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[LINK] “Argentina: The Myth of a Century of Decline”

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Eugenio Diaz-Bonilla, writing for Economonitor, makes a superficially persuasive case that Argentina’s period of pronounced economic decline relative to the United States and Europe isn’t a century old. Argentina, he suggests, declined relative to the north after the Second World War like Australia, unlike Australia starting from a relatively lower point. The big economic shock came much later.

Below I will try to show that instead of a “century decline,” what characterizes Argentina’s economic evolution as compared to other countries is that it suffered a deep economic collapse from the mid 1970s to the end of the 1980s (in what follows, data is from the Maddison Project. http://www.ggdc.net/maddison/maddison-project/data.htm).

This structural break in the evolution of the GDP per capita (GDPpc) in Argentina can indeed be attributed to internal conditions in that country. But other than that, there is not much difference in the evolution of Argentina, when compared to, for instance, Australia, or Uruguay, two countries mentioned by The Economist as either not having suffered the “hundred year decline” and/or to have followed better economic and institutional policies than Argentina. It is true that other countries such as Korea or Spain, which had far lower GDPpc than Argentina during great part of the 20th Century overtook Argentina by a large margin since the 1970s. But it is also true that if Argentina had avoided the sharp drop in the 1970s and maintained the share of the US GDPpc that prevailed before that structural break, the country would have had now an income per capita above all countries in LAC and many European countries such as Portugal, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. And if it had maintained the lineal trend growth from the 1960s to the mid 1970s it would be now at about the level of New Zealand or Spain, according to the data of the Maddison Project. In other words, if Argentina had avoided the real tragedy that started in the mid 1970s, the country would be now a developed country.

The cause? Totalitarianism and its aftermath.

The decline started with the fracture of the society after the death of Perón in 1974, but it was the subsequent military coup of March 1976, which aiming at stamping out the Peronist Party and its followers (a “final solution” for Argentina, if you will), killed and forced into exile a significant number of Argentines (which among other things hollowed the previously relatively well-built basis of scientists mainly in public universities), started to dismantle the manufacturing base that was supposed to give the Peronist Party its loyal labor base, generated the debt explosion that led to the 1980s debt crisis, and spent a large amount of fiscal resources into different military adventures (including the misguided invasion of the Malvinas, which generated further loses of lives as well). The Radical Party, with President Alfonsín, won the elections in 1983 and did a very good job at restoring the democratic institutions (including the unprecedented trials and imprisonment of the military leaders responsible for the tragedy of the 1970s. But the Administration was hobbled by the very weakened and highly indebted economy left by the previous dictatorial government, had to contend with a restive military (which attempted several coup d’etats in the 1980s and 1990s, until the putschists were finally defeated during the Menem Administration), was under the pressure of a labor force that was expecting improvements in its living conditions after a decade of wage compression under the military, and suffered the collapse of commodity prices in mid-1980s.

This is an interesting rephrasing of Argentina’s economic situation, taking it out of a Latin American context and putting it into a post-totalitarian context. Spain and Portugal, after their democratic transitions in the mid-1970s, went through a decade-long period of decline relative to northwestern Europe, as did central Europe in the decade after 1989. Recovery came only relatively slowly, and full convergence still far from complete.

Is Diaz-Bonilla correct in suggesting that Argentina is going to remain in the convergence club and retake its lost position towards the bottom of First World income rankings? Is his analysis correct at all, or enough? I wonder.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 22, 2014 at 11:05 pm

