# Highly Recommended《Bran-New + Why Nation Fail ?》 Niall Ferguson - THE GREAT DEGENERATION : How Institutions Decay and Economies Die
A searching and provocative examination of the widespread institutional rot that threatens our collective future. ☞ What causes rich countries to lose their way? Symptoms of decline are all around us today: ➽ slowing growth, ➽ crushing debts, ➽ increasing inequality, ➽ aging populations, ➽ antisocial behavior. But what exactly has gone wrong? The answer, Niall Ferguson argues in The Great Degeneration, is that our institutions : the intricate frameworks within which a society can flourish or fail - are degenerating. With characteristic verve and historical insight, Ferguson analyzes the causes of this stagnation and its profound consequences for the future of the West. The decline of the West is something that has long been prophesied. Symptoms of decline are all around us today, it seems: slowing growth, crushing debts, aging populations, anti-social behaviour. But what exactly is amiss with Western civilization? The answer, Niall Ferguson argues, is that our institutions - the intricate frameworks within which a society can flourish or fail - are degenerating. Representative government, the free market, the rule of law and civil society: these were once the four pillars of West European and North American societies. It was these institutions, rather than any geographical or climatic advantages, that set the West on the path to global dominance after around 1500. In our time, however, these institutions have deteriorated in disturbing ways. Our democracies have broken the contract between the generations by heaping IOUs on our children and grandchildren. Our markets are increasingly distorted by over-complex regulations that are in fact the disease of which they purport to be the cure. The rule of law has metamorphosed into the rule of lawyers. And civil society has degenerated into uncivil society, where we lazily expect all our problems to be solved by the state. The Degeneration of the West a powerful - and in places polemical - indictment of an era of negligence and complacency. While the Arab world struggles to adopt democracy, and while China struggles to move from economic liberalization to the rule of law, Europeans and Americans alike are frittering away the institutional inheritance of centuries. To arrest the degeneration of the West's once dominant civilization, Ferguson warns, will take heroic leadership and radical reform. This book is based on Niall Ferguson's 2012 BBC Reith Lectures, which were broadcast under the title The Rule of Law and Its Enemies. Ferguson tells us that according to Adam Smith himself, countries can be said to have arrived at the “stationary state” when their ‘laws and institutions’ degenerate to the point that elite rent-seeking dominates the economic and political process. The book makes a case that this is how it is in the Western world today. To illustrate this, Ferguson chooses four important sectors and examines them and shows that each of them is degenerating. There is of course an implicit assumption here of a “golden age”, but let us keep that aside as readers. It is just a trope that is too common to get riled up over. The Four Black Boxes To demonstrate the overall degeneration of Western institutions, Ferguson opens up his for sectors, or his Four Black Boxes. The first is the one labelled ‘democracy’. The second is labelled ‘capitalism’. The third is ‘the rule of law’. And the fourth is ‘civil society’. Together, they are the key components of our civilization. Taken together, the erosion of these institutions is what is referred to in this book as the Great Degeneration. The argument then is that we are now living through this Great Degeneration, through a profound crisis of the institutions that were the keys to our previous success – not only economic, but also political and cultural – as a civilization. Ferguson invites the readers to ponder these problems and think of ways to reverse the Great Degeneration — primarily by looking to return to those first principles of a truly free society which he tries hard to affirm. Again the “golden age” fallacy creeps up which ignores the fact that society was manifestly less complex in that “age”. The most fascinating component of the book is the discussion on the various thinkers that Ferguson recruits to give more credence to his arguments. That was a treat, especially when Dickens was called to the stand. Box 1: Democracy - Case Examined: Public debt - Thinker Enlisted: Edmund Burke - Submission: Public debt – stated and implicit – has become a way for the older generation to live at the expense of the young and the unborn. Ferguson represents this crisis of public debt, the single biggest problem facing Western politics, as a symptom of the betrayal of future generations: a breach of Edmund Burke’s social contract between the present and the future. Counterpoint: The question of the betrayal implicit in allocative inefficiencies & inequalities does not figure in the discussion. Box 2: Capitalism - Case Examined: Regulation - Thinker Enlisted: Walter Bagehot - Sumbission: Regulation has become dysfunctional to the point of increasing the fragility of the system. Ferguson suggests that the attempt to use complex regulation to avert future financial crises is based on a profound misunderstanding of the way the market economy works: a misunderstanding into which Walter Bagehot never fell. Ferguson instead suggests less regulations and more enforcement of punitive measures. Counter Point: The question of how to then avert the financial crisis, especially when the “too-big-to-fail” mechanism causes a clear and present case of Moral Hazard is not illustrated. Box 3: Rule of Law - Case Examined: Complexity - Thinker Enlisted: Charles Dickens - Submission: Lawyers, who can be revolutionaries in a dynamic society, become parasites in an increasingly complex and stationary one. Ferguson warns that the rule of law, so crucial to the operation of both democracy and capitalism, is in danger of degenerating into the rule of lawyers: a danger Charles Dickens well knew. Counter Point: The fact that inequality in societies propagate the disparity in legal access in not discussed. That notwithstanding, this is one area where the counterpoint is being made with an admission that this is an urgent requirement by any count. Except that law has a tendency towards complexity, purely because human society has that same tendency. Box 4: Civil Society - Case Examined: Participation - Thinker Enlisted: Alexis de Tocqueville - Submission: Civil society withers into a mere no man’s land between corporate interests and big government. Most importantly, Ferguson proposes that our once vibrant civil society is in a state of decay, not so much because of technology, but because of the excessive pretensions of the state: a threat that Tocqueville presciently warned Europeans and Americans against. A “Mandarin State” will crowd out civil society participation. Counter Point: Ignores the idea that it is not the size of the government but the responsiveness that fuels civic participation. Also ignores the role of education in generating a sense of civic duty. Also ignores the possibilities new technologies provide for increasing civic-government interaction. All in all, Ferguson makes some important points and nicely redirects Acemoğlu’s discussion from Why Nations Fail by examining the western institutions in isolation. Much of these might be relevant in “developed” economies (though I see no criteria under which to give any economy on this planet that label), but the problem is that as discussed in Tainter’s book, we have created a system that is too complex to simplify without allowing for too many loopholes, which again the privileged will be best-equipped to exploit. The Great Degeneration is another book that ought to be mandatory reading for every Malaysian . Ferguson is not at all optimistic about the future of Western Culture and America in particular. He sights the usual suspects: ● our overwhelming public and private debt, ● our inept government regulation of business and banking, ● the total lack of appropriate punishment for those responsible for our financial crisis, ● our abandonment of the rule of law in favor of the rule of lawyers, ● the government's abandoning the welfare of the people in favor of the welfare of the special interests, ● our deteriorating public school system, ● and our passive acceptance of government intrusion into virtually all aspects of our lives. How was that for a run-on sentence? Unlike a number of books that I've read with somewhat the same message that hold out some vague hope that we can somehow overcome these problems, Ferguson seems to believe that we may have gone too far to recover. For twenty years, I've been telling everyone I could get to listen that we were on the road to becoming a third world country. If you believe Ferguson, I may, unfortunately, have been right.
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