What I’ve been reading

by on September 22, 2015 at 12:03 pm in Books | Permalink

1. Deep South, by Paul Theroux.  It’s OK enough, but Theroux’s best writing was motivated by bile and unfortunately he has matured.  Still, he can’t get past p.9 without mention Naipaul’s “rival book” A Turn in the South.  My favorite Theroux book is his Sir Vidia’s Shadow, a delicious story of human rivalry and one of my favorite non-fiction books period.

2. Elmira Bayrasli, From the Other Side of the World: Extraordinary Entrepreneurs, Unlikely Places.  A well-written, completely spot on analysis about how the quality of the business climate needs to be improved in emerging economies, and about how much potential for entrepreneurship there is.  If economists were to do nothing else but repeat this message, the quality and usefulness of our profession likely would rise dramatically.

3. Michael White, Travels in Vermeer: A Memoir.  Nominated in the non-fiction National Book Award category, I actually enjoyed reading this one, all of it except the parts about…Vermeer.  It’s better as a memoir of alcoholism and divorce, interspersed with visits to art museums.

Tom Gjelten’s A Nation of Nations is an interesting “immigration history” of Fairfax County.  I enjoyed Deirdre Clemente’s Dress Casual: How College Students Redefined American Style.

Jennifer Mittelstadt’s The Rise of the Military Welfare State is a useful history of how a social welfare state for the military was first created, for recruitment purposes, and then  later dismantled.

I recommend L. Randall Wray’s Why Minsky Matters: An Introduction to the Work of a Maverick Economist, forthcoming in November.  Minsky isn’t so readable, but Wray is.  I’ve just started my review copy, I hope to report more on it soon.

1 Ted Craig September 22, 2015 at 12:06 pm

1. I read this back when it was a Smithsonian article.

2 Ted Craig September 22, 2015 at 12:09 pm

2. Also, it seems to me that many economists overestimate the “potential for entrepreneurship.” It’s harder than it looks.

3 David Anthony September 22, 2015 at 1:11 pm

It’s certainly harder than it should be thanks to the expansive regulatory and tax state.

4 Ted Craig September 22, 2015 at 1:16 pm

No. It’s harder because of human nature.

5 Curt F. September 22, 2015 at 2:28 pm

False choice fallacy. Could be both.

6 Julius September 22, 2015 at 2:32 pm

Could be none.

7 numbers guy September 22, 2015 at 6:12 pm

Could be all three.

8 Observer September 22, 2015 at 2:23 pm

Which is why nothing is invented in California anymore, and they’ve all moved to Kansas instead.

9 Cooper September 22, 2015 at 4:44 pm

California’s high tech success stories come out of the lightly regulated sectors like mobile advertisements, electronic gadgets and search engines.

Google didn’t have to fight with California’s EPA to get started.

10 Ed September 22, 2015 at 12:24 pm

On the Mittlestadt book, the story of how a sort of welfare state was constructed for the DoD while the ones for civilians were being dismantled is fairly well known. That the military one was eventually dismantled too isn’t.

11 impetus September 22, 2015 at 2:25 pm

When was the military welfare state dismantled? This I will have to read. Military compensation and benefits are incredibly rich relative to that of the comparable civilian workforce:
“In 2006, a 22-year-old E-4 with no dependents received a
total compensation package worth about $70,450. Of
that amount, 54 percent was in cash—basic pay, allow-
ances for food and housing, and the tax advantage that
military personnel receive because those allowances are
not subject to federal income taxes. The
rest of that member’s compensation took the form of
noncash or deferred benefits. About 8 percent of his or
her total compensation consisted of subsidized goods and
services that could be used immediately, such as medical
care or groceries purchased at commissaries. The other
38 percent of total compensation was the accrued cost of
retirement annuities and other deferred benefits that the
member may receive after he or she leaves active duty,
including health care for retirees and veterans’ benefits.”
Page 39 at:
https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/110th-congress-2007-2008/reports/06-29-compensation.pdf

12 Jim September 22, 2015 at 2:54 pm

“allow- ances for food and housing,”

The soldier you describe would not be eligible for either of those.

“About 8 percent of his or her total compensation consisted of subsidized goods and services that could be used immediately, such as medical care – ”

There are very effective mechanisms in place to ensure that soldiers use the very least medical care possible. In fact it is inaccurate to say a soldiers uses medical care, since medical care is provided for the purposes of the command rather than for his benefit, and his choice or consent counts for little. So a soldier can be ordered to take Pyroxidine pills or have an anthrax shot regardless of his feelings on the matter (and that is about how ridiculous the idea sounds), and can also be punished for malingering if her goes for care on his own.

13 NPW September 22, 2015 at 3:38 pm

When I was on active duty we got those numbers every year. We called them lie sheets.