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • blogTO shares vintage photos of cycling Torontonians, some dating back a century. Apparently there was much more traffic a century ago.
  • Centauri Dreams comments on exoplanet habitability, noting the discovery of Kepler-186f and the importance of a wildly shifting axis.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to two papers, one examining the stability of the planets in the Gliese 581 system, the other looking at factors which might aid or hinder the habitability of exomoons.
  • Geocurrents’ Martin Lewis compares India and Indonesia, noting how Indonesia, while less territorially secure than India, is more culturally united. (By and large.)
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money’s Robert Farley links to some interesting papers examining Jewish practice and politics in the US South and then the Confederacy.
  • Torontoist notes how TTC policies on graffitied streetcars led to a traffic shutdown on the Sheppard line.
  • Understanding Society’s Daniel Little examines paradigms we can adopt to make change easier (or not).
  • The Volokh Conspiracy takes a look at the contentious subject of the sterilization of the intellectually disabled. Are there circumstances where this is possible?
  • Window on Eurasia quotes from Eurasianist ideology Alexander Dugin, who (speaking of a supportive Armenia and a non-supportive Azerbaijan), warns that other post-Soviet countries can keep their borders only with Russian permission, and speculates about the possibility of Russian threats in Latvia.

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

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  • blogTO describes Toronto’s Great Fire of 1904.
  • Centauri Dreams and D-Brief react to the discovery of Kepler-186f, The Dragon’s Gaze linking to a paper that models potential climates on the world.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes, as does io9, that an Earth-like planet doesn’t need a stabilizing moon to be habitable. If anything, a shifting axis may help a planet avoid ice ages.
  • Eastern Approaches notes that the Czech Republic isn’t getting a Russian corporation to renovate its nuclear power plants.
  • Geocurrents notes the ongoing maritime border dispute between Romania and Ukraine.
  • Language Log notes an example of Chinese characters being used as annotations for Vietnamese script.
  • The Map Room’s Jonathan Crowe links to a copy of the only fantasy literature setting map needed. (The cliches are cringe-worthy.)
  • Marginal Revolution takes note of the ongoing real estate boom in Vancouver.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes that Ukraine needs to keep Odessa, not only because of the city’s importance as a coastal port but because of its oil refinery.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog links to a paper analyzing the different kinds of processes of depopulation in European Russia.
  • Towleroad notes that a photo exhibit showing same-sex couples kissing in Catholic churches, closed down in Rome, is now up in New York City.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes that it’s quite rare to actually see police officers suffer serious penalties for lying.
  • Window on Eurasia points readers to the writings of Andrey Piontkovsky, who argues that Putin’s push for territorial annexations is more destabilizing (because more uncertain) than the Cold War.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell observes an uncanny congruence between maps of England showing ancient patterns of Viking settlement and contemporary patterns of areas with benefit cuts.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait revisits the skydiver/meteorite video. It looks like it was just a rock in the chute.
  • Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly writes about the benefits of leaving one’s comfort zone.
  • At False Steps, Paul Drye presents the life of Mercury capsule designer Max Faget.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Doug Merrill warns (1, 2) about the growing scope of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
  • The Financial Times‘ Gideon Rachman argues that Russia under Putin is trying to destroy the current Ukrainian state.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that the two daughters of Lyndon Baines Johnson think that American president would likely support same-sex marriage based on his principles.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Scott Lemieux celebrates the defeat of the Parti Québécois as something that would protect religious freedom.
  • Marginal Revolution hosts a discussion in the comments surrounding the economic policies of Narendra Modi, aspirant for the Indian presidency.
  • John Moyer writes about the virtues of revisiting some books (here, James Joyce’s Dubliners).
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer wonders if Russian expansion into Ukraine will encourage imperialism generally and wonders how the ZunZuneo social networking project in Cuba was supposed to prmote democracy.
  • At the Russian Demographics blog, the author notes that Russia stands out not only among European countries but among the BRICs.
  • Window on Eurasia holds that Ukrainian Muslims prefer Ukraine to Russia and argues in favour of a sustained policy of non-recognition of Crimea’s annexation.

[URBAN NOTE] “Rob Ford adds Ben Johnson, Trailer Park Boys actor to campaign team”

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I thought this news was a joke when I heard it, but no, it’s got multiple citations. The Toronto Star‘s Daniel Dale reported that disgraced Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson and a minor actor from the television show Trailer Park Boys are

Rob Ford, known internationally for his illegal drug use, emerged from his office on Tuesday afternoon to announce a new member of his campaign team: disgraced former sprinter Ben Johnson, known internationally for his illicit steroid use.

