Saturday, March 2, 2013

In Russia, Women Can Be Beaten with Impunity. By Oleg Boldyrev.

The silent nightmare of domestic violence in Russia. By Oleg Boldyrev. BBC News, February 28, 2013.

The Muslim Brothers Crave Legitimization More Than Aid. By Issandr El Amrani.

The Brothers crave legitimization more than aid. By Issandr El Amrani. Your Middle East, March 2, 2013.

What the U.S. can do for Egypt. By Tamara Cofman Wittes. Foreign Policy, March 1, 2013.

The brave citizen journalists of Egypt. By Said Hamideh. Your Middle East, March 2, 2013.

More on Egypt and Morsi here.

Take Off the Mask – Israelis and Arabs. By David Ha’ivri.

Take Off the Mask – Israelis and Arabs. By David Ha’ivri. Your Middle East, March 1, 2013.

Time to remove Israel’s mask. By Avi Zimmerman. The Times of Israel, February 24, 2013.

Know Your Israeli Enemy. By Amal Al-Hazzani. Asharq Al-Awsat, February 7, 2013.

The Israel We Do Not Know. By Amal Al-Hazzani. Asharq Al-Awsat, January 31, 2013.

A Simmering Arab Sexual Revolution. By Doug Saunders.

The Harlem shake and a simmering Arab sexual revolution. By Doug Saunders. The Globe and Mail, March 2, 2013.

Meet a famous Arab sex therapist. By Shereen El Feki. The Globe and Mail, March 1, 2013.

The fight against sexual assault on Tahrir Square. Editorial. Your Middle East, February 21, 2013.

Syrians find love in time of war. AFP. Your Middle East, September 1, 2012.

More on Egypt and Morsi here.


There was something enthralling in the sight, on Thursday night, of young Egyptians, some clad in underwear, making rhythmic pelvic thrusts in front of the Cairo headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Harlem Shake is an unlikely medium of revolution, but the dance craze this week became the latest front in the showdown between Islamic politics and the drive toward individualism and independence.

Which is winning? At first glance, things look pretty dark: Two years after anti-authoritarian revolutions ruptured the Middle East and North Africa, the forces of Islamic conservatism generally have the upper hand. Their restrictive views, especially around matters of women, sexuality and personal life, are beginning to manifest on the street.

Beneath the surface, something more complex appears to be taking place – perhaps not a whole country embracing the libertine abandon of those dancers, but an Arab world that is making the break, however slowly and awkwardly, from the restrictions of traditional family life.

“In broad strokes,” the Egyptian-Canadian writer Shereen El Feki writes in Sex and the Citadel, her fascinating new survey of the intimate lives of women in the Arab world and especially in Cairo, “this sexual climate looks a lot like the West on the brink of the sexual revolution.”

That is a fairly startling statement, especially given how atrocious life is for a majority of women in Egypt. This is a country where more than 90 per cent of married women have had genital-mutilating operations between the ages of 9 and 12, and where a third of them believe that these clitorectomies prevent sexual promiscuity (even though most prostitutes have undergone the procedure). It is a place where 60 per cent of highly educated women (and three-quarters of less-educated women) believe that women who dress “provocatively” are at fault if they are raped – and where domestic abuse and sex assaults are measured at levels many times higher than the worst places in the West.

Worse, there is a highly popular belief, across the Arab world and especially strong in Egypt, that women are fragile things in need of protection. As the Salafist TV-star imam Mahmoud al-Masry tells Ms. El Feki, “I believe that the woman is like a diamond, to be preserved. We do not suppress or oppress the woman – I want to protect her.” That, of course, is the ultimate form of denigration; it is accompanied by an equally widespread and often grotesque fetishization of virginity.

With those ingredients, how could anyone be hopeful? For one thing, because none of it is timeless or inevitable: Much of the sexual conservatism, and extreme restriction of women’s liberties (including the covering of heads) is a development of the colonial years and their aftermath, an angry generation’s reaction to isolation and deprivation.

But also because Arab family life is changing very fast – especially in two crucial ways. The first is female literacy, which has risen from less than a quarter in 1980 to about 65 per cent today. The second is family size: In 1960, the average Egyptian woman had almost seven children; today it is 2.7, and falling fast. This isn’t as dramatic a change as in Iran, Turkey, Tunisia, Lebanon or the United Arab Emirates, which now have European-sized families, but it is a crucial indicator: Everywhere in the world (including every Western country), the moment when sexual and gender relations began to transform dramatically followed the moment when female literacy passed above 50 per cent and family sizes began to fall sharply.