My housing was a concrete block barracks room with a common bathroom, no carpet, no kitchen, one washer and dryer for entire barracks, and a leaking roof. I didn’t shop at the commissary or exchange since off base was cheaper. The medical care is substandard. I fell off a 40ft cliff, and it took a month before they decided that something other than Motrin and water might be necessary. I had two fractured knees. The retirement benefit is only good if one actually retires. Most people do not.

I was in a specialized field that had less than 25% of people making it through the first enlistment. Half were cut within the first year. I liked my job, but I couldn’t stand the other aspects, like the poor healthcare, the barracks, the weekly room inspections, the parade ground attitude of some of the leadership. My 2k a month + room + healthcare, wasn’t enough to stay.

I left and my quality of life is much better. It took about 10 years for civilian doctors to undo the damage caused by military medicine, but I can walk without a limp now. I have my own house with a roof that doesn’t leak.

I think that the taxpayer would have been better off keeping someone around who was willing and able to do a job where 75% don’t make it to the end of their enlistment without being kicked out of the MOS.

14 Art Deco September 22, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Tom Gjelten, former Sandinista press agent on the payroll of National Public Radio. Awaiting his views and reportage with bated breath.

15 KDV September 22, 2015 at 6:30 pm

hyperbole much?

16 Art Deco September 23, 2015 at 8:11 am

Nope. About 30 years ago, The New Republic published a critique of National Public Radio’s reportage on Central America, then in the throes of a trio of civil wars. It was damning, especially regarding NPR’s willingness to use political tourists as stringers. A discussion of Gjelten’s reportage-decaying-into-topical-commentary was included. Of those on salary at NPR, he was the worst.

Some of us remember that certain members of the media went over to the other side during the late Cold War. Gjelten was one, Raymond Bonner another, Anthony Lewis another. You may fancy it’s vulgar to recall this, but you’re wrong.

17 KDV September 23, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Your priors are showing. As I recall, Raymond Bonner has enjoyed a bit of vindication from implication of traitorous behavior (paraphrasing you) as the major publications who accused him of such are now pointing fingers at each other accusing sabotage while suggesting much of what he “reported on” was in fact true (stringer or not). Perhaps you find it vulgar that one be allowed to suggest, like Gjelten and Bonner had suggested, that our government was involved in some rather unseemly events in this period. But you would be wrong. Because that is supposedly what “the other side” might do.

18 Art Deco September 23, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Your priors are showing. As I recall, Raymond Bonner has enjoyed a bit of vindication

Your fantasies are showing. The political evolution of El Salvador and Nicaragua after 1985 discredited both Bonner and Gjelten.

Perhaps you find it vulgar that one be allowed to suggest, like Gjelten and Bonner had suggested, that our government was involved in some rather unseemly events in this period.

Bonner and Gjelten ‘suggested’ nothing of the sort. It was undisputed that the Salvadorean civil war and the Nicaraguan civil war were very violent, as wars commonly are. The signature of Bonner and Gjelten was not that they reported on the violence, but that they used those platforms to make the case for communists. Bonner was so distrusted by his editors that he was removed from the beat. Perhaps you fancy it’s decent and honorable behavior to act as press agents for the Sandinista and Joaquin Villalobos crew. Decent people know better.

19 KDV September 23, 2015 at 7:13 pm

I would also suggest you read Kinzer on Nicaragua. Harsh truths of the conflict there – our exacerbation of that situation, the Sandinistas awful yet predictable response, and the aftermath – are laid bare. No fantasies, as you might refer to it.

20 KDV September 23, 2015 at 7:06 pm

Well since I cant reply to your comment below, I will reply here. Epistemic closure is an interesting thing. Political evolution post 1985? The US was instrumental in cutting off the oxygen to Nicaragua once Ortega took power, they never had a chance. The Sandinistas may have evolved similarly without our suffocation, but to leave that part out would insult most people’s intelligence. And your use of the word side is interesting as well – shall I assume that you find a character like Somoza more palatable? I get the sneaking suspicion you would have had less angst had this been the side Gjelten et al had appeared to lean towards. Again, priors.

As for Bonner, from the NYT, ” “In calling the massacre ‘fully proven,’ the commission vindicates Raymond Bonner of the New York Times and Alma Guillermoprieto of the Washington Post, and exposes what looks like purposeful mendacity in the Reagan Administration,” declared a lead editorial titled “Truth, Lies and El Salvador.” “Some American editorialists who attacked the reporters as credulous were themselves duped.”

21 Art Deco September 24, 2015 at 10:18 am

Well since I cant reply to your comment below, I will reply here. Epistemic closure is an interesting thing.

Perfectly irrelevant remark, but predictably condescending.

Bonner and Gjelten had political aims, as do you. Those aims were bad, as are yours.

