jueves, 31 de agosto de 2017

Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world


The word has become a rhetorical weapon, but it properly names the reigning ideology of our era – one that venerates the logic of the market and strips away the things that make us human.

By Stephen Metcalf

Last summer, researchers at the International Monetary Fund settled a long and bitter debate over “neoliberalism”: they admitted it exists. Three senior economists at the IMF, an organisation not known for its incaution, published a paper questioning the benefits of neoliberalism. In so doing, they helped put to rest the idea that the word is nothing more than a political slur, or a term without any analytic power. The paper gently called out a “neoliberal agenda” for pushing deregulation on economies around the world, for forcing open national markets to trade and capital, and for demanding that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatisation. The authors cited statistical evidence for the spread of neoliberal policies since 1980, and their correlation with anaemic growth, boom-and-bust cycles and inequality.

Neoliberalism is an old term, dating back to the 1930s, but it has been revived as a way of describing our current politics – or more precisely, the range of thought allowed by our politics. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it was a way of assigning responsibility for the debacle, not to a political party per se, but to an establishment that had conceded its authority to the market. For the Democrats in the US and Labour in the UK, this concession was depicted as a grotesque betrayal of principle. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, it was said, had abandoned the left’s traditional commitments, especially to workers, in favour of a global financial elite and the self-serving policies that enriched them; and in doing so, had enabled a sickening rise in inequality.

Over the past few years, as debates have turned uglier, the word has become a rhetorical weapon, a way for anyone left of centre to incriminate those even an inch to their right. (No wonder centrists say it’s a meaningless insult: they’re the ones most meaningfully insulted by it.) But “neoliberalism” is more than a gratifyingly righteous jibe. It is also, in its way, a pair of eyeglasses.

Peer through the lens of neoliberalism and you see more clearly how the political thinkers most admired by Thatcher and Reagan helped shape the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties). Of course the goal was to weaken the welfare state and any commitment to full employment, and – always – to cut taxes and deregulate. But “neoliberalism” indicates something more than a standard rightwing wish list. It was a way of reordering social reality, and of rethinking our status as individuals.

Still peering through the lens, you see how, no less than the welfare state, the free market is a human invention. You see how pervasively we are now urged to think of ourselves as proprietors of our own talents and initiative, how glibly we are told to compete and adapt. You see the extent to which a language formerly confined to chalkboard simplifications describing commodity markets (competition, perfect information, rational behaviour) has been applied to all of society, until it has invaded the grit of our personal lives, and how the attitude of the salesman has become enmeshed in all modes of self-expression.

In short, “neoliberalism” is not simply a name for pro-market policies, or for the compromises with finance capitalism made by failing social democratic parties. It is a name for a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practise and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organising principle for human activity.

No sooner had neoliberalism been certified as real, and no sooner had it made clear the universal hypocrisy of the market, than the populists and authoritarians came to power. In the US, Hillary Clinton, the neoliberal arch-villain, lost – and to a man who knew just enough to pretend he hated free trade. So are the eyeglasses now useless? Can they do anything to help us understand what is broken about British and American politics? Against the forces of global integration, national identity is being reasserted, and in the crudest possible terms. What could the militant parochialism of Brexit Britain and Trumpist America have to do with neoliberal rationality? What possible connection is there between the president – a freewheeling boob – and the bloodless paragon of efficiency known as the free market?

It isn’t only that the free market produces a tiny cadre of winners and an enormous army of losers – and the losers, looking for revenge, have turned to Brexit and Trump. There was, from the beginning, an inevitable relationship between the utopian ideal of the free market and the dystopian present in which we find ourselves; between the market as unique discloser of value and guardian of liberty, and our current descent into post-truth and illiberalism.

Moving the stale debate about neoliberalism forward begins, I think, with taking seriously the measure of its cumulative effect on all of us, regardless of affiliation. And this requires returning to its origins, which have nothing to do with Bill or Hillary Clinton. There once was a group of people who did call themselves neoliberals, and did so proudly, and their ambition was a total revolution in thought. The most prominent among them, Friedrich Hayek, did not think he was staking out a position on the political spectrum, or making excuses for the fatuous rich, or tinkering along the edges of microeconomics.

He thought he was solving the problem of modernity: the problem of objective knowledge. For Hayek, the market didn’t just facilitate trade in goods and services; it revealed truth. How did his ambition collapse into its opposite – the mind-bending possibility that, thanks to our thoughtless veneration of the free market, truth might be driven from public life altogether?

When the idea occurred to Friedrich Hayek in 1936, he knew, with the conviction of a “sudden illumination”, that he had struck upon something new. “How can the combination of fragments of knowledge existing in different minds,” he wrote, “bring about results which, if they were to be brought about deliberately, would require a knowledge on the part of the directing mind which no single person can possess?”

This was not a technical point about interest rates or deflationary slumps. This was not a reactionary polemic against collectivism or the welfare state. This was a way of birthing a new world. To his mounting excitement, Hayek understood that the market could be thought of as a kind of mind.

Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” had already given us the modern conception of the market: as an autonomous sphere of human activity and therefore, potentially, a valid object of scientific knowledge. But Smith was, until the end of his life, an 18th-century moralist. He thought the market could be justified only in light of individual virtue, and he was anxious that a society governed by nothing but transactional self-interest was no society at all. Neoliberalism is Adam Smith without the anxiety.

That Hayek is considered the grandfather of neoliberalism – a style of thought that reduces everything to economics – is a little ironic given that he was such a mediocre economist. He was just a young, obscure Viennese technocrat when he was recruited to the London School of Economics to compete with, or possibly even dim, the rising star of John Maynard Keynes at Cambridge.

The plan backfired, and Hayek lost out to Keynes in a rout. Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, published in 1936, was greeted as a masterpiece. It dominated the public discussion, especially among young English economists in training, for whom the brilliant, dashing, socially connected Keynes was a beau idéal. By the end of the second world war, many prominent free-marketers had come around to Keynes’s way of thinking, conceding that government might play a role in managing a modern economy. The initial excitement over Hayek had dissipated. His peculiar notion that doing nothing could cure an economic depression had been discredited in theory and practice. He later admitted that he wished his work criticising Keynes would simply be forgotten.

Hayek cut a silly figure: a tall, erect, thickly accented professor in high-cut tweed, insisting on the formal “Von Hayek” but cruelly nicknamed “Mr Fluctooations” behind his back. In 1936, he was an academic without a portfolio and with no obvious future. Yet we now live in Hayek’s world, as we once lived in Keynes’s. Lawrence Summers, the Clinton adviser and former president of Harvard University, has said that Hayek’s conception of the price system as a mind is “as penetrating and original an idea as microeconomics produced in the 20th century” and “the single most important thing to learn from an economics course today”. This undersells it. Keynes did not make or predict the cold war, but his thinking wended its way into every aspect of the cold-war world; so too has Hayek’s thinking woven itself into every aspect of the post-1989 world.
Friedrich Hayek teaching at the London School of Economics in 1948. Photograph: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty

Hayek’s was a total worldview: a way of structuring all reality on the model of economic competition. He begins by assuming that nearly all (if not all) human activity is a form of economic calculation, and so can be assimilated to the master concepts of wealth, value, exchange, cost – and especially price. Prices are a means of allocating scarce resources efficiently, according to need and utility, as governed by supply and demand. For the price system to function efficiently, markets must be free and competitive. Ever since Smith imagined the economy as an autonomous sphere, the possibility existed that the market might not just be one piece of society, but society as a whole. Within such a society, men and women need only follow their own self-interest and compete for scarce rewards. Through competition, “it becomes possible”, as the sociologist Will Davies has written, “to discern who and what is valuable”.

What any person acquainted with history sees as the necessary bulwarks against tyranny and exploitation – a thriving middle class and civil sphere; free institutions; universal suffrage; freedom of conscience, congregation, religion and press; a basic recognition that the individual is a bearer of dignity – held no special place in Hayek’s thought. Hayek built into neoliberalism the assumption that the market provides all necessary protection against the one real political danger: totalitarianism. To prevent this, the state need only keep the market free.

This last is what makes neoliberalism “neo”. It is a crucial modification of the older belief in a free market and a minimal state, known as “classical liberalism”. In classical liberalism, merchants simply asked the state to “leave us alone” – to laissez-nous faire. Neoliberalism recognised that the state must be active in the organisation of a market economy. The conditions allowing for a free market must be won politically, and the state must be re-engineered to support the free market on an ongoing basis.

That isn’t all: every aspect of democratic politics, from the choices of voters to the decisions of politicians, must be submitted to a purely economic analysis. The lawmaker is obliged to leave well enough alone – to not distort the natural actions of the marketplace – and so, ideally, the state provides a fixed, neutral, universal legal framework within which market forces operate spontaneously. The conscious direction of government is never preferable to the “automatic mechanism of adjustment” – ie the price system, which is not only efficient but maximises liberty, or the opportunity for men and women to make free choices about their own lives.

As Keynes jetted between London and Washington, creating the postwar order, Hayek sat pouting in Cambridge. He had been sent there during the wartime evacuations; and he complained that he was surrounded by “foreigners” and “no lack of orientals of all kinds” and “Europeans of practically all nationalities, but very few of real intelligence”.

Stuck in England, without influence or respect, Hayek had only his idea to console him; an idea so grand it would one day dissolve the ground beneath the feet of Keynes and every other intellectual. Left to its own devices, the price system functions as a kind of mind. And not just any mind, but an omniscient one: the market computes what individuals cannot grasp. Reaching out to him as an intellectual comrade-in-arms, the American journalist Walter Lippmann wrote to Hayek, saying: “No human mind has ever understood the whole scheme of a society … At best a mind can understand its own version of the scheme, something much thinner, which bears to reality some such relation as a silhouette to a man.”

It is a grand epistemological claim – that the market is a way of knowing, one that radically exceeds the capacity of any individual mind. Such a market is less a human contrivance, to be manipulated like any other, than a force to be studied and placated. Economics ceases to be a technique – as Keynes believed it to be – for achieving desirable social ends, such as growth or stable money. The only social end is the maintenance of the market itself. In its omniscience, the market constitutes the only legitimate form of knowledge, next to which all other modes of reflection are partial, in both senses of the word: they comprehend only a fragment of a whole and they plead on behalf of a special interest. Individually, our values are personal ones, or mere opinions; collectively, the market converts them into prices, or objective facts.

After washing out at LSE, Hayek never held a permanent appointment that was not paid for by corporate sponsors. Even his conservative colleagues at the University of Chicago – the global epicentre of libertarian dissent in the 1950s – regarded Hayek as a reactionary mouthpiece, a “stock rightwing man” with a “stock rightwing sponsor”, as one put it. As late as 1972, a friend could visit Hayek, now in Salzburg, only to find an elderly man prostrate with self-pity, believing his life’s work was in vain. No one cared what he had written!

There had, however, been hopeful signs: Hayek was Barry Goldwater’s favourite political philosopher and was said to be Ronald Reagan’s, too. Then there was Margaret Thatcher. To anyone who would listen, Thatcher lionised Hayek, promising to bring together his free-market philosophy with a revival of Victorian values: family, community, hard work.

