George Orwell – A Collection of Essays

《Such, Such Were the Joys …》

One’s memories grow sharper after a long lapse of time, because one is looking at the past with fresh eyes and can isolate and, as it were, notice facts which previously existed undifferentiated among a mass of others.

Almost all our historical teaching was on this level. History was a series of unrelated, unintelligible but — in some way that was never explained to us — important facts with resounding phrases tied to them.

Although my memories of Bingo are mostly hostile, I also remember considerable periods when I basked under her smiles, when she called me “old chap” and used my Christian name, and allowed me to frequent her private library, where I first made acquaintance with Vanity Fair.

At Crossgates, in term time, the general bareness of life enforced a certain democracy, but any mention of the holidays, and the consequent competitive swanking about cars and butlers and country houses, promptly called class distinctions into being.

One can love a child, perhaps, more deeply than one can love another adult, but is rash to assume that child feels any love in return. Looking back on my own childhood, after the infant years were over, I do not believe that I ever felt love for any mature person except my mother, and even her I did not trust, in the sense that shyness made me conceal most of my real feelings from her.

The weakness of the child is it starts with a blank sheet. It neither understands nor questions the society in which it lives, and because of its credulity other people can work upon it, infecting it with the sense of inferiority and the dread of offending against mysterious, terrible laws.

《Shooting an Elephant》

We began questioning the people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes.

The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

Afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

《Politics and the English Language》

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and the fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns it as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.

In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is to surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about till you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning.

Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists —  is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

《Why I Write》

Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows.

When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, “I am going to produce a work of art.” I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an esthetic experience.

《Inside the Whale》

Here is a world of stuff which you supposed to be of its nature incommunicable, and somebody has managed to communicate it. The effect is to break down, at any rate momentarily, the solitude in which the human being lives. When you read certain passages in Ulysses you feel that Joyce’s mind and your mind are one, that he knows all about you though he has never heard your name, that there exists some world outside time and space in which you and he are together. And through he does not resemble Joyce in other ways, there is a touch of this quality in Henry Miller. Not everywhere, because his work is very uneven, and sometimes, especially in Black Spring, tends to slide away into mere verbiage or into the squashy universe of the surrealists. But read him for five pages, ten pages, and you feel the peculiar relief that comes not so much from understanding as from being understood. “He knows all about me,” you feel; “He wrote this specially for me.” It is as though you could hear a voice speaking to you, a friendly American voice, with no humbug in it, no moral purpose, merely an implicit assumption that we are all alike. For the moment you have got away from the lies and simplification, the stylised, marionette-like quality of ordinary fiction, even quite good fiction, and are dealing with the recognizable experiences of human beings.

Miller is able to get nearer to the ordinary man than is possible to more purposive writers. For the ordinary man is also passive. Within a narrow circle he feels himself master of his fate, but against major events he is as helpless as against the elements. So far from endeavouring to influence the future, he simply lies down and lets things happen to him. During the past ten years literature has involved itself more and more deeply in politics, with the result that there is now less room in it for the ordinary man than at any time during the past two centuries. One can see that change in the prevailing literary attitude by comparing books written about Spanish civil war with those written about the war of 1914-18. The immediately striking thing about the Spanish war books, at any rate those written in English, is their shocking dullness and badness. But what is more significant is that almost all of them, right-wing or left-wing, are written from a political angle, by cooksure partisans telling you what to think, whereas the books about the Greay War were written by common soldiers or junior officers who did not even pretend to understand what the whole thing was about.

Even the best writers of the time can be convicted of a too Olympian attitude, a too great readiness to wash their hands of the immediate practical problem. They see life very comprehensively, much more so than those who come immediately before or after them, but they see it through the wrong end of the telescope.

The outstanding writers of the twenties were of very varied origins, few of them had passed through the ordinary English educational mill, and most of them had had at some time to struggle against poverty, neglect, and even downright persecution. On the other hand, nearly all the younger writers fit easily into the public-school-university-Bloomsbury pattern. The few who are of proletarian origin are of the kind that is declassed early in life, first by means of scholarships and then by the bleaching-tub of London “culture”.

With all its injustices, England is still the land of habeas corpus, and the overwhelming majority of English people have no experience of violence or illegality. If you have grown up in that sort of atmosphere it is not at all easy to imagine what a despotic regime is like. Nearly all the dominant writers of the thirties belonged to the soft-boiled emancipated middle class and were too young to have effective memories of the Great War. To people of that kind such things as purges, secret police, summary executions, imprisonment without trial, etc., etc., are too remote to be terrifying. They can swallow totalitarianism because they have no experience of anything except liberalism.

