Assorted links

by on December 10, 2013 at 12:57 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. What has protectionism done for French literature?

2. Faces in things (recommended).

3. Colin Wilson has passed away.

4. Joseph Brodsky’s reading list.

5. Raising the minimum wage doesn’t really fight poverty.  And Hester Peirce on alternatives to the Volcker rule.

6. French vs. English urban path dependence.

7. Dan Ariely on 23andMe.

dearieme December 10, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Colin Wilson has died.

Ray Lopez December 10, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Never heard of him until today. But he looks colorful: I doubt we’ll see the likes of anybody like this in a while, simply because robots will have taken over all the jobs in another 100 years: “Returning to his parents’ home, Wilson spent his time “digging the garden, reading Rabelais, practising ballet steps” and formulating what he later described as his “theory of the new existentialism”. Over the next few years he worked variously as a carnival ticket salesman, ditch digger, labourer and factory hand. “

Curt F. December 10, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I too doubt we’ll see many like him any time soon. In our modern age, any youth who experiments with (and sells!) incendiary devices will likely be labeled a terrorist and incarcerated for years.

dearieme December 10, 2013 at 1:13 pm

I notice that Krugman’s commenters like to just make up “facts”. Is that nature or nurture?

Ray Lopez December 10, 2013 at 1:20 pm

@#4 – You CANNOT be serious. See below this author’s reading list. This is like me saying that to learn chess you must replay all the old games of the old masters. This is a fallacy, since as GM John Nunn has pointed out, a lot of those old games were rubbish. Interesting from a historical point of view, but rubbish for learning chess. Likewise, other than scoring talking-points what am I to lern from reading the classics? Even and especially the ancient classics below? C’mon.

Joseph Brodsky’s Reading List

1. Bhagavad Gita
2. Mahabharata
3. Gilgamesh
4. The Old Testament
5. Homer: Iliad, Odyssey
6. Herodotus: Histories
7. Sophocles: Plays
8. Aeschylus: Plays
9. Euripides: Plays (Hippolytus, The Bachantes, Electra, The Phoenician Women)
10. Thucydides: The Peloponnesian War
11. Plato: Dialogues
12. Aristotle: Poetics, Physics, Ethics, De Anima
13. Alexandrian Poetry: The Greek Anthology
14. Lucretius: On the Nature of Things
15. Plutarch: Lives [presumably Parallel Lives]
16. Virgil: Aeneid, Bucolics, Georgics
17. Tacitus: Annals

Roy December 10, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Try actually reading the classics and you will realize a lot of them are classics for a reason. But then I enjoy Aullius Gellius, so what do I know

Rahul December 10, 2013 at 4:42 pm

What amazed me was the length. Can any one man read them all?

M. B. December 10, 2013 at 6:25 pm

@Ray Lopez

You have to be kidding. Art is not like chess or physics, and basically I do not think anyone would say that current litterature is in any way “better” — if it means something there — than the one from the 19th or beginning of the 20th centuries.

If the question you are asking yourself before reading a book is what you are to learn, well just forget about litterature. It is definitively not for you.

Roy December 10, 2013 at 10:31 pm

They aren’t actually that long, it is not like he included Hegel. You just have to commit yourself to the classics. I have read all but 8 or 9 of them, granted some of those are really long, all of Hume for instance, and I am only a quarter way through Montaigne, but then I am a lot younger than Brodsky and I am natural scientist. My Dad was an English prof and the list he gave me when I was a teenager was both a lot longer and a lot worse. He was however one of those professors that had grad students complain about his reading load.

It isn’t a bad list. I think the Aelian is weird, but then It is super entertaining. However I would not inflict Michael Psellus on my worst enemy, that is a really weird one. Eusebius is really underrated. However those things and my reading of Brodsky himself suggests this is an honest list for once. I wish he said what specific Byzantine romances though.

Matt December 11, 2013 at 9:54 am

Interesting from a historical point of view, but rubbish for learning chess. Likewise, other than scoring talking-points what am I to lern from reading the classics?

One of the main benefits is that much of literature alludes to other literature, and without reading the classics you won’t get any of the references.