Hayek met privately with Thatcher in 1975, at the very moment that she, having been named leader of the opposition in the UK, was preparing to bring his Big Idea off the shelf and into history. They huddled for 30 minutes on Lord North Street in London, at the Institute for Economic Affairs. Afterwards, Thatcher’s staff anxiously asked Hayek what he had thought. What could he say? For the first time in 40 years, power was mirroring back to Friedrich von Hayek his own cherished self-image, a man who might vanquish Keynes and remake the world.

He replied: “She’s so beautiful.”

Hayek’s Big Idea isn’t much of an idea – until you supersize it. Organic, spontaneous, elegant processes that, like a million fingers on a Ouija board, coordinate to create outcomes that are otherwise unplanned. Applied to an actual market – one for pork bellies or corn futures – this description is little more than a truism. It can be expanded to describe how various markets, in commodities and labour and even money itself, form that part of a society known as “the economy”. This is less banal, but still inconsequential; a Keynesian accepts this description happily. But what if we bump it up one more step? What if we reconceive all of society as a kind of market?

The more Hayek’s idea expands, the more reactionary it gets, the more it hides behind its pretence of scientific neutrality – and the more it allows economics to link up with the major intellectual trend of the west since the 17th century. The rise of modern science generated a problem: if the world is universally obedient to natural laws, what does it mean to be human? Is a human being simply an object in the world, like any other? There appears to be no way to assimilate the subjective, interior human experience into nature as science conceives it – as something objective whose rules we discover by observation.

Everything about the postwar political culture lay in favour of John Maynard Keynes, and an expanded role for the state in managing the economy. But everything about the postwar academic culture lay in favour of Hayek’s Big Idea. Before the war, even the most rightwing economist thought of the market as a means to a limited end, to the efficient allocation of scarce resources. From the time of Adam Smith in the mid-1700s, and up to that of the founding members of the Chicago school in the postwar years, it was commonplace to believe that the ultimate ends of society and of life, were established in the non-economic sphere.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest John Maynard Keynes, circa 1940. Photograph: Tim Gidal/Getty

On this view, questions of value are resolved politically and democratically, not economically – through moral reflection and public deliberation. The classic modern expression of this belief is found in a 1922 essay called Ethics and the Economic Interpretation by Frank Knight, who arrived at Chicago two decades before Hayek. “The rational economic criticism of values gives results repugnant to common sense,” Knight wrote. “Economic man is the selfish, ruthless object of moral condemnation.”

Economists had struggled for 200 years with the question of how to place the values on which an otherwise commercial society is organised beyond mere self-interest and calculation. Knight, along with his colleagues Henry Simons and Jacob Viner, were holdouts against Franklin D Roosevelt and the market interventions of the New Deal, and they established the University of Chicago as the intellectually rigorous home of free-market economics that it remains to this day. However, Simons, Viner and Knight all started their careers before the unrivalled prestige of atomic physicists drew enormous sums of money into the university system and kicked off a postwar vogue for “hard” science. They did not worship equations or models, and they worried about non-scientific questions. Most explicitly, they worried about questions of value, where value was absolutely distinct from price.

It is not just that Simons, Viner and Knight were less dogmatic than Hayek, or more willing to pardon the state for taxing and spending. It is not the case that Hayek was their intellectual superior. But they acknowledged as a first principle that society was not the same thing as the market, and that price was not the same thing as value. This set them up to be swallowed whole by history.

It was Hayek who showed us how to get from the hopeless condition of human partiality to the majestic objectivity of science. Hayek’s Big Idea acts as the missing link between our subjective human nature, and nature itself. In so doing, it puts any value that cannot be expressed as a price – as the verdict of a market – on an equally unsure footing, as nothing more than opinion, preference, folklore or superstition.

More than anyone, even Hayek himself, it was the great postwar Chicago economist Milton Friedman who helped convert governments and politicians to the power of Hayek’s Big Idea. But first he broke with two centuries of precedent and declared that economics is “in principle independent of any particular ethical position or normative judgments” and is “an ‘objective’ science, in precisely the same sense as any of the physical sciences”. Values of the old, mental, normative kind were defective, they were “differences about which men can ultimately only fight”. There is the market, in other words, and there is relativism.

Markets may be human facsimiles of natural systems, and like the universe itself, they may be authorless and valueless. But the application of Hayek’s Big Idea to every aspect of our lives negates what is most distinctive about us. That is, it assigns what is most human about human beings – our minds and our volition – to algorithms and markets, leaving us to mimic, zombie-like, the shrunken idealisations of economic models. Supersizing Hayek’s idea and radically upgrading the price system into a kind of social omniscience means radically downgrading the importance of our individual capacity to reason – our ability to provide and evaluate justifications for our actions and beliefs.

As a result, the public sphere – the space where we offer up reasons, and contest the reasons of others – ceases to be a space for deliberation, and becomes a market in clicks, likes and retweets. The internet is personal preference magnified by algorithm; a pseudo-public space that echoes the voice already inside our head. Rather than a space of debate in which we make our way, as a society, toward consensus, now there is a mutual-affirmation apparatus banally referred to as a “marketplace of ideas”. What looks like something public and lucid is only an extension of our own pre-existing opinions, prejudices and beliefs, while the authority of institutions and experts has been displaced by the aggregative logic of big data. When we access the world through a search engine, its results are ranked, as the founder of Google puts it, “recursively” – by an infinity of individual users functioning as a market, continuously and in real time.

The awesome utilities of digital technology aside, an earlier and more humanist tradition, which was dominant for centuries, had always distinguished between our tastes and preferences – the desires that find expression in the market – and our capacity for reflection on those preferences, which allows us to form and express values.

“A taste is almost defined as a preference about which you do not argue,” the philosopher and economist Albert O Hirschman once wrote. “A taste about which you argue, with others or yourself, ceases ipso facto being a taste – it turns into a value.”

Hirschman drew a distinction between that part of one’s self that is a consumer, and that part of one’s self that is a supplier of reasons. The market reflects what Hirschman called the preferences that are “revealed by agents as they buy goods and services”. But, as he puts it, men and women also “have the ability to step back from their ‘revealed’ wants, volition and preferences, to ask themselves whether they really want these wants and prefer these preferences”. We fashion our selves and identities on the basis of this capacity for reflection. The use of one’s individual reflective powers is reason; the collective use of these reflective powers is public reason; the use of public reason to make law and policy is democracy. When we provide reasons for our actions and beliefs, we bring ourselves into being: individually and collectively, we decide who and what we are.

According to the logic of Hayek’s Big Idea, these expressions of human subjectivity are meaningless without ratification by the market – as Friedman said, they are nothing but relativism, each as good as any other. When the only objective truth is determined by the market, all other values have the status of mere opinions; everything else is relativist hot air. But Friedman’s “relativism” is a charge that can be thrown at any claim based on human reason. It is a nonsense insult, as all humanistic pursuits are “relative” in a way the sciences are not. They are relative to the (private) condition of having a mind, and the (public) need to reason and understand even when we can’t expect scientific proof. When our debates are no longer resolved by deliberation over reasons, then the whimsies of power will determine the outcome.

This is where the triumph of neoliberalism meets the political nightmare we are living through now. “You had one job,” the old joke goes, and Hayek’s grand project, as originally conceived in 30s and 40s, was explicitly designed to prevent a backslide into political chaos and fascism. But the Big Idea was always this abomination waiting to happen. It was, from the beginning, pregnant with the thing it was said to protect against. Society reconceived as a giant market leads to a public life lost to bickering over mere opinions; until the public turns, finally, in frustration to a strongman as a last resort for solving its otherwise intractable problems.

In 1989, an American reporter knocked on the 90-year-old Hayek’s door. He was living in Freiburg, West Germany, in a third-floor apartment in a stucco house on Urachstrasse. The two men sat in a sunroom whose windows looked out on the mountains, and Hayek, who was recovering from pneumonia, pulled a blanket over his legs as they spoke.

This was no longer the man who had once wallowed in his own defeat at the hands of Keynes. Thatcher had just written to Hayek in a tone of millennial triumph. None of what she and Reagan had accomplished “would have been possible without the values and beliefs to set us on the right road and provide the right sense of direction”. Hayek was now cheerful on his own account, and optimistic about the future of capitalism. As the journalist wrote, “In particular, Hayek sees a greater appreciation for the market among the younger generation. Today unemployed youth in Algiers and Rangoon riot not for centrally planned welfare state but for opportunity: the freedom to buy and sell – jeans, cars, whatever – at whatever prices the market will bear.”

Thirty years on, and it can fairly be said that Hayek’s victory is unrivalled. We live in a paradise built by his Big Idea. The more closely the world can be made to resemble an ideal market governed only by perfect competition, the more law-like and “scientific” human behaviour, in the aggregate, becomes. Every day we ourselves – no one has to tell us to anymore! – strive to become more perfectly like scattered, discrete, anonymous buyers and sellers; and every day we treat the residual desire to be something more than a consumer as nostalgia, or elitism.

How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next

What began as a new form of intellectual authority, rooted in a devoutly apolitical worldview, nudged easily into an ultra-reactionary politics. What can’t be quantified must not be real, says the economist, and how do you measure the benefits of the core faiths of the enlightenment – namely, critical reasoning, personal autonomy and democratic self-government? When we abandoned, for its embarrassing residue of subjectivity, reason as a form of truth, and made science the sole arbiter of both the real and the true, we created a void that pseudo-science was happy to fill.

The authority of the professor, the reformer, the legislator or the jurist does not derive from the market, but from humanistic values such as public spiritedness, conscience or the longing for justice. Long before the Trump administration started demeaning them, such figures had been drained of salience by an explanatory scheme that can’t explain them. Surely there is a connection between their growing irrelevance and the election of Trump, a creature of pure whim, a man without the principles or conviction to make for a coherent self. A man without a mind, who represents the total absence of reason, is running the world; or at least ruining it. As a Manhattan real estate wiseguy, though, Trump, hey – he knows what he knows: that his sins have yet to be punished in the marketplace.

Hungary: Life after communism for a communist party

 Nicholas James

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, of the right-wing FIDESZ party, delivers his address as pictured through a hole on the national flag during the commemoration of the 1956
Hungarian revolution against Stalinism, Oct. 23, 2016. During the revolution, the symbol of the hardline Rákosi regime had been cut out of the flag to symbolize opposition to his rule. Today, under Orban, nostalgia for the 1956-89 socialist era is growing. | Szilard Koszticsak / MTI via AP

In mid-July, I found myself in a part of Budapest I had never visited, Újpest (“New Pest”), a village on the outskirts of Budapest until the late 1950s. During that time, the government led by János Kádár began erecting massive apartment blocks as a means to eradicate homelessness in the city of Budapest. Those towers, made of pure concrete panels, were never meant to last more than 50 years.

Today, Hungary’s governing right-wing and neoliberal FIDESZ party has no interest in replacing or modernizing those buildings. It is fitting then that Újpest is where most of, if not all, the workers of Budapest live and raise their families, and where the Munkáspárt (Hungarian Workers Party) recently moved its headquarters. The party was founded after the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party, which had governed Hungary from 1956, split in 1989 after falling from power.

