The Winners of the 3QD Politics & Social Science Prize 2014

Winner 2014 science Top Quark 2014PolStrangeWin Winner 2014 science charme

Mark Blyth has picked the three winners from the nine finalists:

  1. Top Quark, $500: Kenan Malik, In Defense of Diversity
  2. Strange Quark, $200: Filipe Gracio, Democratic Austerity: Semi-sovereign states, semi-sovereign peoples
  3. Charm Quark, $100: Philip Cohen, State of Utah falsely claims same-sex marriage ban makes married, man-woman parenting more likely

Here is what Professor Blyth had to say about them:

As is both necessary and customary, I would like to begin by thanking Abbas, Robin and the whole 3QD crew for asking me to do this.

Like most 40-somethings (uuugh!) while I could always do with more money, what I really would love is more time, which is of course harder to procure and cannot be printed, sadly. Consequently, I fail to read 3QD with the regularity it deserves. Yet being asked to do this allows me to use the hive-mind to filter out the best bits and enjoy them all in one morning of reading – so ‘yum' and thank you.

After reading I started to write, and I was immediately struck by the title of the prize – politics and social science – as if the latter can exist without the former? Thankfully, the finalists each in their own way show this separation to be fallacious at best and folly at worst.

I was also acutely aware of my own prejudices and interests in all of this as I pondered ‘what do I like here and why?'

I then remembered that trying to put that (self) aside and be ‘neutral' is its own form of politics and exclusion (like Connolly on secularism, social science ‘objectivism' – pick your poison) so I decided to embrace my flawed self as the frame for selection. That frame became three pots into which I put all nine pieces.

Pot A: The Bullshit Police

The first pot contains pieces that serve as great examples of social science writing that I call “charges from the bullshit police.” If social science has a public function this is it. Theory generation and hypothesis testing and all that grad school stuff is all fine and well, but at the end of the day the job is to take the claims of those that want us to think X is Y and sniff it to see if its bullshit.

Bullshit Police Contenders

Pot B: The Good Jeremiad

The second pot contains pieces that do more than complain about something, they tell us why it's worth complaining about and insist that we take it on board. They are at their best when they take what we think we know about something and then flip it around to show us that really, we don't know crap, because what we accept as being the truth is so far from reality we should be ashamed to have gone along with the status quo. This end up being the largest pot – what after all is the point of blogging if not to have a good Jeremiad?

The Good Jeremiad Contenders

Pot C: Elpis' Helpers:

The third pot contains those pieces that give us cause for hope. For without hope there is only critique, which on its own becomes a thin gruel. This is the toughest pot to pick from since getting here requires not just mastery of the skills of spotting bullshit and doing a good Jeremiad, but also reminding us that change, and good change at that, is possible.

Elpis' Helpers Contenders

And so to the winners from each pot (without a ranking, so far…)

The Bullshit Police

Robert Paul Wolff's distinction between historians that have too much data and those that have too little, and the ideological choices that go with either position, reminded me of the old quip about historians and economists on the same campus. Each group thinks anyone who is not one of them is an idiot, but they are willing to tolerate each other since they both at least know this essential truth.

But the winner in this pot is Philip Cohen for his family inequality piece on the state of Utah and same sex parenting. Take a causal argument. Test it. Test it again. Pronounce it bullshit. Move along. Move along. Fantastic stuff and first class ‘bullshit police' work.

The Best Jeremiad

Again, although I enjoyed all the contributions, from Melik Kaylan's debunking of Putin as in any way either normal or acceptable, to Omar Waraich's conclusion that the only reason for Musharraf returning to Pakistan is that he is still thinks, against any and all evidence, that he is the country's savior, to Andrew Hartman's take down of the racist double standards at play in the demonization of sexually explicit music, it was all good.

But, and this is of course due to my bias and I fully admit that, the winner in this pot is Filipe Gracio's Democratic Austerity.

That the ongoing economic slaughter of the lower classes of Europe's periphery continues to be both told and treated as a case of excessive spending, when it is in fact a slow motion banking crisis where the top 30 percent of the income distribution got their assets bailed out and stuck the bill on the 70 percent below them in the form of spending cuts is now known, but is still contested by the powers that be.

What this piece gives us is the political consequences of all this. Namely, that as “countries in the eurozone abdicated from having traditionally sovereign institutions,” which was fine until the crisis came, the political classes that did this passed the remit to fix the resulting mess to the bankers that caused the problem in the first place since those democratically elected had neither the necessary tools (nor the necessary ideas) about how to fix it. We need to remember that the bankruptcy of the European political elite is almost as bad as that of its banks, and it takes a great Jeremiad to remind us of that.

Elpis' Helpers

Finally, three pieces made it to the pot marked Elpis' Helpers. This was the toughest call of all. The simplicity of Corey Robin's observations belies the insight. That when a people no longer cares the way they used to, it opens up the possibility of positive transformation as much as it ignites fear for the old certainties that none can take for granted any longer.

Similarly, Shehryar Fazli's essay on Malala is so much more than an essay on Malala. It's a reaction to a life so nearly ended and an indictment of an entire system of politics that nearly ended it. And yet, it ends with hope in Malala's defiance, and her smile, despite the portrait of a society so badly governed and so badly defended.

And yet despite all that, the winner in this pot is Kenan Malik's wonderful essay in defense of diversity.

In this piece he not only does an excellent bullshit police take down of Goodhart, Collier, Caldwell and other immigration panic mongers, he also reminds us that such panics are historical commonplaces and all that is said now has been said before by the same forces of reaction. He also stresses, like Gracio, that what is causing the marginalization and immiserization of the British (and increasingly – by the argumentative extension of politicians everywhere) and the European working classes, are changes in the structure of labor, product and capital markets that have been 30 years in the making and have little to do with influxes of ‘foreignness' anywhere. But they are, like the Eurocrisis, portrayed as what they are not for political ends. And yet, although it is implicit, his essay carries hope at its end – that we have been through this before, and that both growth and democracy can triumph in such dark moments.

And now for the ranking:

  1. Top Quark: Kenan Malik
  2. Strange Quark: Filipe Gracio
  3. Charm Quark: Philip Cohen

I know this is probably exactly what you would expect someone like me with interests like me and passions like me to pick, and so you are right. But it's the best call I can make, at least as me. All three posts are things I would want everyone to read. I write for a living and few of my utterances would ever reach their level. So I applaud the winners and ask you all to try and make that happen. Let's make sure everyone reads them.

Best to all,


Congratulations also from 3QD to the winners (remember, you must claim the money within one month from today–just send me an email). And feel free, in fact we encourage you, to leave your acceptance speech as a comment here! And thanks to everyone who participated. Many thanks also, of course, to Mark Blyth for doing the final judging and for the charming taxonomy of his judging essay.

The three prize logos at the top of this post were designed by Carla Goller (top and charm) and me (strange). I hope the winners will display them with pride on their own blogs!

Details about the prize here.