The atmosphere of orthodoxy is always damaging to prose, and above all it is completely ruinous to the novel, the most anarchical of all forms of literature. How many Roman Catholics have been good novelists? Even the handful one could name have usually been bad Catholics. The novel is practically a Protestant form of art; it is a product of the free mind, of the autonomous individual. No decade in the past hundred and fifty years has been so barren of imaginative prose as the nineteen-thirties. There have been good poems, good sociological works, brilliant pamphlets, but practically no fiction of any value at all. From 1933 onwards the mental climate was increasingly against it. Anyone sensitive enough to be touched by the zeitgeist was also involved in politics. Not everyone, of course, was definitely in the political racket, but practically everyone was on its periphery and more or less mixed up in propaganda campaigns and squalid controversies. Communists and near-Communists had a disproportionately large influence in the literary reviews. It was a time of labels, slogans, and evasions. At the worst moments you were expected to lock yourself up in a constipating little cage of lies; at the best a sort of voluntary censorship was at work in nearly everyone’s mind. It is almost inconceivable that good novels should be written in such an atmosphere. Good novels are not written by orthodoxy-sniffers, nor by people who are conscience-stricken about their own unorthodoxy. Good novels are written by people who are not frightened.

《Reflections on Gandhi》

The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection, that one is sometimes willing to commit sins for the sake of loyalty, that one does not push asceticism to the point where it makes friendly intercourse impossible, and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one’s love upon other individuals. No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid.

At the same time there is reason to think that Gandhi, who after all was born in 1869, did not understand the nature of totalitarianism and saw everything in terms of his own struggle against the British government. The important point here is not so much that the British treated him forbearingly as that he was always able to command publicity. As can be seen from the phrase quoted above, he believed in “arousing the world,” which is only possible if the world gets a chance to hear what you are doing. It is difficult to see how Gandhi’s methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again.

《Looking Back on the Spanish War》

One of the effects of safe and civilised life is an immense oversensitiveness which makes all the primary emotions seem somewhat disgusting. Generosity is as painful as meanness, gratitude as hateful as ingratitude. But in Spain in 1936 we were not living in a normal time. It was a time when generous feelings and gestures were easier than they ordinarily are. I could relate a dozen similar incidents, not really communicable but bound up in my own mind with the special atmosphere of the time, the shabby clothes and the gay-coloured revolutionary posters, the universal use of the word “comrade”, the anti-fascist ballads printed on flimsy paper and sold for a penny, the phrases like “international proletarian solidarity,” pathetically repeated by ignorant men who believed them to mean something. Could you feel friendly towards somebody, and stick up for him in a quarrel, after you had been ignominiously searched in his presence for property you were supposed to have stolen from him? No, you couldn’t; but you might if you had both been through some emotionally widening experience. That is one of the by-products of revolution, though in this case it was only the beginnings of a revolution, and obviously foredoomed to failure.

《England Your England》

English literature, like other literatures, is full of battle-poems, but it is worth noticing that the ones that have won for themselves a kind of popularity are always a tale of disasters and retreats. There is no popular poem about Trafalgar or Waterloo, for instance.

It is quite true that the English are hypocritical about their Empire. In the working class this hypocrisy takes the form of not knowing that the Empire exists. But their dislike of standing armies is as perfectly sound instinct. A navy employs comparatively few people, and it is an external weapon which cannot affect home politics directly. Military dictatorships exist everywhere, but there no such thing as a naval dictatorship.

Why is the goose-step not used in England? There are, heaven knows, plenty of army officers who would be only too glad to introduce some such thing. It is not used because the people in the street would laugh. Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army.

Another marked characteristic is the emotional shallowness of people who live in a world of ideas and have little contact with physical reality. Many intellectuals of the Left were flabbily pacifist up to 1935, shrieked for war against Germany in the years 1935-39, and then promptly cooled off when the war started. It is broadly though not precisely true that the people who were most “anti-Fascist” during the Spanish civil war are most defeatist now.”

《The Art of Donald McGill》

Anyone who examines his post cards in bulk will notice that many of them are not despicable even as drawings, but it would be mere dilettantism to pretend that they have any direct aesthetic value. A comic post card is simply an illustration to a joke, invariably a “low” joke, and it stands or falls by its ability to raise a laugh.