A little historical background is perhaps needed. Hungarians recognize three different periods of workers’ rule in their history: The Hungarian Soviet Republic, which existed for 133 days in 1919; The hardline era (1949-1956) under Mátyás Rákosi, an authoritarian and close friend of Joseph Stalin; and the socialist period (1956-1989) under former WWII partisan János Kádár, who became communist leader in the wake of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Over those more than 30 years, the living standards of Hungary soared while inequality crashed and burned. The author, Nicholas James, left, with Thürmer Gyula, leader of the Hungarian Workers Party. | PW / Nicholas James

If you ever have the chance to speak with a Hungarian, you’ll likely find that their dislike of the era of communist rule is not due to their opposition to socialism, but rather because of the loss of national autonomy that was experienced under Soviet domination.

As I and my partner in travels, Hellenbort Richard, walked from the tram station towards the Munkáspárt headquarters, I couldn’t help but notice that right-wing political parties had also set up offices in the village. The FIDESZ (right wing moderate/conservative) and JOBBIK (extreme right) parties were the most notable.

Outside the building we were met by the Workers Party chairman, Thürmer Gyula, and Central Committee member Marina Pilajeva. Pilajeva and I had met three years prior at the party’s former headquarters in Budapest’s 8th District.

This new site was quite the upgrade in modern style and much more inviting. The memories of past socialist accomplishments were proudly displayed along the walls, but the focus today was discussing 21st century socialism, the Workers Party, and its path forward.

With the complicated political stage back home in the U.S., I couldn’t help but ask Thürmer why he thought new extreme political parties had such a draw on voters.

“Perhaps this is the same in most capitalist countries. The Hungarian youth is disorientated to a very great degree. Get the money. Spend the money. But to deal with policy, they are looking for some values, and they try to find these values among the radical right organizations. They have come to our party in recent years. Why? Because they have come to understand that if I am born into a poor family, I have all the possibility to remain poor all my life.”

I told Thürmer of how socialism was gaining in appeal among younger American voters, and asked whether there had been interest in organizing the youth into Munkáspárt.

He said, “At first, we only had comrades as members who were old enough to be on a pension. They had more time. They had more possibilities and more courage and political experience. We started at the bottom with the older generation.”

But that situation is beginning to turn around. The membership now, he said, is mostly people who are 40-something. These are people who were born under the old socialist system and still remember it. “They say ‘we understand that our parents lived better than we do now.’ Some of them say that ‘we understand now that we will never live as well as our parents did live.’”

Thinking back to when I first met Pilajeva, I remember she explained that Munkáspárt was a grassroots organization. Transitioning from a ruling party to a grassroots party has proven successful for some communist political organizations after the collapse of the socialist governments of eastern Europe: the Communist Party of Moldova, Die Linke (The Left) in Germany, and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia in the Czech Republic.

So, I asked Thürmer, how does a former ruling party maintain relevance after it is no longer in power?

“We do not receive any financial support from the state. The younger members pay their dues electronically, but a vast majority of members pay their monthly fees in cash. They are not accustomed to the electronic system. Also, a majority of parties recommend that we do not use electronic methods, because capitalists control our money.”

He says Munkáspárt also concentrates on special elections between the major national elections. “Of course, it is very difficult to win an election when you do not live in a village; but we show up, we collect signatures, we give our propaganda, and they get to know us.”

On-the-ground contact is key. “We meet the people where they live: in the markets and in the streets. One of the first laws the capitalist government passed forbids us to organize in the workplace. For decades in the socialist system, organizing for the party was only in the workplace.”

For Munkáspárt members, practical political work is the focus. “We believe that the party should be like an army,” according to Thürmer. “If the soldiers are not given concrete work, they will lose discipline. On the internet, everyone is a great communist revolutionary. However, taking the time to do the real work is a sacrifice.”

My eyes looked down at the table and saw one of the new literature pieces of the Workers Party: Harvesting combines moving in formation, exposing the Munkáspárt emblem as they reaped their crops—quite a stunning image paying respect to agricultural workers. It reminded me of our own political challenges in the U.S.

During the early 1990s it was common for the newly-elected governments of eastern Europe to pass laws making it harder—impossible even—for the communist parties that found themselves now in the opposition to participate. Those laws were passed to keep socialist and communist parties from ever again gaining a political majority in government once people realized the difficult truths of living in a market economy. Is that still the case now?

Thürmer says that his party still faces hurdles. “To be allowed to take part in the Hungarian parliament, a party had previously needed 4 percent of the national vote. When we (Munkáspárt) got close to this amount, the government then raised the bar to 5 percent.”

Labels also present a challenge in post-socialist Hungary, but Munkáspárt persists.

“It is not legal to use the name ‘Communist’ in the name of the party. Our hearts are Communist, but the name itself is less important. Naturally, we would like to use the red star and such, but you can exist without it.”

The promise of higher living standards under liberal policies has fallen flat and created a major population crisis for Hungary. Skilled workers are leaving the country in droves, especially in rural areas.

Many employers in the smaller cities and villages are demanding twelve-hour shifts from the remaining workers as the labor pool has critically shrunk. The housing market is backed by the Swiss franc, the most valuable currency in the world, causing home ownership to be nearly impossible. And a nationalistic rebuke of the euro has caused the national currency (the forint) to decline in value.

While discussing how public sentiment seems to be tiring of capitalism, Mr. Thürmer made a statement that struck me to the core.

“The future of capitalism in Hungary will not be decided in Hungary,” he says. “We have a saying: ‘when it rains in Germany, we open our umbrellas in Hungary.’” The cover of a new piece of Workers Party literature. | PW / Nicholas James

Hungary, a nation of ten million, has been reliant on the larger economies of other nations since the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I. In 1919, the budding Hungarian Soviet Republic depended on support from Russia’s Bolsheviks. In the interwar period, it was Germany’s support that was needed.

After WWII, of course, Hungary was reliant on the Soviet Union and trade with the other socialist countries of eastern Europe. After 1989, all hopes were put into the European Union—essentially Germany, England, and France.

In other respects, though, the workers’ struggle in Hungary is similar to that in the USA, and both nations have experienced a tremendous backsliding of workers’ rights since the end of the Cold War.

I recognized, at that moment, how privileged I was to sit, drink coffee, and discuss political activism with comrades 5,100 miles away from home. After a few photos with Comrades Thürmer and Pilajeva, it was time to head out.

As a parting gift, Thürmer handed us autographed copies of his most recent published work. My abilities at speaking Magyar (Hungarian) are laughable at best, but I understood when Richard explained how much the book meant to us.

On the tram home, Richard, who has voted for the extreme right-wing party JOBBIK in the past and also (seemingly paradoxically) spoken of the superiority of socialism, held up the book with a serious face, turned to me, and said:

“I am going to read this book. I like what Thürmer Gyula had to say. Plus, would Orbán Viktor [current prime minister and head of FIDESZ] take the time to speak with us? No, this guy has proven that they (Munkáspárt) are the party of workers.”

Trump’s next chance to undercut Obamacare is almost here

"I don’t think we can force people to sign up for a program."

I attended a briefing yesterday with a Trump administration official (one condition was we had to quote the person this way), and the big topic of discussion was what the administration was willing to do to help people sign up for health coverage under Obamacare in 2018.

That answer stuck out to me. Even as the nation's uninsured rate hits an all-time low, the administration still portrays the law as failing and waves away accusations that it is helping foster uncertainty by, for example, refusing to commit to making key payments to insurers.

"We want people to have health care," the official said toward the end, answering a basic question about whether they wanted the Obamacare markets to work. "We want the individual marketplace to function, and it’s not functioning today."

We didn't get a lot of specifics about open enrollment. But there was little indication that the administration was preparing a robust outreach program. Experts have told me that a muted enrollment campaign could have serious consequences for the law's markets.

Would the administration advertise Obamacare open enrollment? "You'll hear more from us soon."

What about the navigator program, which trains individuals and organizations to provide people with unbiased information and help them sign up? "I'm not a business-as-usual person."

(Reports from conservative outlets have cast doubt on the value of enrollment outreach programs, and HHS has highlighted those stories to other reporters.)

The official did say they wanted customers to have a good shopping experience. "One of the things people really struggled with in the past is they would call and be on hold for a long time."

"I look at it as: Our role is good government," the official said. "Our job is to uphold the law."

But we didn't learn what exactly that meant.

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So I asked Tim Jost, a Washington and Lee law professor who is generally supportive of Obamacare but also probably knows the legal issues around it better than anyone. What is the administration required by law to do?

Going by the letter of the Affordable Care Act, the administration must:
Perform outreach and education
Have a call center for people to sign up for insurance or ask questions by phone
Have a website for people to shop and enroll in coverage
Run a navigator program

But that's about it. There aren't many requirements when it comes to scale: How much money must be spent on outreach, how many navigators must be funded, how many calls the centers can handle, etc.

The administration has done a few things to smooth enrollment for 2018, Jost said. They've said they will continue to automatically reenroll people in their existing coverage, unless they choose to shop around. They have held webinars for navigators and promised to spend a percentage of the fees that insurers pay to help fund the marketplaces on outreach.

"I don’t know about President Trump, but as far as the 80,000 employees of HHS are concerned, this is a program that continues to operate," Jost told me.

But the administration has also taken steps to restrict enrollment, like shortening the open enrollment period. TPM has also reported that Latino groups that had working relationships with the Obama White House to help sign that population up for coverage have been cut off by the new regime.

Then, as we heard Wednesday, the administration isn't exactly committing to a major outreach campaign.

"The surest way to kill the exchanges is to keep them a secret," Jost said. "Sick people will find them, but getting younger and healthier people enrolled is the problem."

Experts believe the Trump administration has already demonstrated it could have a real impact on Obamacare sign-ups.

Enrollment for 2017 was tracking ahead of 2016, Larry Levitt at the Kaiser Family Foundation told me, until President Trump was sworn in with a little more than a week left for sign-ups. Enrollment trailed off at the end, which is doubly strange because there is usually a surge of enrollees around the deadline.

Trump might have complicated issues by signing an executive order on his first day, which, while lacking many details, sent a message that the new administration would look for ways to scale back enforcement of the ACA.

"Something definitely happened," Levitt said. "It's hard to say for sure exactly what caused the drop-off, but prime candidates are the scaling back of outreach and confusion among potential enrollees following the president's executive order."

"There may have been a sense that the individual mandate was no longer in force following the executive order and that the law was going to end imminently," he added, "so it didn't make sense to enroll."

Obamacare averted one crisis when the last of its bare counties were filled in last week. Open enrollment is the next test. The Trump administration might not love the health care law, but coverage for millions of people will hinge in part on how good of a show they run. We'll see how they handle it.
Chart of the Day  

Obesity in America in 2016. Obesity remains one of the paramount public health challenges for our country. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America's Health have pulled together some new data. While rates remain high, if there is some good news, it appears they are starting to level off. There is a lot of data and info on the new report's website.

