Political commentary

Why state bureaucracy is crucial to our happiness

Most days, outside the local courtroom where I live in Finchley Central, a man holds up a placard that says in big black capitals: ALL OUR BRAINS ARE MICROCHIPPED BY THE SECURITY SERVICES. It’s a foolish conspiracy theory, of course, but it’s also a symptom of the fear and loathing of the state which has grown in recent years and which, according to this lucid and persuasive book, threatens to return us to a time when we were governed by the whims of a monarch whose wishes were implemented arbitrarily by his family, friends and flatterers. The problem, say Stephen E. Hanson and Jeffrey S. Kopstein, is not that this

Why would anyone choose to live in Puerto Rico?

From the eastern Atlantic, the US looks boringly uniform. Yet Alaska is almost as different from Alabama as Turku is from Turkey. If you travel the length of the Mississippi, food, laws, customs and lingo change as surprisingly as along the Danube. Particularism is rife. In two counties in Vermont, there are warrants for the arrest of George W. Bush. In some parts of the South, you must step across a county line to evade laws against alcohol. In Indiana, where I live, every county sets its own time zone and you have to keep adjusting your watch on your way to Chicago. In this land of anomalies, nowhere is

What’s really behind the Tories’ present woes?

The problem is, we really need a Tory party. Whether we have one at the moment is another question. Political debate requires a significant and trustworthy proponent of personal freedom, of the limits of government, of personal responsibility, of strict limitations of government expenditure, of independent enterprise which may succeed through a lack of intrusive state control or may fail without hope of public rescue. Not everyone will share those values. But I think everyone should accept that it’s proved catastrophic that those values have apparently disappeared from public policy. History rhymes, but does not repeat itself. The lessons of previous periods when major economic policies of an interventionist sort

Matthew Lynn

Western economies are failing – but capitalism isn’t the problem

Real wages have barely increased for more than a decade. Banks have had to be bailed out, and many still exist on a form of state life support. Growth has stalled, taxes are at 70-year highs, yet governments are still bankrupt. Unless you happen to be part of a tiny plutocracy made up mostly of tech entrepreneurs and financiers, there has rarely been a point, at least since the nadir of the mid-1970s, when the economic system seemed beset by quite so many challenges as it is today. The left has smartly stepped into the intellectual space that has been created with a series of well-timed polemics, which, while they

Must Paris reinvent itself?

In this odd book, the Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper narrates his experience as an expatriate ‘uptight northern European’ living in Paris with his family. His American wife, Pamela Duckerman, also a journalist, is the author of Bringing Up Bébé, a culture-shock memoir about having children in Paris and discovering French child-rearing ways, which are often radically at odds with American ideas and habits. Impossible City touches on some of the same territory (Kuper’s French acculturation through his children’s schooling and socialising), but it aims at a more comprehensive portrayal of rapidly evolving 21st-century Paris, warts and all; or, as he puts it, in a phrase that some may find

The villains of Silicon Valley

Historians joke that some parts of the world – Crete and the Balkans, for instance– produce more history than they can consume locally. The California town of Palo Alto produces more economics than it can consume, and therefore more politics, and therefore more culture. But this comes at a price. Malcolm Harris, a thirtysomething Marxist writer who grew up there, begins his book by citing the alarming rate at which his high-school classmates committed suicide, and argues that Palo Alto is haunted by the historical crimes on which it is built. He then itemises them across two centuries of history, tracing their influence from Stanford University and Silicon Valley out