22 KDV September 24, 2015 at 11:53 am

I see. I claim no intellectual arms length purity on the subject, nor the self assuredness of “knowing” what was right, and I am condescending. Good luck to you sir.

23 Donald Pretari September 22, 2015 at 1:04 pm

There is a conference coming up at The Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics on October 5th on the Old Chicago School of Political Economy called The Legacy of Chicago Economics. One question they will consider is “What lessons did they impart to Friedman, Stigler, and others (such as Paul Samuelson) who attended Chicago in the 1930s?” Hyman Minsky was one of those students. Here is a quote from Minsky about his teachers and the Chicago Plan of 1933 that I discovered through Brad DeLong:

“Between 1937 and 1942, the University of Chicago was a fine place to begin to be an economist. The economists at the University covered a wide spectrum of thought; there was no dominant Chicago School. The emphasis upon intellectual rigor and seriousness was combined with a wide definition of the subject. Only Lange (and perhaps Douglas) of the senior faculty was sympathetic to Keynes, but perhaps this was due to the prior acceptance by the other members of the faculty of the need for a strong expansionary fiscal policy during the depression. Having reached this “Keynesian” policy conclusion by observing the economy, orthodox economists at Chicago felt no strong need to revolutionize economic theory.”

“Beginnings”
HYMAN P. MINSKY

Apparently, they are not doing a session on the Chicago Plan, but the conference looks to be excellent. I wish I could be there. Minsky also studied with Schumpeter, and is a brilliant economist, as so many students of the Old Chicago professors turned out to be. I look forward to the L. Randall Wray book on him.

24 Ray Lopez September 22, 2015 at 1:07 pm

“Elmira Bayrasli, From the Other Side of the World: Extraordinary Entrepreneurs, Unlikely Places.”

I’m one of these people, adding value in the Third World, viz, the Philippines.

I’m a chicken farmer and I also support (have a passive share in) pig farming, which I don’t enjoy as much (pigs smell much worse than chickens).

I’m making a huge fifty cents per pound profit on my chickens; that’s big and consistent with the developing world, where food is both expensive and takes up a larger share of poor people’s budget (also explains why they’re not obese as in the West). I hope to make a million by year’s end. A million pesos.

Fun fact: chickens–specifically, genetically engineered CX meat birds which only take a month to reach marketable size (2.5 kg)–can be infested by blowfly maggots which will literally eat their way out of the chicken. The same thing can happen if your Cx bird eats too many maggots and cannot swallow them in time–they will eat their way out, via secreting a flesh dissolving chemical and with their little mouths–and kill the chicken by eating it alive. Kind of like in the Bible where a rotten villain is consumed by worms and explodes.

Fun fact too: maggots are protean protein says survivalist Bear Grylls and taste like buttery nuts. Never had them (nor fried cockroaches which poor people will eat here), but I rather try locust if I’m gonna eat an insect.

25 carlolspln September 22, 2015 at 4:43 pm

The Frank Perdue of Luzon! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uN37i9qr0zY

26 Ray Lopez September 22, 2015 at 7:34 pm

From your mouth to God’s ear baby!

My loss rate is less than the 3% loss rate of commercial breeders, but then again I’m not yet to 30k pieces (that’s what they call the chicks here) per building. The gating factor is not food nor water (both of those I’ve already automated) but cleaning the coop. I have yet to figure out how to automate this aspect. I have some ideas but it’s not as easy as you think. For example, the usual thing people say: “just put chicken wire under the chicks and then the droppings fall to the ground where you can mechanically sweep them out” fails because the chicken wire gets slowly clogged with poop, and chicks legs get deformed if they don’t walk on a solid surface. But I have some other ideas… “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken” (said in Tagalog)…I like it! LOL it will never happen though. Before I get to that stage–as is common here with foreign investors–a government official will ask for an exorbitant bribe, and, if you don’t pay, he’ll run you out of town, using his official capacity. He’s either corrupt and/or paid off by your competitors, the small handful of leading families that run Southeast Asia. Sad and true, but I plan to stay under their radar screen.

27 Thor September 23, 2015 at 2:25 am

What is “CX”?

28 Petar September 23, 2015 at 10:22 am

Simple Google search of “cx chickens” says Cornish X, a type of chicken bred for meat production.

29 rayward September 22, 2015 at 1:50 pm

1.Books about the American South, books about Africa, written by visitors, always remind me of the Simon and Garfunkel song At the Zoo, and Zoofari. Zoofari was a fundraiser for the local zoo held at the zoo. My wife got it in her head that we were supposed to dress for the occasion, so I went as Tarzan and she went as Jane. We stood out in a crowd dressed in Ralph Lauren. I don’t know who the residents thought looked the more ridiculous. How would I know: I’m not from there.

30 CD September 22, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Minsky isn’t readable?

31 Thiago Ribeiro September 22, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Minsky isn’t an animal or a city?

32 spencer September 22, 2015 at 1:57 pm

The most successful socialist organization in the world is the US military.