Urso December 10, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Clearly the French novel has never recovered from the fall of the Roman Empire. (1, 6)

taips December 10, 2013 at 1:23 pm

What has protectionism done for French literature?

As far as I can tell, there’s no mention of protectionism in the article, nor is it obvious to me that protectionism is the issue here. There are distortions in the book market (mostly weird competition policy tweaks promoting small bookshops), but it’s nothing like the quotas imposed on radios and movies. There are no quotas on what you are allowed to read (yet).
The line of the article is that novels don’t hit the US/UK market, prompting a myriad of possible explanations, I just don’t think the ready-made “protectionism” answer is particularly illuminating

prior_approval December 10, 2013 at 1:33 pm

And let me change a single word from a section of the article – just one word. Well, OK, two – two words

‘The Germans have preserved a nationwide network of small bookshops, mainly as a result of a system of protection. Books cannot be sold at a discount, which means that “Buchladen” have kept a near monopoly.’

Urso December 10, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Setting minimum prices to ensure Amazon et al can’t compete on price sure sounds like protectionism to me.

Is that the cause for the asserted lack of interest in French novels? I have no idea; frankly the whole article sounds like a lot of hand-wringing to me.

Roy December 10, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Actually Amazon has been translating a lot of French fiction lately as part of its publishing arm. It is very eclectic, but it almost all stuff that wasn’t being translated before.

Todd December 10, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Wilson’s “Sex Diary of a Metaphysician” was an entertaining hoot, although the writing made no impression on me.

Interesting that Brodsky would recommend “The Demons” over say “C&P” or “Brothers Karamazov”, and “Antony and Cleopatra” over any of a dozen other major Shakes. plays.

Urso December 10, 2013 at 2:10 pm

I really enjoyed the Demons (the Possessed is what my copy calls it – apparently this is a matter of white-hot controversy among the literati, for reasons beyond my understanding). Still, I’d find it hard to set it above C&P if we’re playing “if you could read only one book by….”

Todd December 10, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I liked “Demons” or “Devils” or “Possessed”, too, and I suppose it could lay pretty good claim to being the most “Dostoyevskian” (just about all of the action happens off the page!). The only reason I brought up those two examples were because all his other choices seem to be the ones you always see listed next to the author’s name on these sorts of lists.

John Thacker December 10, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Unfortunately, Dan Ariely’s advice on 23AndMe is precisely at odds with FDA regulation. He wants them to choose how to present the data and manage it (and choices) even more. But the more that they did that, the more that the FDA would have grounds to regulate them.

mulp December 10, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Huh? 23&me is advised to provide actionable advice that is both useful and not misleading, and that is contrary to the FDA’s request that 23&me provide evidence that their medical diagnose is useful and not misleading so medically justified action can be taken.

I heard this weekend on OTM the part of the radio ads 23&me was running in California, and if they were selling garlic and flax, they would have been given an order to show cause. The ads were definitely “over promising.” And garlic and flax are accepted as having positive medical properties by researchers.

John Thacker December 11, 2013 at 9:39 am

Except that “actionable advice that is useful and not misleading” has to be FDA approved and has more regulation. The safer route is always vague statements without medical backing, and with disclaimers. If you say anything useful, the FDA will make you prove to its satisfaction that what you say is medically justified and correct. The very act of trying to medically justify yourself makes you subject to FDA regulation. Providing “actionable advice” that sounds like your telling consumers to change their behavior is especially dangerous.

Look at how General Mills got in trouble with the FDA for putting a number and a reference to a real medical study on their box of Cheerios. Once they removed it, and just had vague statements about “heart healthy,” the FDA was satisfied. Look at the treatment of “herbal remedies” like garlic and flax, or look at the treatment of placebos like Airborne.

The vaguer, the better. The less science, the less chance that the FDA will get involved.

Mark Thorson December 10, 2013 at 6:55 pm

He basically wants 23andme to dumb down their data for the masses. That’s exactly the opposite of what their customers would want — these hypervigilant infovores want all of the raw data and the raw evidence to interpret that data, unscrubbed and unsanitized. They don’t want an interlocutor to screen information they might not be ready for. What 23andme should do is stay in the raw data business, but stop engaging in interpretation — leave that to others, and there will be others. Maybe they could get away with providing links to relevant PubMed citations on the alleles they find, but that would probably be as far as they could or should go.

