24th Selected Links

3 min read

I've been a little distracted this week, so no podcast. However, I'll be publishing a conversation with Niall Ferguson on Monday.

In the meantime, here are some links to things I've been reading that you might also enjoy:

1. The greatest essay written by an Australian is hard to find on the internet. In 2014, as a twenty-one-year-old uni student, I travelled up to Darwin to begin a five-month policy internship at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, which was then, and probably still is, the Northern Territory's largest law firm. Before heading up, I read as much on Indigenous Australia as I could, starting with W. E. H. Stanner, surely Australia's greatest anthropologist, the coiner of "everywhen" (to describe The Dreaming) and "the great Australian silence" (to describe the way Australians had put Indigenous history in a memory hole).

Stanner's essay 'Durmugam, a Nagiomeri' is still the best thing I've read on the topic. A biographic account of Durmugam, a Nagiomeri man Stanner met in 1932 on the Daly River, the essay opens with a tribal battle between two groups of Aboriginal men, at which Durmugam distinguishes himself as the most skilful fighter. The essay tracks Stanner's friendship with Durmugam and Durmugam's growing despair as Aboriginal High Culture disintegrates around him (collapsing into what Durkheim would call 'anomie').

Stanner wrote the essay in 1959, in response to a request from North American anthropologist Joseph Casagrande to contribute to the American anthropological anthology In the company of man: twenty portraits of anthropological informants, published in 1960. The essay was reprinted in 1979 as the opening piece in Stanner's last book White Man Got No Dreaming, and again in 2009, as the opening work in the collection of Stanner's writings The Dreaming & Other Essays. It has won admiration from all quarters. Robert Manne wrote: “It is the finest essay by an Australian I have ever read.” Keith Windschuttle argued that Stanner was “one of the most impressive essayists this country has ever produced" and 'Durmugam' was his “masterpiece”. I couldn't find the essay anywhere on the internet, so I've (perhaps naughtily) uploaded the original 1960 version here.

2. As regular podcast listeners will know, one of my overriding concerns is the disappointing productivity growth experienced in the West in recent decades and in my own country in the past decade. In seeking explanations, I lean towards the stagnationists' claim that innovation ain't what it used to be (see, for example, Tyler Cowen, Robert Gordon, Peter Thiel). This blog post by Noah Smith challenges their argument.

3. 'How the 1 percent’s savings buried the middle class in debt', a Chicago Booth Review article by Rebecca Stropoli. A readable summary of Sufi, Mian and Straub's excellent research. Sufi visited Sydney in late 2019 and appeared on my podcast. A friend and I took him out to lunch in Paddington. I find his story around household debt and 'debt traps' in explaining Western stagnation compelling even if incomplete.

4. 'U.S. Finds No Evidence of Alien Technology in Flying Objects, but Can’t Rule It Out, Either', a The New York Times article published on June 3, 2021. Remember, absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. The correct response here is to slightly increase your probability that the objects are extraterrestrial craft. As Tyler Cowen said to me on my podcast last year, even if that probability is just 10% (I now put the likelihood a bit higher than that and I understand Tyler does too), in expected value terms this story is significant - and is still underreported despite the increasing attention it's been getting. For those who haven't been following, here's a one-sentence summary: there have been multiple documented incidents over the past two decades of US military personnel observing objects penetrating US airspace that surpass the limitations of current technology - the Pentagon itself has disclosed this and confirmed that the technology does not belong to the US.

5. Clive James' s favourite poems to read aloud, including his rules for reading poetry aloud.

Have a nice weekend,