Post Apathy's Monthly Digest: November 2021

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Contents

The Latest From Post Apathy

I combined my monthly essay and book review in a piece exploring the Great Founder theory manuscript. This book is one of those rare works that changes your outlook on several related bodies of knowledge, such as history, politics, economics, and sociology. The main insight from GFT is that a few founders, institutions, and bodies of knowledge are responsible for much of the design of the modern world. This insight is valuable when applied to the role of the state in fostering industry and creating the technical knowledge and material prosperity that gives them an edge over nations.

The world is increasingly divided between the few, sovereign states with strong high value manufacturing bases and powerful but competent bureaucracies, and states that exist on paper alone, increasingly threatened by the rise of sub-state actors. The Taliban in Afghanistan, Hezbollah in Lebanon, military-grade drug militias in Mexico, or the Tigray faction in Ethopia marching on Addis Ababa, point to increasing state failure in many parts of the world.

Analysing the material order of reality is more important than debates over the influence of Enlightenment philosophy or abstracting the conflicts of the 20th century as an ideological triple royale between (liberal) capitalism, fascism, and communism. True power flows from a million factories producing on your own shores, and the competition for control of the industrial order continues to be the centre around which geopolitical conflict will occur.

The November digest continues with the themes of legibility, substate actors, and effective industrial policy. These themes are all interlinked: the modern state is sustained through legibility, and requires a powerful industrial base to be economically prosperous and politically relevant. Where a state cannot make the landscape of society legible for the sake of control (conscription, taxation, the monopoly of violence), it cannot order society towards industry, and will have to contend with the rise of versatile substate actors who take advantage of state failure to build parallel forms of governance.

The Writing Workshop

I've added a new section to the archives called the writing workshop where I compile my favourite guides on how to write well.

November Reading

Anthropology

One of the key innovations of industry was the standardisation of measurement and manufacture to drive down inefficiencies and standardise production. This essay explores how 'inefficient' customs of measurement remain very important for cognitive adaptation to idiosyncratic situations, and how the rigid, standardised forms of measurement aimed at producing greater legibility often fail to adapt to new situations. This essay shares parallels with two essays from the previous monthly digest: Tradition is Smarter Than You Are, and The Trouble with the View From Above. I highly recommend reading these essays together.

Culture & Society

By N.S. Lyons

An intriguing essay that makes the case for America's culture war as being a metaphysical war over who gets to define reality. The 'woke' trend is really a continuation of Gnosticism into the modern era, seeking to redefine reality on its terms, particularly realities around gender and sex.

Governance

By Fin DePencier

There's an interesting phenomenon in recent years with sub-state actors developing parallel governing institutions to state governments. This field report looks at the parallel government being formed by Hezbollah in Lebanon, who often offer superior services for food, energy, and security than the Lebanese government or security forces.

Political Economy

This is a fantastic read on Israel's state-driven industrial policy from the 1970s onwards. Israel wanted to avoid the American idea of 'innovate here/produce there' which inevitably becomes 'produce there/innovate there'. Israel implemented a carrot-stick approach to ensure Israeli technology companies were innovating and producing in Israel. Between the 1980s to 2000s, Israel's share of high-tech industrial exports went from 14% to 54% of its economy. However, much of this industrial policy was undone after the 2000s because of venture capitalist lobbying whose incentives were deeply misaligned with technological innovation. Venture capitalists wanted to invest after a company had created something in the hopes that within the next five to ten years it would be sold for a significant profit. The conclusion is that while Israeli technology companies have seen a boom in valuations and a flood of foreign investment, job growth rates have significantly slowed and Israel has a harder time incubating domestic manufacturing.

Science & Technology

This is a paywalled report breaking down the institutional ecosystem of bureaucracies and corporations involved in China's space race. America's space efforts are now largely driven by private companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX, while China's effort is led and controlled by the state, with private companies playing an auxilliary role. State-driven innovation is highly underrated. Case studies like China's space effort and Israel's industrial policy joins a growing body of knowledgethreatening to overturn established academic thought on the role of the state in industry.

If you're interested in deep institutional analysis of various industries, I recommend subscribing to the Bismarck Brief for more insightful analysis.

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