Axa December 11, 2013 at 6:45 am

The dumb down was already being done by 23andme through their “health-related” related updates.That’s the product consumers loved it, Twitter friendly health factoids to show you are more intelligent than your peers.

mobile December 11, 2013 at 3:14 pm

And his specific advice about what 23AndMe should do about colon cancer risk data (hide it because there’s nothing you can do about it) is just plain wrong. Getting tested more frequently (or getting tested at all) increases your odds of early detection, which greatly increases your odds of survival.

Sigivald December 10, 2013 at 2:20 pm

1) ““But what that shows is that we French are very curious about other people and cultures. You too – you should be curious. You should be more open,” she says.

Well, I read Eco. And plenty of British content, which is “other people and cultures”, since last I checked – outside of parochial European beliefs – the “Anglo-Saxon” world is not a monoculture.

(I haven’t read them, but I don’t suppose she’d count Swedes as the “same culture” as Britain or the US, and Larssen’s novels have been quite popular lately, no? Or maybe those don’t count because they’re not Realistic Novels Of Personal Interaction?)

Maybe France should try writing novels that might interest non-Frenchmen.

I am increasingly of the opinion that he only fiction worth reading is genre fiction because of what self-conscious Serious Novel Writers have done to the field.

John Thacker December 10, 2013 at 2:21 pm

#5 is certainly appreciated. Any discussion of the falling real value of the minimum wage in the long term should take into account both (1) the much smaller proportion of the populace that makes minimum wage, and (2) the countervailing increase in the EITC, a policy much better directed as poor families rather than the children of the well off.

mulp December 10, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Right, Neuman is arguing that the government is subsidizing workers so businesses get their labor cheaper. And business lobbyist are likely to keep pushing for bigger and bigger subsidies like the EITC, say by giving a tax credit of $5 for every 8 cents FICA the employee pays so the employer can pay $5 after the minimum wage is eliminated to provide its workers $25 per hour after taxes.

Then by taking a $5 per hour job, workers will boost the economy by spending $25 for every hour worked.

Thanks to Ron Unz for the insight. He’s sponsoring a $12 minimum referendum because he wants lower taxes and a growing economy that does not require the government to fund all the consumption given employers do not want to pay their workers enough to buy what they produce anymore.

Roy December 10, 2013 at 2:45 pm

I could comment on jow little French lit is translated, which is true but there is something else.

What is published in English is based on Anglo American literary tastes. You can talk about great french writers but almost no English speakers read them. Just look at 19th century greats, Balzac, Zola, etc… Are not widely read. It is amazing how few educated Americans have ever read Victor Hugo. Did you know Dumas hasn’t even had unexpurgated translations until the last couple of years. Other than Madame Bovary and some Stendahl nobody reads anything French. And 20th century writers are even worse represented. I think part of it is the themes are different, and German does even worse. How many Americans or Brits read Goethe or Schiller. All that Franco German stuff is just so unfashionable.

I will actually attribute this to Anglo-American francophobia, since I have noticed a trend here that actually unites both left and right. It is a shibboleth to despise French culture, so it is hardly astonishing it is ignored.

Even when Americans fantasize about 1920s Paris, it is Hemingway and Piccasso they are thinking about. How many French artists were shown in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris? Other than Man Ray, the only French artists were in the belle epoque sequence and they were painters.

Roy December 10, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Oh and Man Ray was from Philly, so there were zero 20th century French artists, and no writers at all.

Todd December 10, 2013 at 3:12 pm


Roy December 10, 2013 at 10:45 pm

A visual artist, though. You have admit it is an interesting cultural marker that it had as many Spaniards as Frenchmen.

Douglas Knight December 10, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I love Stendhal, but I think that in English translation Dumas, Hugo, Balzac, and Zola are all much more popular. According to Amazon, Camus, Dumas, and Hugo are the top three French authors.