But if you are an EM never let a non-com hear you say that.

33 Observer September 22, 2015 at 2:21 pm

“The most successful socialist organization in the world is the US military.”

We should start calling military service as a “US Government job” and see how it holds up in polling. I think the people who see the US military as separate from the US government are the same ones who think that the US government should keep its hand off of Medicare.

34 Cooper September 22, 2015 at 4:55 pm

Successful?

Sure, give any organization an essentially unlimited budget and the legal authority to do essentially whatever it wants and you’ll get something approximating success.

http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2013/11/18/How-Pentagon-Cooks-Books-Hide-Massive-Waste

“In its investigation, Reuters has found that the Pentagon is largely incapable of keeping track of its vast stores of weapons, ammunition and other supplies; thus it continues to spend money on new supplies it doesn’t need and on storing others long out of date. It has amassed a backlog of more than half a trillion dollars in unaudited contracts with outside vendors; how much of that money paid for actual goods and services delivered isn’t known. And it repeatedly falls prey to fraud and theft that can go undiscovered for years, often eventually detected by external law enforcement agencies.”

Is that success?

35 Thomas September 22, 2015 at 6:41 pm

The military can forcibly enter your on base residence and forcibly take you to your place of employment.

History has shown us what socialism requires.

36 Observer September 22, 2015 at 6:47 pm

“Is that success?”

Seeing as the main benefits of Pentagon spending is welfare transfers to southern states under the guise of patriotism, and payouts to well-connected defense industries, I would say yes.

It’s not like the last two military campaigns (Iraq, Afghanistan) have improved the lives of American citizens one way or another, so the only conclusion is that the DoD is a vehicle for wealth redistribution.

37 elppa September 22, 2015 at 5:12 pm

1. “one of my favorite non-fiction books….”

When two people are at each other’s throats, the line between fiction and non-fiction may be blurred.

38 E. Harding September 22, 2015 at 5:30 pm

“I recommend L. Randall Wray’s Why Minsky Matters: An Introduction to the Work of a Maverick Economist, forthcoming in November. Minsky isn’t so readable, but Wray is.”

-How much is Wray paying you to write this? I knew George Mason was corrupt, but not this much. Nothing I’ve read that has been written by Wray has been reasonable.

39 dan in euroland September 22, 2015 at 6:03 pm

RE: Wray, I have to agree with the old economic logic blog about how Wray’s commitment to verbal theorizing ultimately leads to opacity. See http://economiclogic.blogspot.com/2011/02/heterodox-money.html

40 Eric Tymoigne September 23, 2015 at 12:30 am

Some of the arguments have been put in formal terms. It is just not the type of maths that mainstream economists want to see.
As to the self-referential argument mentioned in the link, I am laughing. As if mainstream does not self-reference all the time. The recent example is of course Minsky who was “rediscovered.” I mean, some of us have been working with him (and others) for decades. No need to rediscover, just read what has been written in those “obscure” journals. Same with the recent “discovery” that the money multiplier does not work because QE did not work. I mean… Wake up! The BoE just published a paper acknowledging the work of Post Keynesian economists on the topic for at least the last 40 years (Hint: just throw away the money multiplier and the idea that banks are intermediaries between savers and investors). But you won’t find any mention anywhere in so called “top” journals even though there is a very rich literature on all this.
In the end it is not a problem of no math (there is math), or no reference (non-mainstream cites mainstream work all the time–actually too much– reverse is very rarely the case). It is a problem of paradigm. Hypotheses are different, methodology is different, math is different, what is viewed as economics is different.

41 Rick Hull September 22, 2015 at 8:59 pm
42 efim polenov September 22, 2015 at 10:24 pm

Tyler you sound kind of bored with the books you have been describing lately (some of them may be really really wonderful, but that is not coming across in your assessments). Maybe some of your commenters can send you a few twenty dollar bills to go down to the local bookstore with and pick up some recent editions of Shakespeare and Walter Scott and Milton? Or, to name a few authors who nobody else in the economics blogosphere ever talks about besides you, Undset or the Norse Sagawriters or Herbert?

43 Todd Kreider September 23, 2015 at 1:55 am

1. Cowen writes that Theroux used to be full of bile “but unfortunately he has matured.” Theroux wrote “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star” when 64 that retraced his jaunt around the world that he wrote when he was 34, ending up again in Japan.

He was full of bile at 64, railing against countries that he only knew as a tourist, including Japan at the end.

I guess he has now “matured” with his latest at age 74.

44 Art Deco September 23, 2015 at 1:56 pm

My favorite Theroux book is his Sir Vidia’s Shadow, a delicious story of human rivalry and one of my favorite non-fiction books period.

That’s perverse.

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