:
Faced with the need to reform international institutions, the rich
world—and America in particular—has a choice. Cling to power, and China
and India will form their own clubs, focused on their own interests and
problems. Cede power and bind them in, and interests and problems are
shared. Now that would be a decent way to run a world.National Emblem of People's Republic of China
National Emblem of IndiaThis is probably going to be one of the big political debates of our time, how, exactly, are the major international political institutions going to incorporate the powers of the two largest (population-wise) countries in the world? What is going to be done about India and China in order to ensure a continued (relative) world peace? Any other ideas?

Currently have 1 comments:

  1. I didn't think the McCain idea was utterly stupid - quite the contrary actually if you take into consideration the democratic peace thesis. And, yes, definitions are always a problem, but it could always just use Freedom House's assessments. (One worry: it would suddenly put lots of pressure on Freedom House and open the door to corruption).