What I’ve been reading

by on March 30, 2014 at 3:27 am in Books, Economics | Permalink

The new Simon Schama book on the history of the Jews did not grab my attention, nor did the new short (derivative) novel by David Grossman.  Possibly the latter is better in the original Hebrew, given how much poetry it contains.  The new Siri Hustved book also didn’t thrill me.

The Rough Guide to Economics, by Andrew Mell and Oliver Walker, is another attempt to thread the needle between popular econ book and text.  I would have wished for a more dramatic and intuitive treatment of a) core microeconomic reasoning in the old Chicago/UCLA style, and b) a far greater and more central place for the truly dramatic importance of economic growth in boosting human welfare.

John Drury, The Life and Poetry of George Herbert is a beautiful treasure and it will make my best books of the year list.  Here is Herbert’s best poem.

Mai Jia’s Decoded: A Novel was a bestseller in China, and so far I am finding it compelling, and most other readers seem to agree.

Arrived in my pile are:

Cass Sunstein, Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas.

Romain D. Huret, American Tax Resisters.

Peter H. Schuck, Why Goverment Fails So Often, And How It Can Do Better.

Matt Grossman, Artists of the Possible: Governing Networks and American Policy Change Since 1945.  And a related blog post Do policymakers ignore voter agendas and priorities?, by Matt.

1 Steve Sailer March 30, 2014 at 3:53 am

Cass Sunstein, Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas.

Cass Sunstein in 2008: “our main policy idea is that government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories …”

What could be more sanity-inducing than clandestine government conspiracies against conspiracy theorists?

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2010/01/sunstein-and-agent-provocateurs.html

2 Mark Thorson March 30, 2014 at 11:52 am

If they start with the Church of Scientology, I’d be all in favor of this.

3 TMC March 30, 2014 at 2:20 pm

First they came for the Church of Scientology, and I did nothing…

4 Steve Sailer March 30, 2014 at 3:55 am

Cass Sunstein in 2013 on the Bowling Nazi Menace: “Could Bowling Leagues and the PTA Breed Nazis?”

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2013/09/sunstein-could-bowling-leagues-and-pta.html

5 Adrian Ratnapala March 30, 2014 at 7:12 am

Capturing the decisive moments in U.S. history when tax resisters convinced a majority of Americans to join their crusade, Romain Huret explains how a once marginal ideology became mainstream, elevating economic success and individual entrepreneurialism over social sacrifice and solidarity.

I didn’t realise that preferring to pay less tax was a marginal idea in any country. Becoming out-and-proud about it — turning it into an “ideology” — might be marginal in some countries. But in America, really?

6 mulp March 30, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Well, wanting to pay less in taxes is one thing, but promising the free lunch of better government by paying less is something that seems a unique Reagan led movement.

He promised greater wealth by cutting taxes, cutting wages, cutting benefits, killing jobs, by simply producing more for less which would lead to consumers materializing with infinite money to spend.

Oh, and by the way, the US is exceptional and can cut taxes and spend more on scary weapons and thus dictate global economics to send all its wealth to Americans.

Republicans were once the tax and spend party, but with Reagan the Republicans became tax cut, borrow and spend more wastefully.

The Tea Party movement did not rise in 2001 or 2002 or 2003 to demand no war spending even though the tax cuts and war spending were certain to explode the debt.

The Tea Party movement did not rise in response to the expansion of entitlements with the drug benefit expansion that was most beneficial to the Republican’s most reliable voting block.

More government benefits by tax cuts is very much what HW Bush called voodoo economics.

The Tea Party is a movement that is demanding the promised better government of tax cuts and more of what conservatives want for free, and that Reagan promised decades ago.

And today, we have this expectation that higher profits from slashing wages and benefits and burning capital to kill jobs will result in robust economic growth because consumers will spend more because of the greater wealth of the 1%, not cut spending because of the reduced labor income of the 99%.

When the Tea Party is demanding Republicans promise to cut Social Security benefits by 25% beginning January 2016 and to require the Medicare Part B premium rise to 50% from 25% of cost the same January 2016, then I will believe the Tea Party movement is not based on the voodoo free lunch economics of tax cuts with no real cuts in the benefits government has been delivering ever since it got the power to tax.