“Youth’s a stuff will not endure” expresses the normal, traditional attitude. It is this ancient wisdom that McGill and his colleagues are reflecting, no doubt unconsciously, when they allow for no transition stage between the honeymoon couple and those glamourless figures, Mum and Dad.

In England the gap between what can be said and what can be printed is rather exceptionally wide. Remarks and gestures which hardly anyone objects to on the stage would raise a public outcry if any attempt were made to reproduce them on paper. The comic post cards are the only existing exception to this rule, the only medium in which really “low” humour is considered to be printable.

Codes of law and morals, or religious systems, never have much room in them for a humourous view of life. Whatever is funny is subversive, every joke is ultimately a custard pie, and the reason why so large a proportion of jokes centre round obscenity is simply that all societies, as the price of survival, have to insist on a fairly high standard of sexual morality. A dirty joke is not, of course, a serious attack upon morality, but it is a sort of mental rebellion, a momentary wish that things were otherwise. So also with all other jokes, which always centre around cowardice, laziness, dishonesty or some other quality which society cannot afford to encourage. Society has always to demand a little more from human beings than it will get in practice.

《Charles Dickens》

When Dickens has once described something you see it for the rest of your life. But in a way the concreteness of his vision is a sign of what he is missing. For, after all, that is what the merely casual onlooker always sees — the outward appearance, the non-functional, the surfaces of things.

He is a man who lives through his eyes and ears rather than through his hands and muscles.

He shows very little consciousness of the future. When he speaks of human progress it is usually in terms of moral progress — men growing better; probably he would never admit that men are only as good as their technical development allows them to be. At this point the gap between Dickens and his modern analogue, H.G.Wells, is at its widest.

Kenneth Greene – Why Dominant Parties Lose

1. The Puzzle of Single-Party Dominance

  • Majority voters held negative retrospective evaluations of the incumbent, but still planned to vote for it.

In the 1980s, the PRI presided over negative growth rates, record inflation, and dramatic dips in real wages. Although this performance debacle did affect voters, hardship translated into far fewer votes for the opposition than one might expect.

2. A Theory of Single-Party Dominance and Opposition Party Development

  • Incumbent’s access to patronage resources and its use of authoritarian controls, including repression and electoral fraud.

Knowing that the competitive game is rigged those with the most anti-status quo policy preferences. In other words, citizens would have to despise the dominant party’s policies to find it worthwhile to join a costly cause with a low chance of success.

  • Niche parties v.s. catchall parties.

When opposition parties fail to expand and instead remain niche-oriented challengers, they are undercompetitive and fail to coordinate, thus allowing incumbent dominant parties to remain in power.

  • Five types of illicit public resources that dominant parties politicize for partisan purposes: divert funds from budges of SOEs; directly from public budgets; patronage jobs; kickbacks: illicit campaign contributions for economic protections; “administrative resources of the state”.

3. Dominant Party Advantages and Opposition Party Failure, 1930s-1990s

  • “Firefighting” strategy, PRI tacked back-and-forth between the left and right over time; (Huntington) “pragmatic” party that quickly abandoned the left-leaning redistributive ideals of the Mexican Revolution and instead focused on maintaining power.
  • Populism and opportunities on the right in late 1930s: PRI policy shift to the right  and accelerating after 1940s undercut PAN’s appeals, selective and targeted repression raised costs of participation — these twin tools worked so effectively during the next nearly 40 years;
  • Opportunity on the left in the 1940s and 1950s: incumbent’s effective use of patronage to buy off moderates and targeted repression — trimmed the left’s sails, reduce activism to those willing to pay high personal costs for political involvement while reaping uncertain rewards;
  • Further opportunities on the left in the 1970s: repression;
  • Neopopulism and opportunities on the right, 1970-1982: Echeverria, populist style redistribution, undermined a broader leftwing movement, isolated the radical left, opposition forces questioned the usefulness of challenging the PRI, (electoral reform) channeled oppsosition efforts through the electoral process rather than armed rebelion;
  • Why did a new rightwing fail to organize in the 1970s? 1) Echeverria mollified the most important businessmen through key concessions; 2) new rightwing parties found limited support from the middle class: (Echeverria) expanding higher education, middle class, state’s role in industry, raised tariffs, incorporated small business;

Influencing policy from behind the scenes rather than direct political activism was a more comfortable role for big business in any case.

