Adrift in the Anglosphere

A Rococo Open Letter to a New York Intellectual

Not Ideology, Not Rococo. David A. Westbrook

Dear B_________,

I hope this finds you and yours well. Thanks for sending along C’s review essay on social mobility as political myth in the still United Kingdom, and here in the United States, too. It is a very good little piece, almost great. A brilliant beginning, then declines. Doesn’t reach its full potential. Sobering and familiar thought, that.

Yet I can’t help but note a certain wickedness on your part. Like what I need now is another review essay, about books I’ve not read, though I have a decent and professional idea of one of the authors under review…

Higher Education in the Zoom Era

Getting to Failure, and Taking the Next Step

David A. Westbrook

Dear _______,

Again, you’re doing very well. This is a fun group, and I’ve really enjoyed teaching all of you, and you in particular.

We as a society somehow have come to think that education is some sort of purchase/sale agreement. I have [information], I give it to you for a fee (tuition), I devise some sort of test (more or less tricky) to see if you really have [the information], and if you do, I certify that you have [the information] and give you a [degree]. …

New York City

Architecture as Glorification and Problem, 2018, 2021

Billionaire’s Row, from Central Park, 2018. David A. Westbrook

Not so long ago, before the pandemic, there was too much money in New York City, albeit in few hands, one must piously intone. This essay was first drafted back in the golden summer of 2018, as a thinking through of a contemporary question as old as the pharaohs: what should the ultrarich build with all their money? What will that mean for those of us who live amongst what they build? An old adage runs you can never be too thin or too rich. But maybe that is not true, or at least not true for everybody else?

While…

A Writer’s Notes

Dissolution and Truth in the Year of the Coronavirus

Unconcerned Mule Deer, January 7th, 2021. Photo: David A. Westbrook

North of Fairplay, Colorado, January 7th, 2021. This piece was written, and the photo taken, in 24 feverish hours on January 6th and 7th, in the wake of the riot in the US Capitol.

Some time ago, colleagues asked for a few words on how the pandemic has affected my research, on access to distant archives, collaboration with interlocutors in other countries, maybe new conversations, things like that, I guess. They wanted text for some webpage. Also “my story,” if I felt so inclined. It is nice to be asked, but just today I couldn’t help confronting darker questions, once…

Politics and Comedy

Bad politics is often bitterly funny — why isn’t ours?

David A. Westbrook

The Trump administration would seem to be the perfect target for satire, and the man is certainly easy to mock. But Trump — and this Trumpian moment — are strangely resistant to satire seriously considered, as distinct from mere mockery. Even Trevor Noah has admitted as much. In these feverish days before the election, I have become rather obsessed by this question, have literally been awakened by it. I think and hope that Biden will win and the problem will become less pressing — but many of the underlying reasons seem worth thinking about, regardless of who wins, for what…

South Park, Colorado, August 23, 2020

Food, Drink and Music Included

Broad Tailed Hummingbird. David A. Westbrook

It’s the fag end of a summer that needs finishing lest we all go mad. The West is on fire, hundreds, maybe thousands of fires burning from just past Vail all the way across Utah and Nevada to California, down in New Mexico and Arizona and up north, too. Across maybe a million square miles, give or take the area of an eastern state, the smoke and dust commingle in the dry air and merciless sunlight, producing a haze that does not usually smell like smoke. Driving across South Park last week before sunset, the rangeland seemed immersed in clover…

Engaging Macroeconomics

Suppose monetary policy just doesn’t work as thought?

Bank doors, Milano. David A. Westbrook

Note: This talk was originally presented at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Vancouver, British Columbia, November 2019. The questions raised here have only been made more pressing by the global expansion of the money supply in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To begin on familiar ground: the welfare state (and its tax base) presumes a certain kind of economy which is largely guarded and guided by central banks. Conversely, central banking entails an imagination of political economy. The legal mandate of the US Federal Reserve is employment and monetary stability (with moderate term interest rates thrown in…

Digital Industries and US Inequality

Globalization, Digitization, Shareholder Capitalism and the Summits of Contemporary Wealth

David A. Westbrook

A version of “Climbing to 10 to the 11th: Globalization, Digitization, Shareholder Capitalism and the Summits of Contemporary Wealth,” will appear in Issue 92 of the Real World Economics Review (forthcoming 2020); and as a chapter in The Inequality Crisis, published by the World Economics Association (August 2020). Reproduced with permission. Notes have been omitted here but are available in the SSRN preprint.

Introduction: Summits of Wealth

If we examine any society, we find elites, hierarchies, and so inequality of one sort or another. This may be necessarily true: perhaps relative social positions cannot be understood in, much less actually…

A Lesson from The Stranger

David A. Westbrook

Good books help us think strongly when we need to most, “when the chips are down,” as Hannah Arendt said. Times like now. We have not yet reached the solstice, but two books by Albert Camus, dead for a few generations, speak especially strongly this year. The Plague addresses our pandemic, and how we may acquit ourselves well in such circumstances, but I leave that for another essay, maybe. Here I want to think about the killing of George Floyd, with the aid of The Stranger.

In The Stranger, Meursault, a young French Algerian, kills…

Righteousness and Resentment in America

Cynical Reflections on Institutional Responses to the Killing of George Floyd

David A. Westbrook

I am a longstanding member of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS), which was founded at Stanford in 1965 and claims to be the oldest e-journal, online since 1983. In these distressing days, the question arose: should WAIS publish some sort of manifesto decrying the killing of George Floyd and racial injustice in America generally? The editor, a friend, suggested this might be worth doing, even if it would only amount to a voice crying in the wilderness. My response, lightly edited, follows.

***

If WAIS wants to issue a manifesto decrying police violence, racism, and so forth, fine…

David A. Westbrook

Writer, Professor (Law)

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