The power to tax is the first enumerated power of Congress for a reason, stated in its declaration. Tax and spend is the reason the Constitution exists instead of the Articles of Confederation.

7 TMC March 30, 2014 at 2:24 pm

“promising the free lunch of better government by paying less is something that seems a unique Reagan led movement.”

Less of a negative is a positive. The math here is pretty simple and not unique at all. And for those new to the US, it is Congress that spends and taxes. Congress reneged on their end of the deal with Reagan to cut spending. Thanks, Tip.

8 So Much For Subtlety March 30, 2014 at 11:52 pm

mulp

Well, wanting to pay less in taxes is one thing, but promising the free lunch of better government by paying less is something that seems a unique Reagan led movement.

Why do you think that? We are in the middle of a computer revolution where everyone is achieving efficiencies by moving on-line. Why should government – which is uniquely suited to on-line service provision – be exempt? Also the weight of history ought to be behind Reagan. When the British massively cut customs and excise duties, revenue went up. The whole thrust of civil service reform from the late 19th century to the mid-1950s was about cheaper but more efficient government services.

He promised greater wealth by cutting taxes, cutting wages, cutting benefits, killing jobs, by simply producing more for less which would lead to consumers materializing with infinite money to spend.

No. He promised greater wealth by leaving money in people’s pockets to consume and invest as they liked. Investing in particular led to significant productivity related improvements. We are, as I said, in the middle of a revolution in IT services. Amazon has killed a lot of jobs, but it has also greatly improved the efficiency of the book market. Which in turn has made all of us a little bit richer. There is just no denying that Reagan’s reforms, along with those in Thatcher’s Britain and virtually every other Western country, led to an end to abusive work practices, greater efficiency, better productivity and hence greater wealth. For everyone.

Oh, and by the way, the US is exceptional and can cut taxes and spend more on scary weapons and thus dictate global economics to send all its wealth to Americans.

Been true for some time now. May well continue to be true for a bit longer.

The Tea Party movement did not rise in 2001 or 2002 or 2003 to demand no war spending even though the tax cuts and war spending were certain to explode the debt.

You were not listening. A lot of Republicans were deeply unhappy about George Junior’s propensity to spend like a drunken sailor.

And today, we have this expectation that higher profits from slashing wages and benefits and burning capital to kill jobs will result in robust economic growth because consumers will spend more because of the greater wealth of the 1%, not cut spending because of the reduced labor income of the 99%.

No we don’t. That is your weak understanding of what people you hate think. You should ask them instead of projecting.

9 dearieme March 30, 2014 at 8:33 am

“the new Simon Schama book on the history of the Jews did not grab my attention”: he’s deteriorated into a mere pantomime dame, indulging in exhibitionism on the telly. It’s a great pity: “Citizens” was a fine book.

10 So Much for Subtlety March 30, 2014 at 7:02 pm

How can you write a book on the French Revolution and make the Great Terror seem to boring?

He is rapidly becoming one of those “I can’t believe he’s not Gay” TV performers.

Embarrassment of Riches, now that was a fine book. I guess with academics, especially those with success on TV, there is a marginal decline in their output. They did their best work when they were young because no one wanted it. Now the BBC will commission any old sh!t they get lazy. Clearly the sensible thing to do is copy Jacob Bronowski – there should only be one.

His daughter should have listened and learned when it comes to popular books.

11 Hmmmmmm March 30, 2014 at 8:38 am

“A box where sweets compacted lie”

12 Donald Pretari March 30, 2014 at 12:10 pm

“Arrived in my pile…” Maybe you should call it a Stack.

13 Lucy March 30, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Good evening Tyler! I very much look forward to reading the Herbert book you recommend.

However the poem you selected is actually only Herbert’s joint-second best poem (along with Prayer 1)! The best is in fact ‘Redemption’. Not just Herbert’s best, but the finest twist-of-the-knife ending of any English sonnet:

At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
Of theeves and murderers: there I him espied,
Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.

14 Jenny Davidson April 1, 2014 at 11:41 am

Two short books I read this weekend & think you would find worthwhile: Teju Cole, Every Day is For the Thief; Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation.

15 Jenny Davidson April 1, 2014 at 11:43 am

(p.s. I think my favorite Herbert poems are Jordan I and Prayer I, but really they are all amazing!)

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