On the web: history and economics, the voice of the BRICs, and the UK’s emerging three-party politics…

– Writing in the The New York Review of Books, Paul Krugman and Robin Wells highlight the importance of historical perspective in understanding the financial crisis. Experience, they suggest, shows that a failure to implement significant post-crisis reforms leads to “a resurgence of financial folly, which always flourishes given a chance.”

Michael Pomerleano explains the need for a new institution with the necessary legitimacy to provide global financial stability, arguing that “[n]ational public policies can no longer be independent of global collective-action problems”. Amartya Sen, meanwhile, explores the continuing significance of the 18th Century ideas of Adam Smith to contemporary global economic troubles.

– Elsewhere, in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, Henry Kissinger offers his views on Obama’s recent nuclear initiatives, US-China relations, and coherence among the BRICs. Over at World Politics Review, Nikolas Gvosdev reports on the lack of support forthcoming among BRIC countries for strict sanctions on Iran and highlights some of the other options open to the US administration in dealing with Tehran. Jonathan Holslag, meanwhile, assesses China’s recent diplomatic “charm offensive”, concluding that this will yield little over the long-term if words aren’t backed up by meaningful action.

– Finally, two television debates and nearly three weeks into the British general election campaign, David Marquand explains why this is “a moment for careful historical reconnaissance”. Assessing the rise of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, he explores comparisons with the three-party politics of Britain in the early 1920s. The FT’s Philip Stephens, meanwhile, assesses the impact of the debates and the implications of a hung parliament for the British electoral system.

On the web: Moscow’s terror response, G20 rumbles, US foreign policy, and libertarians at sea…

– With Moscow still smouldering in the wake of the metro bombings, Sam Greene assesses how the Kremlin might respond, suggesting that recourse to further authoritarianism is unlikely to prove productive. The Economist, meanwhile, highlights the need for greater awareness across Russia of the fragile situation in the north Caucasus and notes the lack of a measured political discourse in response to the attacks.

– Francis Fukuyama talks to former US Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, about China’s approach to the financial crisis. Daniel Drezner, meanwhile, reports on the discontent of leading G20 countries at Beijing’s apparent insouciance over implementing agreed economic reforms.  Elsewhere, Patrick Messerlin charts the actions of the emerging G20 powers across economics, trade, and climate – suggesting that while much progress has been made, they still require leadership from OECD countries. Oxfam’s From Poverty to Power blog, meanwhile, offers a progress update on the financial transaction tax.

– Elsewhere, Der Spiegel interviews the man that headed Obama’s transition team, John Podesta, who offers his thoughts on the healthcare debate, the Washington political process, and Obama’s engagement with the rest of the world. The FT’s Edward Luce and Daniel Dombey, meanwhile, assess the centralised nature of foreign policy decision-making in the Obama White House – highlighting the emphasis placed on improving the inter-agency process compared with the Bush years, but also the lack of a grand strategic thinker to which the President can regularly turn (à la Kissinger).

– Finally, Prospect Magazine has an interesting article on “seasteading” – described as involving “a future in which the high seas will be increasingly commandeered for unconventional purposes” (such as medical tourism, gambling, sanctuaries for minority groups etc.) – and the opportunity it may present for the creation of “micronations” populated by libertarian-minded groups.

How intelligence clearance turns you into a moron

Daniel Ellsberg, in 1968, speaking to Henry Kissinger, who was just entering government for the first time:

“Henry, there’s something I would like to tell you, for what it’s worth, something I wish I had been told years ago. You’ve been a consultant for a long time, and you’ve dealt a great deal with top secret information. But you’re about to receive a whole slew of special clearances, maybe fifteen or twenty of them, that are higher than top secret.

“I’ve had a number of these myself, and I’ve known other people who have just acquired them, and I have a pretty good sense of what the effects of receiving these clearances are on a person who didn’t previously know they even existed. And the effects of reading the information that they will make available to you.

“First, you’ll be exhilarated by some of this new information, and by having it all — so much! incredible! — suddenly available to you. But second, almost as fast, you will feel like a fool for having studied, written, talked about these subjects, criticized and analyzed decisions made by presidents for years without having known of the existence of all this information, which presidents and others had and you didn’t, and which must have influenced their decisions in ways you couldn’t even guess. In particular, you’ll feel foolish for having literally rubbed shoulders for over a decade with some officials and consultants who did have access to all this information you didn’t know about and didn’t know they had, and you’ll be stunned that they kept that secret from you so well.

“You will feel like a fool, and that will last for about two weeks. Then, after you’ve started reading all this daily intelligence input and become used to using what amounts to whole libraries of hidden information, which is much more closely held than mere top secret data, you will forget there ever was a time when you didn’t have it, and you’ll be aware only of the fact that you have it now and most others don’t….and that all those other people are fools.

“Over a longer period of time — not too long, but a matter of two or three years — you’ll eventually become aware of the limitations of this information. There is a great deal that it doesn’t tell you, it’s often inaccurate, and it can lead you astray just as much as the New York Times can. But that takes a while to learn.

“In the meantime it will have become very hard for you to learn from anybody who doesn’t have these clearances. Because you’ll be thinking as you listen to them: ‘What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know? Would he be giving me the same advice, or would it totally change his predictions and recommendations?’ And that mental exercise is so torturous that after a while you give it up and just stop listening. I’ve seen this with my superiors, my colleagues….and with myself.

“You will deal with a person who doesn’t have those clearances only from the point of view of what you want him to believe and what impression you want him to go away with, since you’ll have to lie carefully to him about what you know. In effect, you will have to manipulate him. You’ll give up trying to assess what he has to say. The danger is, you’ll become something like a moron. You’ll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours.”

….Kissinger hadn’t interrupted this long warning. As I’ve said, he could be a good listener, and he listened soberly. He seemed to understand that it was heartfelt, and he didn’t take it as patronizing, as I’d feared. But I knew it was too soon for him to appreciate fully what I was saying. He didn’t have the clearances yet.

Recounted in Mother Jones; h/t Nils Gilman.