“Trump Administration Wants to Stabilize Health Markets but Won’t Say How”: “A Trump administration official said Wednesday that the administration wanted to stabilize health insurance markets, but refused to say if the government would promote enrollment this fall under the Affordable Care Act or pay for the activities of counselors who help people sign up for coverage.” —Robert Pear, New York Times
“Sen. Kamala Harris announces support for ‘Medicare-for-All’ bill”: ““I intend to co-sponsor the Medicaid-for-All bill,” California’s junior senator told several hundred people at a town hall at Oakland’s Beebe Memorial Cathedral, referring to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-All proposal.” —Casey Tolan, San Jose Mercury News
“St. Kitts Launches Probe Of Herpes Vaccine Tests On U.S. Patients”: “The vaccine research has sparked controversy because the lead investigator, a professor with Southern Illinois University, and the U.S. company he co-founded did not rely on traditional U.S. safety oversight while testing the vaccine last year on mostly American participants on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts.” —Marisa Taylor, Kaiser Health News

Analysis and longer reads
“While Congress is away, this bipartisan group of governors is trying to fix Obamacare”: “Written by Govs. John Kasich (R-Ohio) and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) with six other governors signing on, the plan makes adjustments to the ACA around the edges, as opposed to the large upheavals that Republican lawmakers have been trying to move through Congress.” —Kim Soffen, Reuben Fischer-Baum, and Kevin Uhrmacher, Washington Post
“Are Short-Term Limited Duration Plans Bad For The Individual Market?”: “With the impasse in the congressional GOP’s attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Trump administration has sought regulatory reforms that could improve health care choices and reduce costs for consumers. Among their options is the reversal of a recent regulation that sought to restrict the availability of short-term limited duration plans.“ —Christopher Pope, Health Affairs
“In mega-shelter for Harvey evacuees, telemedicine plans to help doctors keep up”: “Children’s Health has set up a telemedicine station from which ER physicians at the hospital can remotely see children at the shelter, via a computer monitor and specially designed equipment for measuring vital signs. The telemedicine station has been in use since Monday.” —Leah Samuel, STAT
Join the conversation

lunes, 28 de agosto de 2017

The Bernie voters who defected to Trump, explained by a political scientist

Sen. Sanders holds a rally in Ohio on Tuesday

About 12 percent of Bernie Sanders supporters from the Democratic primary crossed party lines and voted for Donald Trump in the general election, a new analysis says.

In several key states — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan — the number of Sanders to Trump defectors were greater than Trump’s margin of victory, according to new numbers released Wednesday by UMass professor Brian Schaffner.

In an interview, Schaffner noted that in an election this close, any number of voting blocs could have proved decisive. And the analysis certainly doesn’t necessarily prove Sanders would have won — Schaffner also found that 34 percent of John Kasich’s GOP primary supporters backed Clinton in the general; perhaps more would have stayed in the Republican camp had Sanders been the Democrats’ nominee, or perhaps fewer of Hillary Clinton’s voters would have voted for Sanders. Then again, it also suggests some voters were in Sanders’s reach that were out of Clinton’s.

Moreover, defections from a primary to general election are common. More voters went from Hillary Clinton to John McCain in 2008 than went from Sanders to Trump in 2016; about 13 percent of Trump’s 2016 voters also voted for Barack Obama in 2012.

“The way to think about this is, as several people have noted, that this election was so close that any number of things could have proved the decisive difference,” Schaffner said in an interview. “This is yet another one of those anythings.”

But given Democrats’ interest in winning back the Rust Belt, it’s worth digging into exactly who this population of voters is. Schaffner found some demographic characteristics that might align with what you’d expect — Bernie-Trump voters were older and whiter than the average Democratic primary voter, for instance.

Perhaps surprisingly, however, these defectors did not turn out to have views on trade policy that marked them as significantly more opposed to free trade than the average Democrat. That may fly against the expectation that Sanders’ views on trade were unique to his appeal, but some political scientists were making that case as early as April 2016.

Also of note: the Bernie-Trump voter also proved much more likely to consider himself or herself “somewhat conservative” or “very conservative” than the average Democrat. Sanders, of course, ran on a policy platform well to Clinton’s left — but was able to do so in a way that allowed him to win over voters that disdain the “liberal” label.

A transcript of my conversation with Schaffner on Wednesday follows.
Jeff Stein

I’ve seen some people who are using your new finding to trumpet that “Bernie Would Have Won,” because the number of Bernie-Trump voters is greater than the margin of difference between Clinton and Trump. And then there are others who say that this poll proves that Bernie voters cost Hillary the election, because his supporters stubbornly flipped to Trump in the end.

And it seems like for one claim to be correct, so does the other one.
Brian Schaffner

One piece of this that’s important to keep in context is that you always see this kind of defection between a primary and a general election. In 2008, you saw a lot of Hillary Clinton voters who ended up backing John McCain — so it's not abnormal to see this kind of thing. And more of them did so in 2008 than this time. [15 percent of Clinton’s 2008 voters in the primary supported McCain in that year’s general election.] Although given the candidates this time versus in 2008, it may have been surprising to see even this rate of defection.

The thing that really stood out to me is that a lot of these people who voted for Sanders — and then Trump — don't look like modern day Democrats. So you saw a lot fewer of them actually identify as Democrats than your normal Sanders voter; and, even more striking, they seem to have views on racial issues that are far more conservative than your typical Democrat.

It's not clear to me this necessarily if this is a Hillary Clinton problem specifically, or if this was Bernie Sanders having a special appeal to bring people into Democratic Party primaries, who would otherwise be inclined to be Republicans.
Jeff Stein

So who are these Bernie-Trump defectors?

I assume they’re not the young voters who made up the core of Bernie’s base in the primary? This is the other major part of his coalition — the white union “Reagan Democrat” voters.

But then again, you have a chart showing that these Bernie-Trump defectors weren’t particularly opposed to free trade deals:

Brian Schaffner

That’s a good question. I’ll just say I haven’t gone down every rabbit hole yet. But they were also older and whiter [than the average Bernie voter in the primary], and also less liberal.

Of the ones that switched to Trump, only about 25 percent also voted for a Democratic candidate for Congress. And we do have a little bit about what they did in 2012 — it looks like they were split roughly evenly, 50-50, between Obama and Romney. So these appear to be people who are trending out of the Democratic Party.

Of those Bernie voters who supported Trump in the general election, the average age was 52. Those who stuck with Clinton were an average age of 45, and of those who broke for a third party, the average age was 44. Of those that didn’t vote, their average age was 35 — these were the ones that got activated by Bernie, and then dropped back out when he didn't win. It’s worth noting that very few of the primary voters stayed home. People who vote in primaries are highly engaged in politics — they’re not people who come in and out of the electorate.

I also looked at how the Bernie-Trump voters identify themselves on the ideological scale, and very few say that they're liberal. Only about 17 to 18 percent say that they're liberal, in any kind of way, shape, or form, though they voted for Sanders.

By contrast, about 45 percent of these Bernie-Trump voters say they're ‘middle of the road’ — basically, a lot of them see themselves as “moderates.” Meanwhile, another 35 percent of them are claiming to be either somewhat conservative or very conservative.

I think what this starts to suggest to me is that these are old holdovers from the Democratic Party that are conservative on race issues. And while Bernie wasn't campaigning on that kind of thing, Clinton was much more forthright about courting the votes of minorities — and maybe that offended them, and then eventually pushed them out and toward Trump.
Jeff Stein

How big or decisive was this population?
Brian Schaffner

The way to think about this is, as several people have noted, that this election was so close that any number of things could have proved the decisive difference. This is yet another one of those anythings.

An 8 to 10 percent defection rate among Sanders voters changes the outcome in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan — even maybe some other states.

But at the same time you have to remember how many Republican primary voters didn’t end up voting for Trump. It’s probably not quite as many, but it’s more of a wash in that respect.
Jeff Stein

It’s been months since the election — why is this data coming out now?
Brian Schaffner

This is the Cooperative Congressional Elections Study data, and we’ve had the survey data itself since February. And I saw this pattern back in February, but I was a little skeptical.

What we do with this survey is go back and match respondents to voter files because people lie about having voted, and especially lie about having voted in the primaries. What I was worried about is people who claimed to have voted in a primary for Bernie but didn’t.

So I waited until I had the data that matched the respondents to their voter file record, which allowed us to see — these are the people we know voted for a primary. And we’re still getting this defection rate.

Report: Brexit strategist to help GOP with 2018 midterm election strategy

Chip Somodevilla

One of the minds behind the Brexit campaign is reportedly helping Republicans strategize for the 2018 midterm elections.

Back in 2015, the pro-Brexit group Leave.EU hired American PR strategist Gerry Gunster to help lead the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union.

Now, per Politico’s reporting, Gunster is “in discussions” with GOP leaders on how to tackle the 2018 midterm elections:

Spearheading the discussions is Republican strategist Gerry Gunster, a referendum expert who helped to lead the successful 2016, populist-infused campaign for Britain's exit from the European Union. Gunster — who visited then-president-elect Trump in New York City along with Brexit leader Nigel Farage after the November election — has spoken about the ballot initiative concept with top administration aides, including political director Bill Stepien and Nick Ayers, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence and a veteran GOP operative.

Gerry Gunster, who runs the US advocacy firm Goddard Gunster, was a top strategist in the campaign to convince British voters to approve leaving the European Union. Ultimately, 51.9 percent of British voters voted to leave the EU.

The Brexit campaign has been criticized for its use of false statistics about the financial cost of Britain staying in the EU, which many say helped its victory. An article by the Telegraph identified several of the statistics pushed by the Brexit campaign as misleading and downright false.

For example, the “Leave” camp claimed that the UK lost 350 million pounds (about $450 million) per week as a result of being in the EU, and pledged to invest that money in Britain’s health care system if the UK left. This was doubly wrong: The 350 million figure didn’t take into account money the EU paid back to Britain in subsidies, and the Brexit side quickly abandoned its promise to spend the 350 million on health care after they won the vote.

Nonetheless, the GOP seems keen to draw on Gunster’s insights. Despite extensive gerrymandering that favors Republican victories around the country in 2018, the GOP has cause for concern for its incumbents’ and candidates’ prospects, including: Trump’s recent attacks on GOP leaders, the failed recent attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare that have reflected poorly on the party, and 2017 special elections results showing the Democratic Party closing its gap behind the GOP.

Game of Thrones season 7: each character's strategy, ranked by political science

These guys did pretty well. (HBO)

Game of Thrones’ seventh season, one defined by the show’s most central characters all coming into conflict for the first time, is over. Daenerys, Jon, Cersei, Tyrion, Sansa, and all the rest spent the entire season struggling with one another for power and control over Westeros, each employing different strategies to strengthen their faction and accomplish their objectives.

Which makes the season’s end a perfect time to take stock: to assess each player’s strategy, and judge which character did the best with the tools they had available. Who played the Game of Thrones best?