  • Debt crisis, neoliberalism and opportunities on the left in 1980s: in credit crunch due to finance in neopopulist policies and extraction of oil deposits; left slow progress — economic crash softened by state’s large role; PRD failed to develop into a catchall party — 1) (PRI) buy electoral support through massive poverty-alleviation program; 2) leaders in PRD hold comparatively extreme policy preferences; 3) renewed use of repression; 4) fraud.
  • Single party dominance and resource assymetries, revenues of SOEs, support from state treasury — rooted in traditions for many years.

The absence of rotation in Mexico and other dominant party systems leaves the incumbent party free to generate and spend resources with impunity and creates what I called hyper-incumbency advantages.

  • Economic crisis and subsequent restructuring sharply reduced the resources that could be pumped through national patronage system: 1) participation of SOEs diminished; 2) slimmed down the size of federal public bureaucracy; 3) move to more open economy reduced the reach and organizational capacity of the PRI’s sectoral organizations, increased informal workers outside the party’s patronage network;

Both informal sector and service sector workers are comparatively difficult to organize because they tend to be more geographically dispersed than workers in other formal sectors and often have area-specific rather than collective interests.

By 1997 the playing field was quite level and Mexico came as close to many established democracies to a fair or neutral market for votes where no party held an outright pre-electoral advantage.

4. Why participate?

  • Instrumental benefits v.s. expressive benefits: overcome high costs of participation and a low probability of success — such benefits comes from the sheer act of participation.

If group policies reflect ideological, religious, or moral principles, he may feel a responsibility to ‘do his part’ in support of these policies. It is not the actual provision of these collective goods that represents the source of purposive benefits in this case, but the support and pursuit of worthwhile collective goods.

  • Office seekers (top-down) v.s. message seekers (bottom-up). Office seekers more sensitive to changes in political environment.

5. The Empirical Dynamics of Elite Activism

  • Both PRD and PAN favored democracy, but PRD preferred larger role for the state, PAN preferred market-led development; PRI close the center.
  • OLS result (economic and regime policy as dependent): resources and repression statistically significant, education associated with market-led economic development, socio-economic development has no effect.

Economic crisis beginning in 1982 and austerity under free-market restructuring turned voters against the PRI but did not immediately result in support for the opposition. Voters continued to view the challengers as too far to the left or to the right. Only when the free market policy response to the crisis created a leaner public bureaucracy and reduced the overall size of the state’s resources did the PRI’s access to illicit public funds fall. As they did, the partisan playing field leveled and more moderates were willing to join the opposition. However, these catchall-oriented later joiners conflicted with niche-oriented early joiners.

6. Constrained to the Core

  • Mid 1980s, challengers failed to gain support from dissatisfied voters, because they were constrained by their origins (early joiners’ initial socialization) — rigid party organizations that are slow to innovate in the face of new opportunities.
  • Maintain tight links to loyal base, even when the possibility of attracting noncore voters increased — core voters were the opposition’s lifeblood during the lean years.
  • Early joiners, dedicated lives to consciousness raising and local organization building; newer joiners, more likely to recognize the advantages of mass advertising to achieve the more limited goal of winning votes.

7. Dominance Defeated

  • 2000 elections, equalizing opportunities, a fair market where all parties could compete for voters’ sympathies.
  • Fox: more centrist than PAN, closest to voters’ issue preferences, downplayed ideological differences in part because of independent resources —  won as a sensible centrist, not as a radical revolutionary.

Unlike Cardenas, Fox was not organically tied to his party and thus was more capable of making broader centrist appeals even when they conflicted with the preferences of his party’s elites.

8. Extending the Argument to Italy, Japan, Malaysia, and Taiwan

  • DPARs and DPDRs, similar, while DPDRs do not use authoritatrian controls and instead ensure all freedoms commensurate with democracy and clean operation of electoral institutions.
  • Taiwan 1987-2000, defined as DPAR; DPP: ethnic politics, mobilize native Taiwanese voters; NP: campaigned on unification; KMT: moderate centrist position.
  • KMT’s advantages: 1) convert public resources into partisan goods; 2) party-run or party-invested enterprises. The resource base was threatened due to the privatization of state-owned enterprises and increasingly open domestic markets. Smaller decreases in resource advantages became more consequential due to votes splits between Lien and Song.
  • Malaysia, DPAR since 1971, UMNO catchall, challengers small bases of support and established relatively extreme positions. Public sector growth as a vital role in industrial development and political response of race riots.

One consequence of the huge expansion of the public sector was a decline in accountability and increased scope for the misuse of public funds. This plan not only opened up opportunities for UMNO to enrich itself through proxy companies, but also created a political economy characterized by corruption and cronyism or, in the words of UMNO government, ‘handouts’ for the favored.

