Sunday, July 24, 2011

Disintegration of the State: a Tentative and Partial Survey of the Literature

For no purpose except my own entertainment, I've been drawing together a list of stuff that addresses what you might call "sovereignty," or better, "the disintegration of sovereignty." I suppose I'm prompted by my discussion of Janine Wedel's Shadow Elite which I discussed here yesterday--flawed but suggestive enough to get me thinking about its possible companions.

I can think of two in particular: Nicholas Shaxson's Treasure Islands about the havens, tax and otherwise that serve to insulate the toffs from the rest of us.  The other is Ian Bremmer's The End of Free Markets  about sovereign wealth funds.  Particularly with Bremmer, I'd want to compare a couple of recent books on the role of government in managing the economy--Milhaupt and Pistor's Law and Capitalism, and Walter, Fraser and Howie, Red Capitalism .  The former is a set of case studies about government intervention in corporate activity; the latter, a dense and fairly technical account of the Looking-Glass world of Chinese finance.  For comparison/contrast, you could throw in Asgeir Jonsson's Why Iceland?  about a country that thought it was driving the bus and found itself sweeping up behind the elephant.    

Reaching beyond standard models of market behavior, I'm tempted to throw in Misha Glenny's McMafia, a somewhat uneven survey of world-wide organized crime--also Kaplan and Dubro's Yakuza, about one nation where organized crime appears to function as part of the bureaucratized state.  So as not to be accused of insularity, I could also include Denton and Morris' The Money and  the Power, an overheated and perhaps too-readable account of the mob and Las Vegas (interesting how the title is almost the same as the title of William D. Cohan's new history of Goldman Sachs.

Virtually everything on this list is point-with-alarm critical.  For a more positive view, you might want to add Ashraf Ghani's  Fixing Failed States.  This is about the only book on the list that gives serious consideration to the question of what we want a state to do--though even here, the discussion is more reportorial (what we've come to expect) than in any way theoretical.   Matching Ghani,  perhaps I should include David A. Moss superb When All Else Fails (Government as the Ultimate Risk Manager).  Moss is certainly hospitable to the government as a guarantor of security although he indulges in at least a few moments of skepticism on the issue how much risk we can actually manage (Compare: Singapore as Disneyland with the death penalty.  Perhaps compare: Did Charles De Gaulle truly say "How do you govern a nation which has 246 kinds of cheese?"?).   And just to top off the package, I suppose I should throw in David Rothkopf's   Superclass, insofar as it continues an elite that transcends sovereignty so much that it begin to take on the character of a sovereignty all its own.  Oh, and one another--I'm haven't finished it yet, but I'd say that if you want to get insight into the current state of communal loyalty and identity, you could do a lot worse than read Simon Kuper's Football against the Enemy.

None of these is, as I suggest, really satisfactory as theory, but that in itself may be an important in its own way.  They've virtually all in their different ways masters of the "inconvenient fact."  And the very grittiness of the empiricism may help to  explain the absence of generalization: one way or another, the authors are confessing that the topic is just too damn big for them.


brad said...

Let me, for one, point out that France has a lot more than 246 kinds of cheese...

Buce said...

You know and I know, but did DeGaulle know?