To make this judgment, I looked to science — political science, specifically. The subfield of international relations has spent decades accumulating knowledge on what causes different countries to rise and fall, to succeed at getting what they want or to fail miserably. A lot of this work applies just as well to Westeros, with a little bit of tweaking, as it does to Earth.

So as the season ended, I sat down and thought about which characters were most successful and why. I also consulted with a bona fide expert — Dan Drezner, author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies and a professor of international relations at Tufts University’s Fletcher School — to help figure out how political science helped explain who won and who lost on Game of Thrones this season.

What follows, then, is a definitive ranking of whose strategies were best in season seven, from worst to best, focusing only on players who had a major role in the global conflict this season (sorry, Bran, Sam, and Jaime).

So here’s the ranking. And remember, you can’t argue with it — it’s science.
12) Daenerys Targaryen (HBO)

At the beginning of the season, Daenerys had every piece in place to succeed. She had the world’s most powerful army, three strong allies, a compelling objective of “breaking” the wheel that had hurt ordinary people, and — most importantly — she was the sole possessor of the world’s most powerful military technology, dragons. By all rights, she should have ended this season atop the Iron Throne and ready to confront the White Walker threat in the North.

She failed, miserably.

Daenerys lost two of her three allies — Dorne and Highgarden — and the leader of her third, Yara Greyjoy, was captured. She gained a new ally, Jon Snow, but he didn’t make up for the losses. And she idiotically delivered a dragon right into the hands of the Night King, her most serious rival for military hegemony. Her incompetent strategy literally endangered the entire planet, and for that she deserves the lowest spot in this ranking.

Why did Dany fail so epically? Her nation was what’s called a “revisionist” power in international relations parlance, meaning a country that is attempting to upend the political status quo and create a new international order whose terms they dictate. Think Napoleon’s France, World War II-era Japan, or modern-day Russia.

In a statistical study of revisionist powers, Yale University’s Jason Lyall found that revisionist powers often fail by adopting disastrous strategies. They do so, Lyall argues, because leaders build support by winning a military victory of a certain kind. These leaders make grandiose promises of a new world, and need to show that they are delivering. As a result, they build strategy around fulfilling their promises, and often adopt risky approaches that seem appealing, rather than smarter ones that less obviously fit they way they sold themselves.

This is the precise issue that affected Daenerys this season. Early on, she pledged to be a benevolent conqueror, not to burn King’s Landing to the ground or occupy cities with foreign troops. This led her to keep her dragons at home entirely, rather than think more creatively about using them. Why not burn the Red Keep and kill Cersei — but leave the civilian centers of King’s Landing alone? Why not send the dragons to burn Euron’s navy? Why not use the Dothraki cavalry to harry Cersei’s military, staying out of sight of King’s Landing but ambushing any Lannister forces that dared leave the capital?

Later in the season, after losing most of her main allies, she became obsessed with winning Jon’s loyalty — leading to the precise opposite problem. She put her dragons at too much risk, sending them to rescue Jon in a situation where the enemy’s military capability was not well known. She managed to save Jon and win his loyalty, just as Lyall’s theory would predict — but also handed a weapon of mass destruction to a power bent on literally extinguishing all human life.

This was revisionism at its most incompetent.
11) Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (HBO)

Littlefinger, of course, is dead. All of his scheming amounted to nothing in the end, his throat cut at Arya Stark’s hand while the Knights of the Vale — ostensibly his soldiers — sat and watched. His failure is second to Daenerys’s only because he had a lot less to work with, and the consequences mostly rebound on him rather than the entire world.

The issue here was overreach. Littlefinger wanted to marry Sansa and secure his claim to the North, but felt he couldn’t do that while Arya — who didn’t trust him — was around. So he plotted to turn Sansa against Arya, which led the two of them to instead decide to eliminate him. With no truly loyal allies, Littlefinger was defenseless when the Lady of Winterfell turned on him.

This is a problem with Littlefinger’s entire approach to gaining power. He believed the only thing that mattered was the power of the forces you command. But Westeros is a society defined not only by pure power politics, but rather by a series of ethical beliefs and rules of etiquette. There’s an entire school of international relations theory, called constructivism, devoted to explaining the importance of these ideas — and scholars think it applies fairly well to Westeros.

“Social relations in Westeros are sustained as much through bread-breaking rituals, arranged marriages, and promise-keeping as through backstabbing and treachery,” Charli Carpenter, a professor of international relations at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, writes at Foreign Affairs. “The power of such rules is only highlighted by their occasional breach.”

The first of these rules among the Westerosi nobility is loyalty to family. The Starks, a family famous for their commitment to ethical rules, would never turn on each other. Littlefinger did not understand the nature of this belief, and believed he could turn Sansa to his way of thinking. By overestimating the power of fear and power lust, and underestimating the force of Westeros’s moral rules, Littlefinger sealed his fate.
10–8) Olenna Tyrell, Ellaria Sand, and the Greyjoy siblings [TIED] (HBO)

Daenerys’s initial three allies all kicked off season seven as leading members of the world’s most powerful alliance — and ended in disaster. Olenna is dead. Ellaria was forced to watch her daughter die in front of her eyes. And Yara Greyjoy is a prisoner of her uncle Euron, with her brother Theon is on a dangerous mission to rescue her.

What happened here was very simple. These leaders all attempted a strategy called “bandwagoning” — aligning yourself with a stronger power. Ohio State University’s Randall Schweller argues that countries tend to bandwagon with revisionist powers like the Targaryen alliance when they want to strengthen their position in the international system.

This all made sense at the beginning: Cersei murdered Olenna’s family and destroyed their chance to take over the throne, Ellaria hated the Lannisters, and Yara/Theon needed someone’s help in overthrowing Euron.

But the problem with bandwagoning is that your fortune rises and falls with those of the great power you’ve aligned with. When Daenerys proved too timid and uncreative to win an early victory against Cersei, her allies were the first casualties. Daenerys’s allies overestimated her chances, and paid the price.
7) Tyrion Lannister (HBO)

Tyrion’s situation was a little different from that of the other leaders we’ve talked about so far. His situation wasn’t just about developing a strategy to beat his sister — though he clearly didn’t perform very well on that front. It was, first and foremost, about maintaining his own position as Dany’s Hand and using it to steer her toward the right course of action.

He did all right: He still had his job by the end of the season, and Daenerys clearly trusted him to lead the negotiations with Cersei. But at several times throughout the season, he managed to unnecessarily marginalize himself and weaken his influence with his queen. Tyrion consistently advised Daenerys against deploying her dragons, even after it became clear in the fourth episode that Daenerys wanted to do so. After the success of that episode’s raid on Jaime Lannister’s army, Tyrion had very little credibility to counsel against the dragon raid to rescue Jon, the season’s most epic disaster.

This is a point that Harvard’s Graham Allison emphasizes in his famous book on the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, The Essence of Decision. Allison argues that when leaders have decided on a course of action, they want their advisers’ approval rather than advice. Advisers who want influence over future decisions need to provide that approval, and try to shape the decision, rather than openly challenge their leader. Doing so will only marginalize them and lessen their influence.

By counseling against dragon raids all season long, Tyrion burned his own credibility on the subject of dragon raids. The reason he felt so ineffectual for much of the season — and indeed, moped about it on a few occasions — is that he did a bad job reading Daenerys’s opinions and maximizing his influence over her. He’s a very smart man, but he’s still learning how to handle his queen.
6) Arya Stark (HBO)

Arya is the first character we’ve looked at who succeeded at her objectives more than she failed.

Her strategy throughout season seven was simple and consistent: kill her house’s enemies. She began the season by assassinating Walder Frey and all of his male heirs in retaliation for the Red Wedding, and ended it by executing Littlefinger for his (many) crimes against the Starks.

This actually worked out pretty well. The Freys seem to have been eliminated as a major force in Westerosi politics, and Littlefinger’s death actually seems to have solidified Stark control over the Knights of the Vale, a vital part of their military force.

This tracks with real-world statistical evidence that decapitation — meaning killing an opponent’s leader — can effectively weaken its entire force under certain circumstances. One such situation, Georgia Tech’s Jenna Jordan argues, is when the enemy has a “charismatic” leadership structure. This means that the enemy is held together by one or a handful of powerful leaders, and functions because of that person’s leadership rather than any kind of bureaucratic structure or ideological bonds.

This condition applies to both of the enemies Arya took on. House Frey was a family business, led by its men; killing the entire male line ended the threat. Littlefinger held his forces together through sheer force of will; when he was exposed and eliminated, there was no organization that would continue his shadow campaign to undermine Arya in his wake. Arya chose the right targets and killed the right people.
5) Euron Greyjoy (HBO)

Euron is a weird one, since his most important move — building up a massive fleet after Yara and Theon stole the core of the Greyjoy navy — happened offscreen. But it’s hard to deny that he played his poor hand brilliantly: He started out the season a weak ruler of a divided island kingdom, and ended it with a real shot at becoming the king of Westeros via a promised marriage to Cersei.

The key move here was leveraging industrial capacity (the ability to build up such a large navy so quickly) to make smart moves in power politics. Euron identified that Pyke had a resource that a powerful player needed — a fleet — and provided that capacity in exchange for promises of a permanent alliance.

This calls to mind the rise of the US as a global power. As Fareed Zakaria documents in his book From Wealth to Power, the United States had the economic capacity to play a major role in global politics — to build up a powerful military and wield major diplomatic influence — far before it actually did so. What it took, Zakaria argued, was a concentration of power in the executive branch, and presidents willing to use that power to exercise influence abroad. This happened in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, starting (more or less) with the Spanish-American War.

That’s exactly what Euron did for Pyke. Think of him as the Iron Islands’ Teddy Roosevelt, a swashbuckler who became his country’s leader and helped shape it into one of the world’s great powers.
4) Sansa Stark (HBO)

Sansa had a lot of responsibility this season. She had to maintain the North’s loyalty as Jon was off trying to negotiate with Daenerys, while simultaneously fending off Littlefinger’s scheming. She succeeded brilliantly at both.

Sansa was perhaps the only character who spent time onscreen preparing for the long upcoming winter, managing problems like how people would feed themselves when crops might not grow for years. Her effective stewardship won her the loyalty of the Stark bannermen — an impressive feat for a young woman in a patriarchal society.

Playing off gendered expectations, actually, was vital to her success in the struggle against Lord Baelish. Feminist international relations scholars, like Clark University’s Cynthia Enloe, argue that the international system functions on the invisible, less prestigious work often assigned to women. This is even more true in Westeros, a place where men literally inherit power and alliances are formed through marriage, than it is on modern Earth.

Sansa understood this gendered system, and how it shapes everyone’s expectations, better than anyone. She repeatedly said that she knew what Littlefinger wanted — her body and her hand in marriage — and she was right. She played off Littlefinger’s expectations, letting him believe that she might actually consider allying with him, lulling him into a false sense of security while she quietly schemed against him. By playing off the male belief that a man’s pathway to power was through controlling women, she out-manipulated the show’s most effective manipulator.

That she did it in conjunction with her sister, in defiance of the catfighting trope that Game of Thrones appeared to be setting up, was the cherry on top.

