New Year’s eve

Well here it is, the end of December and I’m just now writing a post. And I’ll start with a resolution to write more in the New Year than I have in the last three months. I was looking over the numbers for this year – because one of the best parts about blogging is that you get statistics on viewership – and it felt like I had written kind of a lot. Nothing especially profound, but I did do some writing. And somebody somewhere read some of it.

It’s not for want of worthy blogging topics over the past few months that I haven’t posted. The 2016 elections happened. Trump’s cabinet of horrors. Reflections on opera – Das Rheingold was much funnier than expected – and music and so on. I taught four classes this past semester and beginning in the next few weeks I’ll be teaching four more. One intro, one macro, one micro, and one titled “Theories of Justice” and having to do very much with Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. There will be lots of travel, and hopefully lots of reading, and certainly a great deal of work. But I won’t be writing a book chapter, so that’s helpful. I often found I’d feel guilty writing a blog post while I had pending stuff for the book chapter. It was a challenging project for me, and I’m glad it’s done. Next weekend I’m going to Chicago for the American Economic Association’s 2017 annual conference, so that’s exciting. I was surprised to see the the Union for Radical Political Economy has sessions at the AEA (and kind of excited to check them out).

2017 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Karl Marx’s Das Capital, and I think I’d like to try reading the whole thing this year. I have a weird relationship with Marx – he’s a tradition unto himself, and that can make him fascinating. But there’s also a real politics around Marxism that makes taking it seriously feel very ridiculous. It can be liberating to be ridiculous, if you can keep it straight. It’s harder than it looks.

I also intend to return to my blogging Piketty project. I recently picked up Milanovic’s Global Ineuality: A new approach for the Age of Globalization, and I expect that will get added to the mix. In truth, I picked up an absurd quantity of new books to add to my pile of necessary reading in the past month or so. In particular on a trip to my hometown of Shaker Heights.

My desk is a small mountain of papers and books right now, and I desperately need to clean up ahead of the oncoming workload. But before I get to that, I wanted to first write a little about the recent speech by John Kerry.

I watched a clip of the speech at first, and then clips of various folks responding, negatively for the most part. Then I sort of accidentally watched the whole speech. John Kerry, Secretary of State of the US, delivered a major speech following a UN vote condemning the building of settlements by Israelis in the West Bank – in the UN vote the US simply abstained, in effect letting the vote go through where it had not in years before when such resolutions had taken place in earlier years. Kerry’s speech was long and showed a man at the end of his fucking rope. There was something wonderfully symbolic about the whole thing. Kerry spent most of his career in politics as a Senator from Massachussetts. He comes from a prominent Masschussetts family (although his father came of eastern European Jewish stock), and was educated in elite New England institutions. He married into a gigantic fortune. He is the very definition of East coast liberal elite. And in his speech he made on last appeal for a sensible two state solution, noting that Israel, if it wanted to pursue a one state policy, as the steady expansion of settlements in the West Bank implies, then it can be Jewish or Democratic or both. Its a vision that contains the very essence of the internationalist liberal vision. So here is Kerry making this speech, 3 weeks ahead of the inauguration of Donald Trump to the Presidency, and it really felt like a eulogy for the liberal vision. This is the end, folks.

So, in Greek, the word demos means “people” but can be contrasted with ethnos which means an association of people. Within Athens, the people were the demos. Foreigners were ethnos. My understanding of modern democracy is that as one becomes part of the people involved in governing the state one loses ones alliegence as part of an ethnos. This is, in some sense, what I think Kerry is talking about when he says Israel can be Jewish or Democratic but not both. If Palestinians living within the territory ruled by Israel (including the West Bank and Gaza) cannot be given full voting rights because it might threaten the present Jewish majority, then Israel won’t really be a democracy. If you take a long view of US history, you can scarcely say that the US has always been a democracy, since many of its citizens have been excluded from full democratic rights. I’d argue that the whole concept of the nation-state would come under criticism as well here, but that’s a whole long running debate that stretches over centuries.

It is my sense that the election of Trump signalled the end of an era, and we’re about to see a new era emerge. It’s a dangerous time, I suppose, but then the world is always a dangerous place. In any event, it seems like this was the inevitable end of the victory of the US in the Cold War. Now that there’s no threat of an international communist government, everybody wants to be free to follow their selfish interests with no disruption from anybody else. And everybody wants to argue that they’re for peace, they’re for justice, and so on. Shit, who isn’t for fucking peace and justice? But how do we make decisions? Who makes them? Who decides the parameters? Those questions are no longer clear – indeed, they’re in a constant state of question now. And I think Kerry knew it when he made jthat speech about Israel. He saw that the jig is up. But there was a weird irony that it was Kerry making that eulogy. From the perspective of many, even most, Americans, Kerry is the representative of the New England Yankee ethnos, which has been dominanating the country for decades. If Trump has a mandate, it is to bring the liberals – who come out of New England – to heel. To get revenge for decades of liberal reforms.

Happy new years, everyone. It’s going to be a long one.

Published by samuelbarbour

Besides writing a blog, I also teach, farm, cook, and play music. I live in the Illinois River Valley with my partner, Molly Breslin, who sometimes posts stuff at

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