Johnson was stripped of the gold medal he had won for Canada at the 1988 Olympics with the help of a banned substance. He received a lifetime ban from competition after a second failed test in 1993.

Ford is seeking the redemption never granted to Johnson. Asked about Johnson’s past, he returned to his familiar refrain about forgiving errors.

“You know what? I support Ben 100 per cent,” Ford said. “We’ve all made mistakes in life. I’ve supported him from day one. And that’s the bottom line.”

[. . .]

Joining them was Sam Tarasco, an actor from Trailer Park Boys, a Canadian television comedy about petty criminals.

Ford referred to him as “Cave,” short for “caveman,” an insult used on the show to describe his character, Sam Losco, who lost a trailer park election after he was drugged before a campaign speech.

Johnson and Tarasco are the first prominent people to sign on to Ford’s team, other than brother and campaign manager Doug Ford. Rob Ford said they would be joining him at events.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 9, 2014 at 3:56 am

[BRIEF NOTE] On the Québec general election yesterday

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The outcome of the Québec general election yesterday–a Liberal majority and a Parti Québécois route, incumbent premier Pauline Marois even losing her seat–came as a pleasant surprise to me. As noted by the Ottawa Citizen‘s Robert Sibley, the results were decisve.

Canada — the rest of it, that is — can relax. As voters resoundingly rejected the Parti Québécois and restored the Liberals to power with a majority government, the prospects of a third referendum on Quebec sovereignty in less than four decades has receded for the foreseeable future.

About six million Quebecers were eligible to vote in Monday’s elections, and within half an hour of the polls closing at 8 p.m. it was clear that Philippe Couillard’s Liberals were heading toward a solid majority. It was a surprising, if not stunning, turn of events for a party that only 19 months ago was ignominiously turfed from office amid the Quebec construction industry scandals and replaced by the minority government of Premier Pauline Marois. This go-round, it was Marois’s turn for ignominious defeat.

[. . .]

By 10:30 p.m. Monday, the Liberals had won 71 of the 125 seats available in the provincial legislature — ensuring that soon-to-be premier Couillard would be able to for a majority government. The Parti Québécois was a distance second with 29 seats, while the right-of-centre Coalition Avenir Quebec, which is nationalist but not sovereigntist, held 22. The left-of-centre Québéc Solidaire, with its staunch pro-separatist agenda, appeared to be confined to two seats.

[. . .]

When Marois dissolved the Quebec legislature in early March to call the election — less than two years after taking power — the PQ held 54 seats, the Liberals 49, the Coalition for Quebec’s Future 18, and Québéc Solidaire two.

The results may well reflect a prediction Couillard made during the campaign. “The Parti Québécois eclipse is over,” he said. “Political uncertainty has been lifted.”

Paul Wells argued in MacLean’s that the Parti Québécois and Québec separatism general face severe structural problems.

Its share of the popular vote, as I write this, is solidly below the 28% the party won in 2007 when André Boisclair was its leader. This is, in fact, the PQ’s worst election result, in share of popular vote, in 44 years. The only time it ever did worse was in 1970, the first campaign the party ever fought.

[. . .] It is now 15 years since the party won more than 40% of the popular vote; the Liberals did so in 2008 and again tonight. This is because the PQ sits on a policy it cannot sell: secession from Canada. But now it has added a second unsellable policy to its kit bag: a plan to fire librarians and emergency-room physicians if it is possible to tell by looking at them which religious faith they practice.

It would be all right if the PQ could simply abandon its Charter of Values, perhaps in favour of a milder policy of more limited punishments for departure from the state religion of atheism, or of a simple rhetorical preference that provincial employees dress without kippahs and hijabs. But it is not that easy. I hope soon to link to the weekend poll I saw that showed which issues were important to supporters of which party. The Charter was not top-of-mind for supporters of any party — except the PQ. The PQ’s shrunken voter base now encompasses just about every Quebecer who insists the full force of provincial coercion intervene if he cannot spot a clerk’s ears at the license bureau.