How Game of Thrones’ Arya and Sansa played the game of gender politics and won
3) Jon Snow (HBO)

I’ve argued before that the best way to think about the White Walkers, from the human point of view, is as a threat akin to climate change — a massive collective threat that humans were ignoring in favor of petty internal squabbling. Jon, to his immense credit, is the only leader who recognized the enormity of the threat early enough to try to rally others to stop it. He’s kind of a Westerosi Al Gore, only he succeeded in getting to run a country.

So the best way to think about Jon’s mission is through the lens of environmental diplomacy: He needed to convince the world’s leading powers to abandon the internecine struggle over the throne and refocus on the White Walker threat. He didn’t have a ton to work with: The North is a distinctly third-tier power, weaker militarily than both the Targaryen and Lannister alliances and the country most vulnerable to the White Walkers.

Jon may have failed to rally Cersei to his cause, but he succeeded in bringing on Daenerys. And that’s by far the most important, mostly because her dragons and cache of dragonglass represent the only chance humanity has at fending off the White Walker threat. If it weren’t for Jon, humanity would be fundamentally doomed.

The London School of Economics’ Robert Falkner argues that in our world, global environmental agreements only succeed when they have some American buy-in. Because the United States is so dominant in the international realm, controlling so much of the world’s resources, it effectively has veto power over whether an agreement can work.

Daenerys is the American equivalent here, and Jon convinced her to commit 100 percent to the battle in the North. He actually went further than that: By getting Dany to fall for him, he raised the possibility of marriage. Icky incest aside, this gives the North a chance to sit one of its own on the Iron Throne for the first time in Westerosi history. Jon not only built a dominant anti-White Walker coalition but laid the groundwork for a permanent alliance with Westeros’s greatest power.
2) The Night King (HBO)

All of the White Walkers’ seemingly aimless wandering paid off the moment undead Viserion punched a hole in the Wall itself. Now the Night King’s forces are streaming into Westeros proper, where they have access to huge human population centers that they can kill and then raise as wights. The army of the dead is the scariest it’s ever been.

This is all thanks to the Night King’s patient strategy.

The conflict in the North was defined by what scholars call the offense/defense balance. The term, coined by Columbia University’s Robert Jervis, refers to the idea that technology can fundamentally shape whether states are likely to go to war. The Wall was a dominant defensive technology — it made it difficult, if not impossible, for the White Walkers to actually mount a successful assault on the Seven Kingdoms. The Night King correctly identified this challenge, and focused his energies on killing humans and giants and bears north of the Wall that could then be raised to make his army stronger. In essence, he engaged in a massive military buildup while waiting for a time when technological developments would shift the offense/defense balance.

And it did, the minute Daenerys sent dragons into his grasp. When the Night King killed Viserion and took control of him, he gained control of a technology that trumped the human’s chief defensive technology. He then attacked essentially immediately, busting through the Wall and into the North while the bulk of the human forces were deployed down south.

With undead Viserion in his grasp, the Night King is arguably the most powerful military force in Westeros. And he’s in a prime position to make his army stronger by sweeping across the North.
1) Cersei Lannister (HBO)

Who else could it be?

At the beginning of the season, Cersei was isolated and friendless. She was surrounded by enemies, her kingdom was deeply in debt to the Iron Bank, and she was facing a kind of military threat — dragons — that she simply had no answer to. It seemed like most people, as my colleague Andrew Prokop writes, expected her to die this season.

She didn’t — and, in fact, she ended up in a position where she could plausibly win a war that once seemed impossible. She had neutralized a number of opponents, recruited Euron and the all-powerful Iron Bank to her side, used the Iron Bank to finance the purchase of a powerful mercenary force, and pitted her two most dangerous enemies (Daenerys and the Night King) against each other.

To understand Cersei’s success, we need to reach back to the classic work of Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz.

Clausewitz is most famous for his book On War, specifically the phrase “war is simply a continuation of politics with other means.” This is a commonly (mis)quoted phrase, but its meaning is actually quite subtle. Clausewitz is arguing that war is one tool of statecraft and nothing more. The goal of fighting is the same as the goal of economic sanctions or diplomatic negotiations: to accomplish a desired political end. Just because it’s bloodier doesn’t make it fundamentally different.

Cersei, to her credit, internalized this lesson more than anyone else. She dedicated herself to one objective — protecting the survival of the Lannister dynasty and the life of her unborn child — and centered every tool of statecraft on accomplishing that goal.

She pledged to marry an unpleasant pirate, exposed a large chunk of her army to dragon fire in the name of acquiring vital gold to pay back the Iron Bank, and even let her ancestral home of Casterly Rock fall to put her enemy in a strategically vulnerable situation. No other Westerosi power thought as creatively about how to link the major aspects of state power — military, economic, and diplomatic — in order to accomplish a particular political end.

My guess is that Cersei’s approach will all come crashing down on her head next season, owing to her alienation of her brother and paranoid, backstabby ways. But that’s a guess. Just looking at the arc of season seven, it’s clear that no one played the Game of Thrones better than Cersei Lannister.

Fauda:How Do You Make a TV Show Set in the West Bank?

What the thriller “Fauda” reveals about what Israelis will watch—and what they won’t.

By David Remnick

“Fauda” follows an undercover Israeli unit trying to ensnare a terrorist mastermind.Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson

In 1949, Yizhar Smilansky, a young Israeli veteran, national legislator, and novelist writing under the pen name S. Yizhar, published “Khirbet Khizeh,” a novella about the destruction of a lightly fictionalized Palestinian village near Ashkelon, some thirty miles south of Tel Aviv. Writing from the point of view of a disillusioned Israeli soldier, Yizhar describes the Army’s capture of the village and the expulsion of its remaining inhabitants. The time is 1948, the moment of Israel’s independence and its subsequent victory over five invading Arab armies that had hoped to erase the fledgling Jewish state from the map. It would be forty years before the New Historians—Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, and Simha Flapan among them—marshalled the nerve and the documentary evidence required to shatter the myth that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs had all voluntarily “abandoned” their cities and villages. Yizhar was there to bear witness in real time. He wrote from personal experience; he had been an intelligence officer in the war. In “Khirbet Khizeh,” Yizhar’s protagonist is sickened as he comes across an Arab woman who watches as her home is levelled: “She had suddenly understood, it seemed, that it wasn’t just about waiting under the sycamore tree to hear what the Jews wanted and then to go home, but that her home and her world had come to a full stop, and everything had turned dark and was collapsing; suddenly she had grasped something inconceivable, terrible, incredible, standing directly before her, real and cruel, body to body, and there was no going back.” Just a few years after the destruction of European Jewry, the soldier wonders, have we now become oppressors? Have the Arabs now been sent into exile? And why can’t I bring myself to protest? “Khirbet Khizeh” eventually became part of the Israeli public-school curriculum.

In the late nineteen-seventies, a decade after the Six-Day War and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a young filmmaker named Ram Loevy proposed adapting “Khirbet Khizeh” for Israeli television. Loevy’s father had edited a Jewish newspaper in Danzig and escaped Europe on one of the last ships to leave Occupied France for Palestine. As a teen-ager, in the fifties, Loevy was an ardent Zionist. He was radiantly proud of the country that his people were building and unquestioning of its official history. And so he listened with “amazement” when his Scoutmaster read Yizhar’s novella aloud to him and a group of other boys. “I knew things hadn’t happened exactly as Zionist propaganda had said,” Loevy, who is seventy-seven, told me. “This story really opened my mind.”

The state broadcasting authorities initially rejected Loevy’s proposal, but, after a prolonged bureaucratic battle, he finally gained permission and an adequate budget, and completed the film. It was scheduled to air after the evening news on February 6, 1978. On the morning of the broadcast, however, state officials, led by the Minister of Education, declared that it could not be shown.

Turmoil ensued. Yossi Sarid, a left-leaning Knesset member, declared, “The flag of freedom of speech in Israel has been lowered to half-mast.” To protest the government censorship, Israel’s television station—there was only one in those days—decided to show nothing at all in the time slot: forty-eight minutes of a black screen.

Government ministers “viewed the directors of the Israel Broadcasting Authority as traitors,” Rogel Alpher, a television critic for Haaretz, told me. The film made plain that the War of Independence, for all its heroism, involved a crime—and, for many people, that implicit acknowledgment was impermissible for the public airwaves. Tommy Lapid, a journalist and a rising political figure, did not deny the events of 1948, but he argued that the film would inflame anti-Semitism among the Arabs. In the end, the right lost the battle: the Minister of Education lacked the authority to quash the film. A week later, on February 13th, the authorities agreed to show “Khirbet Khizeh.” But just once.

The evening of the broadcast, there was little traffic in the streets. Everyone watched it, and everyone discussed it. “Of course, some people on the right said that the expulsion of the Palestinians was what should happen with the rest of the Arabs in Israel!” Loevy recalled. “And there were some on the left who thought the film was disappointing because it didn’t show our soldiers being even more brutal.”

It was not shown again for fourteen years. “Today, a film like ‘Khirbet Khizeh’ would be impossible,” Alpher said. “You won’t be jailed for it, but the subject of the Nakba”—the Arabic term for the “catastrophe” of Palestinian expulsion and exile, in 1948—“cannot be mentioned unless you want to be branded a ‘leftist.’ ” As Israel has become more and more nationalist, as the left has receded since the failure of the Oslo Accords and the violence of the second intifada, more than a decade ago, the term “occupation,” kiboosh, marks its user as being outside the mainstream, and, for broadcasters, in journalism or in entertainment, it invites not only marginalization but hate mail, threats, and even angry phone calls from government offices. Many leading journalists, including a liberal like Ilana Dayan, the host of “Uvda” (“Fact”), an edgier version of “60 Minutes,” have told me that they think twice before using the word.

Perhaps the most daring moment on television came in 1998, the fiftieth anniversary of the State of Israel, with the airing of “Tekuma,” or “Rebirth,” a twenty-two-part documentary series that provoked criticism on the right for providing the Palestinian view of history alongside the Zionist narrative. The series included reporting on massacres, discrimination, expulsions. Ariel Sharon, in a letter of protest to the Minister of Education, called for the series to be banned from state schools, complaining that it “distorts the history of the rebirth and undermines any moral basis for the establishment of the State of Israel and its continued existence.”

Two decades later, the Israeli public is generally less welcoming of such self-examination. In the past several years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been portrayed in features such as “Bethlehem” and “Rock the Casbah” and in documentaries such as “5 Broken Cameras,” “The Gatekeepers,” “The Settlers,” and “Megiddo,” but these films seem to have more resonance abroad than they do in Israel. There is little daily discussion of the occupation, or of the mass displacement that preceded it. The economy is good, technology thrives, relatively stable alliances have been formed with Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf states––and life “on the other side of the wall” is of only episodic concern. The politics of the late Netanyahu era is the politics of one week to the next. The government’s various financial scandals far eclipse the Palestinian question in the news. Stability might be an illusion, but it is an illusion that, day to day, defeats most attempts to penetrate it.