  • Private business owners became reliant on UMNO politicians.

Often Chinese businesspeople were forced to accept Malay partners who made little contribution to management but whose contacts with UMNO facilitated dealings with the government. Thus, the state’s major role in the economy transformed the private business community into a willing supporter of the UMNO-led government.

  • UMNO remained in power after the 1997 Asian economic crisis because 1) resisted privatization, remain centrally involved, even briefly increased the share of investment and 2) more repressive to dissidents.
  • Japan, 1955-1993, LDP, right-leaning but still hold the broad center, generated resource advantage in two ways: 1) control over public policy apparatus, use government purse to reward its supporters; 2) business under state protection by colluding with the incumbent.


Robert Shiller – The Subprime Solution

1. Introduction

  • Over-promoting homeownership;
  • Effect of financial crisis filtered into other countries, fed back into United States: declining dollars, faltering stock market, more financial failures (IB Bear Stearns);
  • Last crisis, institutional framework changes: new home-loan banking system, private sector reforms (more professional), legislative, insuring banking system, SEC, … become models for similar institutions the world over;
  • Today’s responses, far from enough at least in scale, merely quick fixes that fail to address the full scope of the problem;
  • Short run: prompt and correct bail-outs;
  • Long run: improve financial information infrastructure, extend the scope of financial market to cover wider array of economic risks, provide greater security to customers (create retail financial instruments).

2. Housing in History

  • Home prices “rocket taking off” in the peak of 2006;
  • Different paths, location counts, rate of decline inversely proportional to the speed of increase;
  • Lowest price tier shows biggest boom and drop afterwards.

3. Bubble Trouble

  • Social contagion, epidemics, “new era” stories;
  • Alan Greenspan, acknowledged bubbles, but our models are far too simple; assumes independent rational thinking of individual;
  • Feedback loops, amplified by the news media; price-story-price loop, price-economic activity-price loops; speculative bubbles actually caused by bubbles not fundamentals;
  • Information cascades: disregard their own independent, individually collected information, act instead on general information, squelch their own information, then the quality of group information declines;
  • Rating agencies persisted in giving AAAs, regulators failed to rein in aggressive lending, show no recognition of the boom being the cause of the risks;

America, from its inception, was a speculation.

To a substantial extent, we no longer admired those who were merely hard workers. To be truly revered, one had to be a smart investor as well.

  • Home prices, unlike stock price, move exceptionally smoothly from time to time.

4. The Real Estate Myth

  • Urban patriotism: Californians proud of their pleasant weather and beautiful scenery;
  • Demand for large, walkable urban centers, promote homeownership, restricting new construction is politically fragile.

5. A Bailout by Any Other Name

  • Bailout, Fed offering something unavailable in the marketplace, taking risk by investing in securities that others would not touch;
  • Taxpayers paying for this bailout, tax rebate checks sent to low-income taxpayers, taxpayers paying for the boon of raising loan limits: the losers are disproportionately those people who have prudently been staying out of the housing market bubble;
  • Why necessary: government strive to prevent misfortunes that will create long-standing distrust in economic institutions;
  • Benjamin Friedman: when people see encouraging prospects of the future, they are  better able to work together constructively, supporting democratic principle and political and social liberalization;
  • Systemic effects: financial losses vs. real losses, drop in home values vs. destroy public confidence and the rate of output in the economy falls;
  • Write down the principals of mortgage loans, in the interest of both borrowers and lenders, keep homeowners in place;

6. The Promise of Financial Democracy

  • Fee-only, impartial, useful, comprehensive financial advisers, subsidized by reformed tax policy, especially for low-income people;
  • Designing standard contracts including prudent default option, since people take whatever is offered first or seems conventional; civil law notary;
  • Information disclosure; subsidize creation of enlarged pool of data;
  • New system of unit measurement: UF made Chile the most inflation-aware country in the world; Modigliani-Cohn effect: nominal interest rates were high even though real rates were not; cutting wages in Great Depression; home prices doesn’t basically change over one-hundred years;
  • Derivatives and house futures market: potential to tame speculative bubbles;
  • Other new markets: GDP indexed debts, hedge national economic risks;
  • Continuous-workout mortgages: like regular checkups and preventive care, people pay in advance for the right to bail out, reduce moral hazard by writing into not only borrowers’ income but others’ earning ability;
  • Home equity insurance: prevent homeowners from falling into negative positions, eliminate panic selling, no moral hazard if written on aggregate home value of a city;