We can, in fact, add a third policy lemon to the PQ’s pantry: frozen university tuition. The two young PQ candidates who ran on nostalgia for 2012′s summer-long tuition protests were defeated tonight too. So PQ supporters will not give up on tuition freezes, but the broader population supports the notion that students should contribute to the increased cost of their ever-more-expensive educations.

On all three policies — secession, coercive state atheism, and university tuition — the PQ is stuck between an electorate that doesn’t agree, and a party base that will not retreat. Compounding the near-guarantee of further PQ grief still further is its insufferable belief in its own infallible mind meld with the Québécois collective conscience. The PQ knows better than anyone on sovereignty, secularism and higher education. Or so its members tell themselves. So it will not abandon policies the broader Quebec population, including much of the francophone majority, finds risible.

The PQ is in clear danger of becoming Quebec’s Tea Party: a fringe movement in thrall to esoteric mail-order theorists and proud of it, ensuring continued defeat and resistant to any attempts to fix it. I won’t be predicting the death of separatism; that’s a cliché. But I do predict an extended purgatory for a PQ that will wonder, for a very long time to come, why everyone points and giggles when its leaders proclaim the things they believe most profoundly.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 9, 2014 at 3:32 am

[BLOG] Some Friday links

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  • D-Brief shares the news that scientists think that Saturn’s moon Enceladus has a subsurface ocean in its southern polar region.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a remarkable paper claiming that red dwarf stars are exceptionally likely to have a planet in their circumstellar habitable zones.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to an other paper on Mars suggesting that world was never very hot, even in its youth.
  • Eastern Approaches suggests that Poland is approaching the point of relative energy-independence from Russia.
  • The Financial Times The World blog reports on the failure of a US-subsidized Cuban social networking system.
  • The Frailest Thing’s Michael Sacasas links to an account of an 1895 conversation between Paul Valéry and a Chinese friend suggesting that Chinese may have had different perspectives on technology than Westerners.
  • Geocurrents’ Martin Lewis notes Ukrainian regionalism, observing that the Europe-leaning west/centre region has inside it a strongly nationalist Galicia and a regionalist Ruthene-leaning Transcarpathia.
  • Joe. My. God. points to the story of a Floridian sex offender who tried to burn down the home of a lesbian couple and their eight children just because.
  • Personal Reflection’s Jim Belshaw explores the origin of the word “bogey” in Australian English to mean swimming hole.
  • The Planetary Society Blog’s Bruce Betts reports on the progress made in the search for planets at Alpha Centauri. (So far, no evidence for Alpha Centauri Bb, but then the technology isn’t sensitive enough to confirm that world’s existence.)
  • Towleroad reports on the controversy surrounding the recent resignation of former Mozilla Brandon Eich, Andrew Sullivan aligning with left-wingers and Michael Signorile making the point that Eich’s donations to people like Pat Buchanan tipped things over.
  • Window on Eurasia comments on the successful program of the Kazakhstani government to settle ethnic Kazakhs in the once-Russian-majority north of the country so as to prevent a secession.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly makes a case about the benefits of radical honesty.
  • At the Buffer, Belle Beth Cooper describes how she has streamlined her writing style.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that China’s space station isn’t doing much.
  • Eastern Approaches observes the continuing popularity of Polish populist Lech Kaczynski.
  • The Financial Times‘ The World blog notes the vulnerable popularity of UKIP’s Nigel Farage.
  • Geocurrents’ Asya Perelstvaig comments on the entry of Jewish businessman Vadim Rabinovich into the Ukrainian presidential contest.
  • Joe. My. God. is unconvinced by the suggestion that marriage equality means the end of gay bars.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money’s Erik Loomis speculates about the responsibility of American consumers for air pollution in exporting Asia.
  • At the Planetary Society Blog, Constantine Tsang describes evidence for volcanism on Venus.
  • Savage Minds interviews one Laura Forlano on the intersections between anthropology and design.
  • Towleroad mourns the death of godfather of house music Frankie Knuckles.

