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Nothing but a Circus: Misadventures among…
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Nothing but a Circus: Misadventures among the Powerful

by Daniel Levin

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Nothing but a Circus: Misadventures among the Powerful by Daniel Levin is a memoir of the author, a lawyer, who met influential people during his life. Mr. Levin “has spent the last twenty years working with governments and development institutions worldwide, focused on economic development and political reform through financial literacy, political inclusion, and constitutional initiatives.”

This is a wonderful, easy to read book about his life hobnobbing with powerful people. The book is a collection of funny, crazy yet relatable anecdotes.

But in all honesty, the book scary as well. It is terrifying to think that there are some incompetent nincompoops, or simply uncaring bureaucrats, in charge of programs meant to help millions of people costing billions of dollars.

Mr. Levin is also confident enough to admit he does not know all, and still has much to learn. In one story, probably my favorite, he goes to Africa to teach them about economics, only to be taken to an underground market where, unknowingly, the people practice what he preached in an efficient, productive way without all the technology.

Poking fun at politicians is a worldwide favorite pastime, and I enjoyed this book very much. i’m sure the author has many more stories he can relate – maybe he should start a second career going on a speaking tour.

For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: http://www.ManOfLaBook.com ( )
  ZoharLaor | Sep 23, 2017 |
Levin, a lawyer who does international deals/development work, writes about corruption, incompetence, and power hunger among the elites in the US, Europe, Africa, Russia, and China, though his main interest is building financial systems in Africa. Nobody of significance comes off very well (Levin allocates himself mostly the sin of excess credulity), and I’m sympathetic to his warning that “imposters and masqueraders could hurt us more than thieves and thugs, because they knew how to work our own weaknesses and aspirations to their advantage.”

On property regimes in Africa, he quotes a cynical but persuasive take: “nobody will register his property, if it means that he could be taxed on it. And nobody will agree to be taxed on a property, if the state does not provide basic services and infrastructure, such as clean water, roads, sewage, schools, hospitals. It’s that simple. Forget about property rights.” If that’s correct, then the rule of law can only arise in rich societies, or societies whose citizens accept less today in return for the promise of more later—but why should they accept that promise without evidence that it might be delivered on? If all they’ve seen so far is corruption, then the bargain seems fake. Still, if as Levin contends everyone everywhere is corrupt, then, why do we have the rule of law anywhere? [One might suggest that only at the levels where “deals” are “done” is the US corrupt, at least for now—what I saw in private practice was never anything like what he describes.] He hammers home the point with an anecdote about a “well-connected person in Angola, with whom we had a success-based arrangement. As soon as the deal closed, we transferred the fee he was due to his bank account. This fellow later told me that in his thirty years in business, I had been the first person to honour my financial commitment to him.” Levin does not ask how this well-connected person had survived to date.

His diagnosis of neoliberalism’s failure in Russia—that privatization hastened the collapse of the economy into fiefdoms—seems hard to dispute. Levin’s account of what he heard about Putin decades ago seems prescient, but then again he was writing in 2016, so his memories of how his contacts promised that Putin would annex territories on the theory that they were really Russian all along might be twenty-twenty hindsight. Also, though he portrays members of Congress as universally dumb as well as only concerned with power, I’m pretty sure they aren’t all stupid, though it’s definitely hard to get a man to accept something as true when his paycheck depends on believing the opposite. Meanwhile, Russians are political geniuses, literally playing chess while we’re playing checkers. There’s an extended metaphor about castling—“a move you make early in the game in order to set yourself up for the endgame,” and Levin suggests that one of Putin’s most prominent opponents was always in Putin’s pocket for this reason, set up to switch and support him in his invasion of Ukraine. One of his contacts then says that “the moment to be really scared is … when those in power replace chess with a game that has no rules.”

China, meanwhile, is also corrupt, but in different ways expressed with less in the way of metaphor—“imperfections with Chinese characteristics,” as Levin reports one of his contacts saying. One businessman says that he’s not working with the Chinese military, as the Americans fear in blocking his acquisition of a US company: “If we were really connected to the PLA, we would not need to buy this company. We would just hack its computers and steal its technology.” ( )
  rivkat | Dec 23, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0241288533, Hardcover)

'Brilliant observations on the anthropology of power. You will laugh aloud and you won't put it down' Daniel Kahneman In this eye-opening exploration of the human weaknesses for power, Daniel Levin takes us on a hilarious journey through the absurd world of our global elites, drawing unforgettable sketches of some of the puppets who stand guard, and the jugglers and conjurers employed within. Most spectacular of all, however, are the astonishing contortions performed by those closest to the top in order to maintain the illusion of integrity, decency, and public service. Based on the author's first hand experiences of dealing with governments and political institutions around the world, Nothing but a Circus offers a rare glimpse of the conversations that happen behind closed doors, observing the appalling lengths that people go to in order to justify their unscrupulous choices, from Dubai to Luanda, Moscow to Beijing, and at the heart of the UN and the US government.

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 07 Dec 2016 08:35:47 -0500)

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