“The problem of the Nakba has not been tackled much onscreen after ‘Khirbet Khizeh,’ ” Loevy said. “It’s a raw subject. The problem is this: if we are responsible, at least partly, for the flight of the Palestinian refugees, then we have to do something about it.” He went on, “Guilt and denial are twins. We know that what has happened to those old-time inhabitants, the Palestinians, may happen to us, and that counting on His promises may be walking on thin ice.”

“Fauda,” an Israeli series in Hebrew and Arabic that premièred in 2015 and streams in subtitled translation on Netflix, takes its title from the Arabic word for chaos; it’s also the Mayday code word used by the Israeli special forces when a mission goes belly up. A disguise has been seen through? Fauda! The getaway van stalls? Fauda! The story centers on Doron Kabilyo, a saturnine special-forces soldier who, as the series begins, has retired and gone off to live on a small vineyard, where he plays with his two kids, scowls at his wife, and, sometimes, makes wine. When his former commander visits and tells him that a notorious Hamas terrorist whom Kabilyo thought he had killed is, in fact, alive and planning more operations, Kabilyo rejoins his old unit. It’s an unfinished-business, one-last-mission plot. Set in the West Bank, “Fauda” makes a promise to go beyond the usual ingredients of the thriller series—intelligence gathering, interludes of violent action, and bouts of lugubrious reflection and splenetic recrimination. The setting is the flashpoint of a fifty-year-long occupation, and the show’s creators believe that they have made not only a deft work of entertainment but also a drama that gets at the political dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Lior Raz, a former soldier in the special forces, conceived and wrote the series with an old friend, Avi Issacharoff, a combat veteran and a well-known journalist. Raz, who is forty-five, also plays Doron Kabilyo, although he is hardly a dashing Sabra or a natural leading man. Like many Israeli men, he shaves his head rather than suffer the encroaching indignity of male-pattern baldness, and his visage has a stubbly, moonfaced aspect. A three-inch scar, a souvenir from a car crash, slashes down across his forehead and lends him a man-with-a-past air. He is built as solidly as a trash compactor, and his resting expression is one of irritable disappointment.

Raz lives with his wife and children in a suburb just north of Tel Aviv, but he grew up mainly in Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, one of the largest Jewish settlements in the West Bank—a city of about forty thousand that Israelis generally consider a bedroom community of Jerusalem rather than some sort of fanatical hilltop outpost. (Not all Palestinians make the distinction.) He is from a Mizrahi, or Middle Eastern, background; his father was born in Iraq, his mother in Algeria. His father was a career officer in the Israeli equivalent of the Navy Seals and in the Shin Bet, the intelligence services; when the family entertained, they did so in a way that would have struck most Ashkenazim as alien. People frequently spoke Arabic in the house and played music from across the Middle East. Later, his father ran a plant nursery, and Lior’s friends were Arab kids from Azaria and Jericho who worked there.

When Raz was eighteen, he joined Duvdevan, an élite counterterrorism unit that was conceived in 1986 and began operations not long before the first intifada erupted in the occupied territories. Duvdevan means “cherry” in Hebrew—a reflection of its cherry-on-top status in the military. It’s the model for the unnamed unit on “Fauda.”

Not long ago, I met Raz in the town of Giv’at Shmuel, near Tel Aviv, where his martial-arts instructor, an Army buddy named Nimrod Astel, has a studio. Their unit was stationed just outside Ramallah, the de-facto capital of the West Bank and the base for the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The ethos and the training resembled that of the Navy Seals—ruthless, brutal, and constant. Ignoring pain was no small part of the regimen. “We spent fifteen months getting punched over and over in the abdomen before we went to bed every night,” Raz said.

“We were eighteen, and you just don’t know what you are doing,” Astel said. “I thought we were going to be like James Bond, wearing black tie and drinking a Martini and getting the bad guys.”

“I’m between reasons right now.”

“Instead, we got fatigues and a falafel in Ramallah,” Raz said. Military service is compulsory in Israel, and he and his friends aspired to Duvdevan, he said, not for any ideological reasons but because “you want to be part of the best people in the country, to test yourself. You want to be true to your friends, to protect them and be part of a team that works together.”

The squad at the center of “Fauda” works much as Raz and Astel’s did. Its operations are performed as quick “in-and-out jobs,” to arrest a suspected terrorist or to disrupt a terror operation. Duvdevan’s members adhered to the maxim “In any shape, in any place, at any time.” Uri Bar-Lev, the first commander of the unit, told me, “Sometimes you look like a stone, sometimes like a tourist, sometimes like an Arab.” The series opens with members of the unit driving up to a mosque near Ramallah and, dressed as Palestinians, kidnapping a Hamas militant agent at prayer. In a later episode, Kabilyo seduces a Palestinian doctor, played by Laëtitia Eïdo, in order to get closer to a terrorist who is recovering from a gunshot wound in the hospital where she works. That sort of stratagem is pure hokum, but other operational details stick close to the real thing.

Members of Duvdevan do not recount past missions––those “have to remain dark,” Raz said––but they speak in highly moralistic terms about the unit, how they were selected for their sense of probity and poise. “We were chosen because we were meant to be calm, moral, not to lose our minds in the midst of trouble, to think, not to behave like an animal,” Raz told me. Duvdevan prided itself on the efficiency of its maneuvers, the avoidance of mass casualties. Astel said that when he hears of American forces dropping a bomb on a wedding in Afghanistan or a Russian aircraft destroying a hospital in Syria he has a hard time taking seriously the moral criticism directed at Israeli behavior in the West Bank.

“The job was to capture the bad guy as quietly as possible, to avoid killing or hurting anyone else,” Astel said. “At the end of every operation, there was a debriefing about what had happened, and you have to assess whether you have done a dirty job in the cleanest way possible.”

Three days after leaving the Army, Raz headed to Los Angeles with a hundred and twenty-five dollars in his pocket. He worked as a guard for Nastassja Kinski and then for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. This life proved numbingly uneventful. “After the Army, guarding a house was pretty boring,” he says. Back in Israel, Raz worked as a drummer in a disco and as a creative director at an ad agency; prodded by a girlfriend to pursue his artistic ambitions, he started taking acting lessons and getting roles in various theatre and TV productions. And he began thinking of a project that would draw on the most dangerous years of his life.

For some two decades, Raz and his first comrades in the unit didn’t talk about the uglier side of their work, the price exacted on Palestinians, and the price exacted on them. “It all stayed there and deep inside of us,” he said. “As a person, you wake up eventually and discover that you have post-traumatic stress disorder. You realize you are tense all the time, stressed, you aren’t sleeping, you’re on edge, always on alert. I was giving a lecture the other day at some high-tech firm and I clicked the clicker for a snippet of film about ‘Fauda’ and just the sound of the show—the gunfire—set me off. I was suddenly so stressed. I was immediately looking for the door.” He went on, “We live in a post-traumatic society, all of us.”

It was only when Raz was in his mid-thirties that he began to grasp why he kept having the same dream, the battle in which his gun would jam or he would fire and the bullet would just dribble out of the barrel and plink on the ground. “You don’t feel the stress when you are in the unit. You are in fighting mode all the time,” he said. “It’s only later, when you are back home, much later, that you feel it in your neck, in your back, in your mind. It takes years to understand the situation. I went to a therapist nine years ago. I was about to get married. I was stressed. I just wanted to be a good husband. After about five minutes of the therapy, he said, ‘You have P.T.S.D., let’s talk about it.’ ”

What really put Raz’s mind at ease, however, was setting out to work with Issacharoff writing “Fauda.” “That was my real therapy,” he said.

The Israeli television business begins with an obvious disadvantage: the audience is roughly the size of Queens County. Ultra-Orthodox Jews tend not to watch commercial television, and many Palestinian Israelis, who live in Nazareth, Umm al-Fahm, Acre, Haifa, and other cities and towns, watch Arabic-language stations on satellite. The major production companies, Keshet and Reshet, which create programs for the biggest broadcast channel, Channel 2, struggle to break even; they hope to tumble into profit by selling properties abroad. The most successful example of that is “Hatufim” (“Prisoners of War”), an excellent series about two Israeli soldiers, abducted in Lebanon, who come home after seventeen years in captivity. “Homeland,” its American progeny, won eight Emmys for Showtime and big earnings for Keshet. HBO’s “In Treatment” also began with an Israeli version. HBO and Keshet will make a scripted series about the fateful events in the summer of 2014 when a Palestinian teen-ager was kidnapped and burned alive by three Israelis as retribution for the deaths of three Israelis three days earlier.

When Keshet and Reshet passed on “Fauda,” Raz and Issacharoff went to Yes, a satellite television provider that claims six hundred thousand subscribers. During the pitch meeting, they were told, not for the first time, that the script was too macho; women wouldn’t go for it. But, in the end, Yes took a chance. A glitch for Raz was that he had to audition for the lead role, a circumstance that he found “upsetting”—it reminded him of Sylvester Stallone being forced to negotiate to play the title role in his own script for “Rocky.” But that was hardly the main worry.

“Before we aired ‘Fauda,’ we were petrified,” Danna Stern, the executive in charge of Yes acquisitions and sales, said. “The title is in Arabic and practically all the dialogue is in Arabic and the picture of the main terrorist is not done in black-and-white. It’s painted in shades in between. We had a war room set up because we expected a shit storm.”

Raz and Issacharoff shared these anxieties. They feared that the right wing in Israel would say that the show had “humanized the terrorists”; they feared that the left, along with Arab viewers, would say that its portrayal of humane soldiers was a romantic farce and that it portrayed Palestinians only as terrorists.

“ ‘Fauda’ was an eyeopener to a lot of people in Israel in that it showed compassion, in a way, to a Palestinian terrorist, or at least you get a sense of why he would do what he does,” Issacharoff said. “You see people involved in terror as humans, as people who love, who have kids, who are not just flat bad guys in an action picture.” He was concerned that the subject was off-putting. “No one wants to talk about or see the conflict. It’s boring.”

“Fauda” aims to provide a complex portrait of both the unit and life in the occupied territories. The viewer is introduced to the extended family of the central terrorist: a wife who loves him but must pretend that he is dead; a protégé who reveres him but grows disillusioned with his ruthlessness; a young woman whose husband-to-be is shot to death at their wedding, and who, in her fury and despair, volunteers to be a shaheeda, a martyr, and strap on a suicide vest. All around are ordinary Palestinians who suffer under the detested occupation but go about their daily lives as best they can. The West Bank scenes were filmed mainly in Kfar Qasim, an Arab city just west of the West Bank. The city has a charged history: in 1956, during the Suez Crisis, it was the scene of a massacre of several dozen Arabs by Israeli police. In recent years, Israeli politicians, including Shimon Peres and Reuven Rivlin, have apologized for the crime.

Both Raz and Issacharoff consider themselves “pro-peace,” pro-two-state-solution. But they are not far from the Israeli mainstream. One morning, over breakfast, they debated some of the daily headlines, and it was clear that Issacharoff’s rhetoric on the subject is a shade to the left of Raz’s. He was once a staff writer at the left-leaning newspaper Haaretz, although he’s neither as analytical nor as ideological as some of his old colleagues there. Raz and Issacharoff both said that Israel made a mistake when it agreed to a huge prisoner release in order to gain the freedom of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was held captive by Hamas for five years. A familiar strain of fatalism joins Raz and Issacharoff, too. Raz, in particular, recites the litany of political resignation that is so common now: “We have no one to talk to”; “When we pulled out of Gaza, they started firing missiles.”