[BRIEF NOTE] Is Marc Nadon Canada’s Harriet Miers?

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Marc Nadon was nominated to the Supreme Court of Canada as one of three judges from Québec of the total of nine serving on the court. His nomination was rejected on the grounds that, among other things, he hadn’t served as a lawyer in Québec for long enough.

Carissima Mathen at the Ottawa Citizen noted the background.

Nadon’s appointment was made under section 6 of the Supreme Court Act, which reserves three of the Court’s nine seats for Quebec (which, unlike other Canadian provinces, has a civil law tradition). Candidates must be either judges on Quebec courts, or members of its bar with 10 years standing. At the time of his appointment, Nadon was neither: he sat on the Federal Court of Appeal, and had not been a member of the bar for years.

The federal government insisted that Nadon was nonetheless eligible. It pointed out that previous Supreme Court justices have been appointed from the Federal Court; and it argued that there is no meaningful difference between past and present bar membership. It had in hand an opinion from a former justice, Ian Binnie, giving it the “all clear.” It even, brazenly, attached two clauses to the Budget Implementation Bill to “declare” that the Supreme Court Act should be interpreted to permit Nadon’s appointment.

Nadon’s stalled candidacy created headaches for the Court, which has been operating without its full judicial complement for months now. It faced considerable pressure to resolve the issue.

Remarkably, none of that seemed to matter. In a 6 to 1 ruling, the Court confirmed what Professor Michael Plaxton and I argued in a 2013 article: section 6 exists not just to ensure technical expertise in civil law, but to maintain Quebec’s confidence in the Court. To hold otherwise would be to “rewrite history.” The Court emphasized that past bar membership is sufficient for the non-Quebec seats (thereby confirming the validity of past Federal Court appointees). But it isn’t enough for Quebec; and it wasn’t enough for Nadon.

This was welcomed in Québec. It was also welcomed by the opposition, as CBC noted.

In a six-to-one decision, Canada’s highest court deemed Nadon to be unqualified to sit among them as a Quebec member, and that the changes the government made to the Supreme Court Act (which would have allowed him to sit) were actually unconstitutional.

New Democrat justice critic Françoise Boivin said she was happy with the court’s ruling and took aim at the fact that the government passed those changes to the law through an omnibus budget bill. She said she still hasn’t digested that two little articles were passed that had the capacity to review historical positions in naming judges.

“Honestly, it’s insulting,” she said.

“I’m not just saying for Quebec. It’s insulting for lawyers, it’s insulting for the justice and it’s especially insulting for that great institution that is the Supreme Court of Canada,” she said.

The matter of constitutionality is a sticking point for retired judge John Gomery, who said the appointment was bad in the first place because Nadon doesn’t have the expertise to serve on the court.

“It must be a profound embarrassment for the government,” he said in an interview on CBC Radio’s The House. “They made what has turned out to be a bad and illegal and unconstitutional appointment and it has sort of exploded in their face.”

This occurs in the background of the recent departure of Jim Flaherty as finance minister.

Is anyone reminded of the Harriet Miers in the United States, centering on a White House lawyer nominated by Bush to the United States Supreme Court in 2005 despite lacking key qualifications who was eventually rejected?

Written by Randy McDonald

April 2, 2014 at 4:01 am

[LINK] Two links on American concepts of “religious freedom”

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In question-and-answer format, the Volokh Conspiracy’s Eugene Volokh introduces readers–in my case and many others, non-Americans–to the minutiae of American religious freedom law as currently being debated in connection to health care and GLBT rights.

1. What’s with religious people getting exemptions? I thought the Supreme Court said that wasn’t required. For most of American history, courts generally didn’t see the Free Exercise Clause as requiring exemptions for religious objectors. But in Sherbert v. Verner (1963), the Supreme Court said that such exemptions were presumptively required, unless the government could show that denying the exemption was necessary to serve a compelling government interest.