And wherever this change has occurred, it has been accompanied by social tension and often political turmoil. It is, in the words of the demographer Youssef Courbage, who has chronicled this dramatic “secularization of family life” in the Arab world, “not at all necessary to speculate about some particular essence of Islam in order to explain the violence now stirring the Muslim world. That world is disoriented because it is undergoing the shock of the revolution in modes of thought associated with increased literacy and widespread birth control.”

This is what Ms. El Feki has seen beneath the head scarves of Cairo: “struggles toward democracy and personal rights; the rapid growth of cities and a growing strain on family structures; loosening community controls on private behaviour; a huge population of young people whose influences and attitudes diverge from those of their parents.” It is, she says, a sexual revolution “in embryo” – visible, sometimes, only in the odd burst of Harlem Shake.

Hayek on the Moral Ambiguity of Free Market Meritocracy.

Hayek on the moral ambiguity of free market meritocracy. From Friedrich A. Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty, Volume 2: The Mirage of Social Justice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), p. 74.

The Fable of Market Meritocracy. By Shikha Dalmia. Forbes, February 10, 2010.

The Reality of Meritocracy. By Bryan Caplan. Library of Economics and Liberty, February 11, 2010.

Merit and the Market: A Reply from Shikha Dalmia. By Bryan Caplan. Library of Economics and Liberty, February 16, 2010.

More on Merit: A Reply to Dalmia. By Bryan Caplan. Library of Economics and Liberty, February 17, 2010.


It is unquestionably true that, particularly among those who were very successful in the market order, a belief in a much stronger moral justification of individual success developed, and that, long after the basic principles of such an order had been fully elaborated and approved by catholic moral philosophers, it had in the Anglo-Saxon world received strong support from Calvinist teaching. It certainly is important in the market order (or free enterprise society, misleadingly called “capitalism”) that the individuals believe that their well-being depends primarily on their own efforts and decisions. Indeed, few circumstances will do more to make a person energetic and efficient than the belief that it depends chiefly on him whether he will reach the goals he has set for himself. For this reason this belief is often encouraged by education and governing opinion—it seems to me, generally much to the benefit of most of the members of the society in which it prevails, who will owe many important material and moral improvements to persons guided by it. But it leads no doubt also to an exaggerated confidence in the truth of this generalization which to those who regard themselves (and perhaps are) equally able but have failed must appear as a bitter irony and severe provocation.

It is probably a misfortune that, especially in the USA, popular writers like Samuel Smiles and Horatio Alger, and later the sociologist W. G. Sumner, have defended free enterprise on the ground that it regularly rewards the deserving, and it bodes ill for the future of the market order that this seems to have become the only defense of it which is understood by the general public. That it has largely become the basis of the self-esteem of the businessman often gives him an air of self-righteousness which does not make him more popular.

It is therefore a real dilemma to what extent we ought to encourage in the young the belief that when they really try they will succeed, or should rather emphasize that inevitably some unworthy will succeed and some worthy fail—whether we ought to allow the views of those groups to prevail with whom the over-confidence in the appropriate reward of the able and industrious is strong and who in consequence will do much that benefits the rest, and whether without such partly erroneous beliefs the large numbers will tolerate actual differences in rewards which will be based only partly on achievement and partly on mere chance.

Europe According to Hayek. By Alberto Mingardi.

Europe According to Hayek. By Alberto Mingardi. Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2012.


European Central Bank President Mario Draghi told The Wall Street Journal last month that the “European social model has already gone.” If his fellow Europeans have read Friedrich Hayek, they would also understand why.

Friedrich August Hayek, who passed away 20 years ago today, was one of foremost social scientists of the last century. A Nobel laureate in economics, Hayek is often associated with a crucial intuition that informs his critique of socialist systems. There is, in society, a “knowledge problem”: Economic life requires the coordination of individual planning. The relevant knowledge for economic planning is dispersed rather than concentrated in society. If this makes coordination challenging enough in a market system, it also makes coordination a virtual impossibility under central planning: The planner can never secure and process all the necessary information to provide detailed guidance to any given development in society.