Roy December 10, 2013 at 10:37 pm

I think you are wrong about Zola and Balzac being more popular than Stendahl, at least in my experience, though I have no data. Or maybe just everyone is lying about Stendahl. I just did a google trends search on Balzac and Stendahl and once you remove all the false positives for “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” they are even. I think Balzac is criminally under read.

vic December 11, 2013 at 6:54 am

Top french Authors in the personal libraries of people registered at
Albert Camus, Jules Verne and J.-P. Sartre

Alan Gunn December 10, 2013 at 3:53 pm

The piece on the minimum wage is excellent, but the graph showing the decline is sort of misleading, as it begins near the time when the minimum wage peaked. If it had begun around 1940 the decline would have looked a lot less dramatic.

JWatts December 10, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Yes, I noticed that too. It didn’t contradict the results of the article, so not really a big deal, but it always annoys me when people crop data for no obvious reason.

JWatts December 10, 2013 at 5:06 pm

#6 French vs. English urban path dependence (Krugman’s)

I’d say the current level of clustering despite the ongoing ability to telecommute is evidence in favor of the underlying thesis. However, I’ve noticed in my line of work (engineering) that a gradually increasing amount of our work is now done remotely. But that’s anecdotal evidence. I would like to see an analysis of travel patterns and see if clustering will tend to unravel in the face of high end communications and rapid package delivery.

Nikki December 10, 2013 at 5:39 pm

“Meanwhile, the sale of e-books is a fraction of what it is in the US and UK.”

In other news, while Kindle books from are available anywhere in the world, Kindle books from can only be purchased from France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. Even though, if Wikipedia is to be believed, 190 mn people in the world speak French as a second language. It isn’t terribly difficult to make it look, to the Internet, like you are in France when you are not, but that isn’t immediately obvious to the layperson. And in any case, isn’t it odd that a company bends over backwards to reduce your purchasing effort on one of its websites to a single click, yet refuses to take your money on another unless you jump through hoops?

That said, the article doesn’t tell you much about whether French books sell abroad. France’s abroad, shockingly, is not limited to the US and the UK.

Axa December 10, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Perhaps protectionism is not about telling Amazon that free shipping is dumping, but all the bureaucracy around the exception culturelle. French authors say they also write detective stories, suspense and romance. The problem lies in trying to sell the “Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie Française” to international markets instead of Le Figaro top 10 bestsellers.

So, who has the problem of being ignored by international readers? French private publishing companies selling low brow books or the government payed cultural elite that blames low sales on lack of curiosity and sophistication from international readers? Anglo-saxon culture books exports is not driven by Booker prize winners but 50 shades of Grey.

samson December 10, 2013 at 11:16 pm

On #7: “Then, I would create another layer that would cost more to access and in that layer I would give all of the detailed information, including information about things that are largely out of your control. I would make that layer cost more because I want people to make an active choice to get that level of information. I basically want to make sure that people who go for that level of information want to invest in the burden of knowing.”
A world run by Ariely would be a world of sheep. Pay more for information just to dissuade you from acquiring it?! Ridiculous.

dc red dogs December 11, 2013 at 1:02 am

The background to the Brodsky list is not very clear but the complete absence of several writers that Brodsky as a Russian speaker almost necessarily idolized (including Pushkin, unless I missed something) indicates that it is almost certainly not exactly a “greatest books” list. It probably is an “example list” of how temporally deep and civilizationally wide a student’s reading should be if they plan to be a poet who is part of the “conversation” (like Auden was, or Brodsky was).

Andreas Moser December 11, 2013 at 5:13 am

#2: I once had a face appear on my handkerchief. If I had been Christian, it would have been Jesus:

nl7 December 11, 2013 at 9:52 am

Re: urban path dependence. My assumption is some people will read into that the lesson that traditions are often inefficient and therefore sometimes strong planning is needed to overcome them. But of course the reset in Britain would’ve been driven to a great extent from the bottom up, based on where trading happened. This would’ve often been beyond the control of elites, especially since the manorial system was rural-agrarian and the villeins of towns and cities tended to be more independent from the local lords. So you could easily interpret the data to say “let work and housing patterns flow more freely rather than tipping the scale towards a solution that may be going obsolete.”

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