L’etat, c’est math

The-Reckoning-243x366Here’s my review of Jacob Soll’s book The Reckoning for the LA Review of Books. In some ways it’s a love letter from a failed early modern historian (me) to a prospering one (he) and an appreciation of what that discipline’s take on the world can bring to contemporary policy analysis. An excerpt:

Soll pulls off the miracle of making his history not a monolith but a mosaic. He examines financial affairs in a dozen eras with a cultural historian’s flair for fidelity, but then assembles these fragments into a whole that leaves the reader satisfied with everything except the status quo. That’s because what emerges from The Reckoning is an enormous missing concept in our debates over market and state, as well as a mandate to rearrange our thinking in response.

That concept is accountability, which one could define as the capacity for citizens to read the financial code of the public and private programs that govern their lives. As Soll’s story makes clear, it’s a capacity that requires both a financially literate public as well as institutions that can tolerate an audit.

Read the full piece here.