Even though this argument was originally deployed against hard-core socialism, it works pretty well against the soft-core version widely adopted by European democracies. Centralized welfare systems are necessarily run by a bureaucratic leadership. Pace Max Weber, the “technical superiority” of such an organization is simply not enough to master the nuances of a complex society. Centralized government allocates resources badly—regardless of its intentions. The very nature of centralization makes impossible for it to collect and compute all the information that is needed. This is as true for any grand scheme of industrial planning as it is for the government-led welfare systems that characterize Europe’s “social model.”

To be sure, Hayek was not deaf to the needs of the poor or the sick, and he even advocated some form of safety net. But he was well aware that Western democracies were at risk of developing, as he wrote in 1960, a “household state in which a paternalistic power controls most of the income of the community and allocates it to individuals in the forms and quantities which it thinks they need or deserve.” Regardless of the intentions of its makers, such a system was bound to produce inefficiency and waste.

These inefficiencies and this waste, of course, become rents for those that live of them and return the favor with their political support.

States that control most of the income of the community and allocate it according to the wishes of their bureaucracy are now on the brink of bankruptcy. However, Hayek’s solution—a limited government state that allowed the free market economy to flourish—it is not getting more popular, at least not in Europe. One of the reasons for this is that many people believe a market system is inherently unjust, whereas the European social model attempts to combine wealth generation with extensive redistribution to the ostensible benefit of the needy, to guarantee a measure of “social justice.”

And Hayek himself didn't argue that free-market competition would always reward the deserving. We do not cooperate, he wrote, because we sense the need to properly reward the merits of others. Rather, “so long as we think in terms of our relations to particular people, we are generally quite aware that the mark of the free man is to be dependent for his livelihood not on other people's views of his merit but solely on what he has to offer to them.” Rewards in society depend on the game of supply and demand and, ultimately, on consumers’ wants and needs.

Hayek pointed out that theories centered on the notion of “social justice” try to resemble, at the level of the “great society,” the nature of smaller groups. In the smaller groups in which human beings lived for most of our history, people were compensated and advance in society due to some shared vision of merit and worthiness. This also happens within larger societies: There are organizations—think of a corporation or an army or the church—in which people are rewarded because they score well in a particular metric.

It is thus not the case that the market system justly rewards the better and the wiser. Hayek’s point is different. Small, self-organized, voluntary aggregates of human beings should be free to pursue their idea of “merit” as they wish provided that they take full responsibility for their efforts. However, a big society—one based on cooperation with strangers on a large scale such as a state—should not attempt to play the game of the “just retribution” because it is not fit to it.

The European social model that trade unions and political parties still defend with such passion was ill-conceived from the start. A market system cannot work properly if a society aims to dole out rewards and punishments like a teacher in a classroom. Market institutions are anonymous, and blind. Imposing upon them any pre-ordained scheme of merit and reward will just make coordination between individuals—and, thus, wealth creation—more difficult.

The European social model has now reached its inevitable breaking point. And Friedrich Hayek, 20 years after his passing, still offers the most compelling explanation of why it was bound to do so.

Why Bob Woodward’s Fight With The White House Matters to You. By Ron Fournier.

Why Bob Woodward’s Fight With The White House Matters to You. By Ron Fournier. National Journal, February 28, 2013.


I changed the rules of our relationship, first, because it was a waste of my time (and the official’s government-funded salary) to engage in abusive conversations. Second, I didn’t want to condone behavior that might intimidate less-experienced reporters, a reaction I personally witnessed in journalists covering the Obama administration.

That gets to why this matters beyond the incestuous Washington culture. One of this country’s most important traditions is “a free press that isn’t afraid to ask questions, to examine and to criticize,” Obama said at the 2012 White House Correspondents Association’s annual dinner.

Because of tech-fueled changes in the market, there are fewer reporters doing more work with less experience than when I came to Washington with Clinton in 1993. Also, the standard relationship between reporters and their sources is more combative, a reflection of polarization in Washington and within the media industry.

Personally, I had a great relationship with Clinton’s communications team, less so with President Bush's press shop, and now – for the first time in my career – I told a public servant to essentially buzz off.

This can’t be what Obama wants. He must not know how thin-skinned and close-minded his staff can be to criticism. “I have the greatest respect and admiration for what you do,” Obama told reporters a year ago. “I know sometimes you like to give me a hard time, and I certainly like to return the favor, but I never forget that our country depends on you.”

Fournier’s cri de coeur reminds me of the old Russian peasant proverb: “if only the tsar knew!” If only the tsar knew of the crimes his evil ministers were committing in his name, he would punish them, set things right, and bring justice to the people. Of course the tsar knew all about how his government oppressed and exploited the peasants; the Russian imperial system was based on extraction of wealth from its beasts of burden. And so Obama also knows, and approves, of how his staff exploits and abuses journalists.