Then, in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), the Supreme Court changed its mind, by a 5-to-4 vote. The Free Exercise Clause, the court held, basically just banned intentional discrimination against a particular religion or religious people generally. With a few exceptions (such as for churches’ decisions about choosing their clergy), religious objectors had to follow the same laws as everyone else, at least unless the legislature specifically created a religious exemption.

The lineup in that ruling, by the way, was interesting: conservative Justice Antonin Scalia joined by conservative Justice William Rehnquist, moderate conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, moderate Justice Byron White, and moderate liberal Justice John Paul Stevens voted for the nondiscrimination rule. Moderate conservative Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — joined by liberal Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall and Harry Blackmun — disagreed, and wanted to preserve the Sherbert constitutional exemption regime.

But wait. Congress didn’t agree with Smith, and so it enacted — by a nearly unanimous vote — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which gave religious objectors a statutory right to exemptions (again, unless the government could show that denying the exemption was necessary to serve a compelling government interest). In City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), the court said this exceeded congressional power over the states, but RFRA — pronounced “riffra” — remains in effect for the federal government.

Moreover, since 1990, 17 states enacted similar “state RFRAs” that government state and local governments. One state (Alabama) enacted a constitutional amendment that did the same. Eleven states’ courts interpreted their state constitutions’ religious freedom clauses as following the 1963-1990 Sherbert model. And one state’s high court (in New York) interpreted the state constitution as applying a less protective religious exemption regime, somewhere between the old Sherbert approach and the Smith approach.

At the Everyday Sociology Blog, meanwhile, Jonathan Wynn takes a look at religious freedom arguments from the sociological perspective.

Laws that protect sincerely held religious beliefs may make sense at first glance, but it’s quite an interesting sociological puzzle as to what this phrase means, and how that should play out in a civil society where there are lots of divergent belief systems. The law is unclear on the matter (and the 1993 law, by the way, has an interesting history).

From a Durkheimian perspective, an incursion of the religious into the public sphere is somewhat inevitable, since religious beliefs must also correspond with actual social activity. As he wrote in chapter one of The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, religion is a “unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things” and there is no religion without a church. This is to say that there are no sincerely held beliefs without corresponding actions. (Elementary Forms concludes with a reference to struggles between religious beliefs and science, foreshadowing the Scopes Monkey Trial of the 1920s and the recent Bill Nye vs. Creationism debate; the U.S. Supreme Court will listen to arguments against the Affordable Care Act on March 25th, 2014.)

The question is over what religious freedom allows citizens to do. Religion can give a moral warrant for all sorts of things. The Hobby Lobby’s owner, for example, wrote a much talked about 2012 op-ed in the USA Today coming out against providing comprehensive preventative care for women claiming he has the right to run his businesses upon the tenets of his Christian values. Hobby Lobby is, in fact, closed on Sundays as per the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) but it is doubtful they would support putting a child to death for cursing his mother or father, or an adult for adultery. Few would argue that these sincerely held religious beliefs—as listed in the Bible’s rulebook, Leviticus (20:9; 20:10)—should be accepted one and all. Strongly held beliefs are, of course, selective.

Which brings us back to A.J. Jacobs, who tried harder than most to follow those sincerely held beliefs both commonly held (e.g., love thy neighbor as yourself, Mark 12:31) and the less followed (e.g., not wearing clothes of mixed fibers, Leviticus 19:19). He tried as many of the lessons from the good book as possible. At one point he walked around Manhattan with pebbles in his pocket to stealthily stone blasphemers. It’s a pretty entertaining read.

But there aren’t too many of us who live as biblically as possible these days. The central pivot of Durkheim’s first major work, 1893’s The Division of Labor in Society, is that as societies move from a more primitive state to a modern one, the religious influence on the collective conscience wanes and new forms of solidarity based on mutual reliance upon each other waxes.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 25, 2014 at 3:59 am


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