Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Today's WSJ includes Alan Blinder's "My Economic Wish List". The Journal also has about a dozen pieces that argue against any optimism that polticians can do more good than harm -- notably "Stimulus Brings Out City Wish Lists: Neon for Vegas, Harleys for Shreveport". Yet many smart people continue to to be optimistic about this hash. Go figure.

I have just read Orlando Figes' The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia. Just when we think that we have grasped at least the idea of the horrors of the totalitarians in the 20th century, another book or film or revelation comes along to bowl us over. Figes has assembled previously concealed correspondences and diaries from Stalin's USSR. These personal accounts of how people's lives were destroyed are stunning, to say the least. And these are the recollections of those who were not (yet) abducted and shot.

It was not simply the guns and the corruption that put a huge population into the penitentiary society, it also required the power of crackpot utopian ideas. Timur Kuran has described the phenomenon of Preference Falsficiation, and so it was. But getting up close as via Figes' chronicles (as close as I ever care to get) reminds us that evil, political power and utopian ideas have a way of coalescing and bonding.

How do you keep the daily news from becoming a depressant? Read all about other people's problems and tragedies. Works every time. I think.