Obama, the Demonization of Conservatives, and the Crisis of the Middle Class. List of Relevant NJBR Posts.

Obama: Republicans’ Refusal to Raise Taxes on the Wealthy Is What “Binds Their Party Together.” February 22, 2013. Includes audio of interview with Sharpton.

Weekly Address: Congress Must Act Now to Stop the Sequester. By Barack Obama. February 23, 2013.

Marco Rubio’s State of the Union Response. February 23, 2013.

As Country Club Republicans Link Up With the Democratic Ruling Class, Millions of Voters Are Orphaned. By Angelo Codevilla. February 21, 2013.

Saving the American Idea. By Paul Ryan. February 19, 2013.

Life After Blue: The Middle Class Will Beat The Seven Trolls. By Walter Russell Mead. January 31, 2013.

Another Road: The Blue Elites Are Wrong. By Walter Russell Mead. January 29, 2013.

Futuristic Blues. By Walter Russell Mead. January 24, 2013.

The New Power Class Who Will Profit From Obama’s Second Term. By Joel Kotkin. January 20, 2013.

The Unseen Class War That Could Decide the Presidential Election. By Joel Kotkin. January 5, 2013.

The Rise of Tory America. By Joel Kotkin. March 25, 2013.

America Hates Crony Capitalism. By Joshua M. Brown. February 14, 2013.

Beware of the New Elites. By Scott Rasmussen. March 20, 2013. With “America’s New Mandarins,” by Megan McArdle.

The Rise of the New Global Plutocratic Elite and the Crisis of the Middle Class. February 14, 2013. Chrystia Freeland, 6 articles; WRM, “American Dreams, American Resentments”; and many assorted pieces by various authors on this topic.

Jeremy Lin, Superstar Economics, and the Culture of Aspiration. February 19, 2013. Chrystia Freeland, Plutocrats, p. 140; many assorted pieces by various authors on this topic.

China, Technology and the U.S. Middle Class. By Chrystia Freeland. February 15, 2013.

Technology, the Economy and Pool Cleaning. By Chrystia Freeland. February 26, 2013.

America’s Middle Class Goes Global. By Chrystia Freeland. February 27, 2013.

The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent. By Chrystia Freeland. February 27, 2013.

The Political Clout of the Superrich. By Chrystia Freeland. March 1, 2013.

A Republican Message for Wall Street. By Peggy Noonan. March 1, 2013.

Republicans and Their Faulty Moral Arithmetic. By Arthur Brooks. March 3, 2013.

The Republican Path Ahead. By Peter Wehner. March 3, 2013.

Obama’s Pelosi II Strategy. March 5, 2013.

Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural Address: An Uncompromising Defense of Liberalism. January 21, 2013.

Lessons Conservatives Need to Learn. By Peggy Noonan. January 25, 2013.

How Conservatives See Liberals. By Michael Lind. March 22, 2013.

Private Sector Parasites. By Michael Lind. March 22, 2013.

Elites Close Ranks Around Ivy League Intermarriage. By Walter Russell Mead. April 7, 2013

Articles by various authors on the meaning of Obama’s Second Inaugural Address and its conflict with Republican visions. All posted on January 26, 2013.

Egypt’s Ineffectual Opposition. By Issandr El Amrani.

On the Egyptian Opposition. By Issandr El Amrani. The Arabist, February 27, 2013.

More on Egypt and Morsi here.

El Amrani:

The National Salvation Front’s recent decision to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections in Egypt that reminded me I have been thinking of writing a post on the subject of the Egyptian opposition for weeks. Warning: it’s a long post.

Anyone who follows Egyptian politics will have probably made two broad conclusions by now. First, that the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohammed Morsi, out of a combination poor judgement, paranoia and greed, have made the choice of sacrificing the possibility of a stable and inclusive transition for the sake of consolidating their control over the old regime machinery rather than reforming it. Second, that the “liberal” or secular opposition gathered under the banner of the National Salvation Front (NSF) is missing a golden opportunity to benefit from the Brotherhood’s actions and the public indignation they have caused by behaving in an utterly politically clueless manner. Let us deal with the second part of that equation.

Italy Leads The Way As World’s Leaders Fail. By Walter Russell Mead.

Italy Leads The Way As World’s Leaders Fail. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, March 1, 2013.