Issacharoff, who is forty-four, is better versed in Palestinian politics and the history of the conflict. First at Haaretz, and now at the Times of Israel and the Web site Walla! News, he has covered the occupied territories for many years. Like Raz, he comes from a Mizrahi family, and he is proficient in Arabic. He is gleamingly bald and wears an earring. After finishing his military service and his university studies, he worked for a while as a bouncer at a bar in Jerusalem and then as an apprentice radio reporter. He has a wire-service reporter’s metabolism, and a relish for action and high-profile scoops. While living in Jerusalem, he covered the West Bank and Gaza during the second intifada. At the time, there was no wall, no separation fence; the commute to Ramallah was fifteen minutes and he spent many hours there talking with Palestinian officials, activists, and terrorists. “I owe my career to Yasir Arafat and Marwan Barghouti,” he told me, referring to the two Palestinian leaders. Covering the intifada, he said, “was fabulous, it was crazy, so unexpected, so full of adventure.” The violence lasted from 2000 to 2005; around a thousand Israelis and more than three thousand Palestinians were killed. (With Amos Harel, the longtime military reporter for Haaretz, Issacharoff has written books on the second intifada and on the war with Hezbollah, in 2006.)

Issacharoff’s biggest scoop for Haaretz came in 2010, when he published a long report on Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, the leader of Hamas in the West Bank. Known to the Shin Bet as the Green Prince, a reference to the color of the Hamas flag, Mosab Yousef was an Israeli intelligence asset for a decade beginning in 1996, feeding the Shin Bet information that is said to have prevented many suicide-bombing attacks and led to the arrests of his father and Barghouti, who was a founder of Fatah’s Tanzim militia and has been in an Israeli jail since 2002. One of Yousef’s handlers in the Shin Bet told Issacharoff, “So many people owe him their lives and don’t even know it. . . . People who did a lot less were awarded the Israel Security Prize. He certainly deserves it.”

“It’s an internship—crime doesn’t pay.”

Yousef renounced Islam, and is in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. He had nothing but praise for Issacharoff, telling me that he decided to talk with him because “Avi takes risks, a very important quality for a successful journalist.” He trusted him because he spoke decent Arabic and was deeply connected with Palestinian sources on all sides. The first contact he had from him, he said, was “when he called me to forward regards to me from my father, who was in an Israeli prison at that time.” What Issacharoff did not know, Yousef added, was that “I arranged for my father’s arrest to save his life.”

Issacharoff met Raz when they were both young and hanging out in the same bars in Jerusalem. In an early episode of “Fauda,” one of the soldiers in the unit has a love affair with a bartender, who is later killed in a suicide-bombing attack. The episode is dedicated to Iris Azulai, who was Raz’s girlfriend when he was in the Army. “She was my first love,” Raz said. “She was one of the most beautiful women in Jerusalem, an amazing person. I’d been so insecure. I couldn’t believe she’d date me. All my self-confidence in life came from her.” One October morning in 1990, in the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem, a young Palestinian, Amir Abu Sarhan, a resident of a village near Bethlehem, attacked Azulai, yelling “Allahu akbar! ” as he stabbed her to death with a fifteen-inch knife. She was eighteen. An off-duty police officer heard the screaming, drew his gun, and shot the Palestinian to wound him. He hit him in both legs. But, when the officer came over to arrest him, Sarhan had the strength to pull another knife and stab him to death.

“This was a Sunday morning, and I was in Ein Kerem Hospital getting my leg looked at for stress fractures,” Raz said. “I heard from someone there that there had been this attack. Iris’s brother called me and said she had been wounded. I just started to walk in a daze until my mother picked me up on the road.”

Sarhan was imprisoned until 2011, when he was freed, along with more than a thousand other Palestinians, in exchange for Gilad Shalit. More than two hundred of the released prisoners were serving life sentences for terror-related crimes. Raz has heard that Sarhan now works for Hamas television in the Gaza Strip. While Raz and Issacharoff were working on the script for “Fauda,” the Green Prince wrote to say that his sister was marrying Amir Abu Sarhan. “I met Mosab at the première of ‘Fauda’ in Los Angeles,” Raz said. “We hugged, but I didn’t know what to say to him or him to me.”

The intimacy, the proximity, of rivals and enemies is among the most striking aspects of the conflict. But it hasn’t prevented Israelis from registering a series of knife attacks or a confrontation around the holiest places of the Old City in Jerusalem, say, without ever dwelling on the larger source of tensions. “They put it out of their minds,” Issacharoff said. “They have a hard time waking up every morning knowing they have done something wrong, that they are responsible for this. It is also the result of the second intifada. The majority of Israelis lost hope in peace. The average Israeli says that the Palestinians are no partner for peace. The second intifada was a deep wound that you cannot heal. You think about it every time you go into a mall or a bus. There are still guards everywhere because of the suicide attacks. And the Palestinians work at forcing us to realize their presence. We left Gaza and they won’t let us leave it behind. The Israeli public just wants to bury the Palestinians beyond the wall, to be on defense and to live their lives on their own. But how long can that last? I don’t know. But I know that we are heading toward a catastrophe. Either we’re ending the Zionist dream—ending our status as a Jewish democratic state—or we will become one state for two peoples. Sooner or later, the status quo will explode. It won’t hold. Either the Palestinians will explode or the international community will explode and say ‘No more apartheid’ and they will sit on our necks.”

In the meantime, the creators of “Fauda” are enjoying their success. When Raz and Issacharoff were interviewed by Dan Senor, a former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, at an AIPAC convention in Washington, D.C., they were cheered like rock stars on a triumphant tour. A second season is on the way and the people at Netflix hope for a third. In August, Raz and Issacharoff signed a deal with Netflix, which ordered a season of a show about a joint C.I.A.-Mossad operation and is developing a second, “Hit and Run,” about a man who loses his wife in a mysterious car accident that leads to a political-espionage story. Raz is taking one meeting after another in Hollywood, and Yes has received a stack of offers from abroad to remake “Fauda” in different languages and settings: in Afghanistan, on the front lines of the Mexican drug trade, in operations against an American white-pride group. Raz is counting on moving his family to Hollywood soon.

The “Fauda” cast, too, is relishing its emergence from obscurity. Hisham Suleiman, who plays the lead terrorist in “Fauda,” has become a celebrity at home and beyond. He is an Arab resident of Nazareth Illit, a predominantly Jewish suburb of a predominantly Arab city in northern Israel. When I was in Tel Aviv, he visited the city market and the evening news showed footage of him being applauded, complimented, kissed. “It’s crazy,” he told me. “This happens wherever I go!”

Suleiman avoids talking about the occupation. “Usually, when I speak about myself, I try to talk only about my artist’s life, not politics,” he told me. “Journalists are looking for a boom, a sensation. I am very careful. But I am a human being and I care about all of this. Why, after a hundred years, are we still killing each other here? This is a beautiful land and the conflict has to end. There has to be a real peace, a finish to the kiboosh. It’s a lovely country where we can all find room to live together.”

And yet, for all the series’ success, the question remains whether “Fauda” is really all that daring or consequential. Gadi Shamni, a retired general in the Israeli Defense Forces who was once in charge of Central Command in the West Bank, caused an uproar last year when he said in a speech that Israel had “elevated the occupation to the level of art.” This was a complicated argument: in part, he meant that the Israeli military and security apparatus had learned to keep casualties and abuse to a minimum. But he told me that a show like “Fauda” had its virtues because so many Israelis were intent on ignoring the moral reality of occupation. “There is a generation in Israel who never had any kind of positive interaction with Palestinians,” Shamni said. “They see them coming to work in Israel or on TV when there is a stabbing or a suicide bomber. For children at the age of twenty in Israel, most of what they know about Palestinians is what they see on TV. The first time they meet Palestinians is while they are serving in the I.D.F., if they serve in the West Bank, in Judea and Samaria. So ‘Fauda’ is another way to bring into the Israeli living room something about what is happening on the ground. Does it reflect a hundred per cent what is happening, or the complexity? Some. It’s a nice show. On the one hand, the professionalism is good, it minimizes the damage. On the other hand, is this the kind of expertise we want? We do it so well, with minimal friction and casualties, the soldiers are very well trained, they are not only professionally trained for combat but also mentally trained for occupation; they understand the complexity they are within. But you have assigned yourself issues that are not the core business of a military. In the end, it corrupts our moral values.”

Diana Buttu, a lawyer who has worked as a legal adviser to the P.L.O., watched the series recently and told me that she found the experience disturbing. She did not share Shamni’s ambivalence, and when we spoke she made a compelling critique of “Fauda.” “In ‘Fauda,’ we do not see the occupation,” she said. “It is invisible, just as it is in the minds of Israelis. In fact, we never even hear the word. We don’t see a single checkpoint, settlement, settlers, or home demolitions. We don’t see any homes being taken over, or land being expropriated or anything of the sort. We see a nice brick wall, not the ugly eight-metre-high one, as the only sign that we are in the West Bank.

“Worse than all of this, assassinations—extrajudicial killings—appear normalized,” Buttu continued. “If you are not careful, you find yourself sympathizing with a group of assassins and thinking that their actions are fine, rather than illegal. You find yourself accepting that it is all right to hunt down Palestinians, killing a number of others in the process. For the writers, this is a fair fight—no occupation, just a game of who has better technology and more wits. And that, of course, is not the reality in which we live.”

Raz and Issacharoff told me repeatedly that they had received lots of compliments, by text and e-mail, from Arabs in the West Bank, Lebanon, Egypt, and the Gulf. But, unlike Yizhar’s novella “Khirbet Khizeh” and Ram Loevy’s television version, “Fauda” is ultimately content to entertain.

“When my father first published, he was considered a hero,” Yizhar’s son, Zeev Smilansky, told me. “The feeling of self-confidence in Israel then was so strong that it could absorb criticism and the things he wrote about. His books were read. My father was a devout Zionist in love with the drama of the country that was being built, but he was honest about what was so deeply wrong and what was so visible. Now we are divided, and our ability to see things clearly is gone. Hardly any young people know my father’s name. His books are no longer a part of the curriculum. The only people that remember him are the old-timers.”

Yizhar Smilansky died in 2006. The year before his death, he told an interviewer, “I looked out at the landscape. The landscape was a key part of my personality, so I saw the Arabs.”

But Yizhar’s daughter-in-law Nitza Ben-Ari, a literary scholar, told me, “We no longer see them. If you asked me what the West Bank or Gaza looks like today, I wouldn’t know, and it’s next door, really.” ♦This article appears in other versions of the September 4, 2017, issue, with the headline “Occupational Hazards.”
David Remnick has been editor of The New Yorker since 1998 and a staff writer since 1992. He is the author of “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.