That is the new forthcoming Charles Murray book and the subtitle is Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life.
Murray by the way just published a review of Average is Over in the latest Claremont Review of Books which I enjoyed very much. It is not yet on-line but cited here.
For the pointer I thank Alex.
The subtitle of his book is Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. I am finding this book interesting, here is one good bit:
The call for a greater Syria reflected the prevailing sentiment among Palestine’s Arab intellectuals. Some notables who were active in the Muslim-Christian Associations wanted an Arab Palestine within the British Empire, but many of the activists and intellectuals, inspired by Faisal’s success, envisaged Palestine as “Southern Syria.”
…There was a good geographical as well as political argument for greater Syria. As subsequent events would reveal, Palestine lacked natural boundaries, especially in the north and south. There were looming disputes over water rights that could be avoided by combining Palestine and Syria.
…The British, fearful that the movement for a greater Syria would undercut their hold over Palestine, encouraged Palestine’s Arabs to think of themselves as Palestinian.
Overall the text offers a strongly non-sentimental account, does not whitewash any of the participants in the disputes, and it communicates how much early American policymakers , including Truman, were skeptical about what ended up happening. Today’s often-unquestioned assumptions were very often historically quite contingent. You can buy the book here.
The author is Christopher Hale and the subtitle is the rather misleading Exposing Britain’s My Lai.
The first fifth of this book is in fact the best short early economic history of Malaysia and Singapore I know, even though the focus of the book as a whole is on one colonial event, namely the 1948 Batang Kali massacre during the post-war Malayan Emergency. The next section is a superb treatment of the Japanese occupation and the political issues leading up to that occupation. This book reflects a common principle, namely that often, to learn a topic, you should read a book on an adjacent but related topic, rather than pursue your preferred topic directly. The book on the adjacent topic often will take less background knowledge for granted and explain the context more clearly for what you actually wish to learn, while getting you interested in other topics along the way.
Just about every page of this book has useful and interesting information, here is one new word I learned:
The history of the ‘Malay World’ in the centuries before the momentous fall of Malacca to the Portuguese in 1511 is predominantly a convoluted narrative of maritime statelets, technically thalassocracies.
This one will make my best non-fiction of the year list.
You will find the video here, the dialogue is with me and Tim Carney.
The underlying question behind the book is when the general possibility of error helps you learn and when it leads you off the precipice, never to return. As I understand Megan’s argument, additional error-making propensity has positive individual and social returns at the margin, which means we should offer implicit or sometimes explicit subsidies to experimentation. That means a liberal bankruptcy law, relatively easy divorce, and a focus of subsidies on areas with high fixed costs. In other words, the National Science Foundation should worry more about labs and less about individual researchers.
As I had predicted, this is proving to be a breakout book for Megan. You can buy her book here. There is more on the book here.
Anatol Lieven, Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry. And here is a short essay of his on Ukraine today.
Orlando Figes, A Crimean War.
Vassily Aksyonov, The Island of Crimea, discussed here: “Written in 1979, Vassily Aksyonov’s “The Island of Crimea” imagines an alternative history (abetted by alternative geography—the Crimea is a peninsula) wherein the Russian civil war ends with the tsarist forces able to hold onto this southern scrap of the old empire. “
That is a new and highly useful book by Stuart J. Hillmon, here is one bit from it:
Truthfully, majoring in economics is not really all that helpful for your admissions prospects. This is true for two reasons. First, knowing who does well in undergraduate economics is not terribly helpful in identifying who will be a good academic economist. Unlike other fields such as chemistry or physics, what happens in undergraduate courses bears little relation to what happens in graduate courses. For this reason, the committee cannot predict how well you will do as an academic economist based on your doing well in your undergraduate econ courses. Consequently, they don’t give too much weight to your stellar performance in the usual undergraduate classes.
For this book, I would have asked for greater length, more discussion of government and private sector careers, and more discussion of non-orthodox paths through academic economics, or for that matter seeking employment at a teaching school or attending a Ph.D. program below the top tier. You will note “Stuart J. Hillmon is the pseudonym for an academic economist who graduated from a top five doctoral program in economics and currently teaches courses in policy and economics.” The book is structured accordingly and perhaps that will frighten some of you away. If everyone were like Hillmon, I would not myself today be an economist.
Still, this is a good place to start if you are considering whether to get a Ph.D. in economics.
That is the new and excellent book by Daniel W. Drezner and the subtitle is How the World Stopped Another Great Depression. It is largely if not entirely correct, here is a summary excerpt:
A closer look at the global response to the financial crisis reveals a more optimistic assessment. Despite initial shocks that were more severe than the 1929 financial crisis, global economic governance responded in a nimble and robust fashion. Whether one looks at economic outcomes, policy outputs, or institutional operations, these governance structures either reinforced or improved upon the pre-crisis status quo. The global economy bounced back from the 2008 financial crisis with relative alacrity.
I would myself stress two additional points, whether you call them addenda or qualifications is up to you. First, we now know that the Fed could have done much more in 2008. I consider this a mistake rather than a mistake in governance, and later the Fed did a great deal to try to make up for this error. Second, the performance of the eurozone is hardly spectacular, to say the least, and the ECB should have moved to a much looser monetary policy in 2009 if not sooner. Still, given what a screwy, seventeen-nation system had been set up, and given the severe distributional consequences of four percent inflation in the eurozone, I am surprised the system performed as well as it did.
The author is William Easterly and the subtitle is Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor.
This is Easterly’s most libertarian book, self-recommending. It is due out March 4.
That is published in The Washington Post, and I can recommend both books. Coyle’s book is GDP: A Brief But Affectionate History and Karabell’s is The Leading Indicators: A Short History of the Numbers That Rule Our World. My opening sentences are this:
‘May my children grow up in a world where no one knows who the central banker is” is a wise saying. One also can hope for a world where arguments about measuring GDP (gross domestic product, the sum total of the goods and services produced within a nation) or the inflation rate are rare. In good economic times, we tend to take reported economic numbers for granted, but more recently, conspiracy theories have run wild.
If you are going to read only one book on GDP, Diane Coyle’s “GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History” should be it. More important, you should read a book on GDP, as many of the political debates of our time revolve around this concept. Can we afford our current path of entitlement spending? Was the Obama fiscal stimulus worth it? When will China overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy?
The answers all depend on GDP. In 140 pages of snappy text, Coyle lays out what GDP numbers measure, what roles they play in economic policymaking and forecasting, and how GDP numbers can sometimes mislead us, albeit not in the way many current critics suggest.
With Karabell I have a quibble:
I do not agree with Karabell’s claim that “Bhutan is now routinely described as one of the happiest nations in the world.” The prime minister of Bhutan, Tshering Tobgay, has moved away from talk of “Gross National Happiness,” perhaps because he has realized that his country has relatively little of it. Most of the population is engaged in subsistence farming and has only a minimal chance of performing rewarding or creative labor. The prime minister instead wishes to focus on concrete goals such as “a motorized rototiller for every village and a utility vehicle for each district.” For all the talk of being content with less, external debt has soared to 90 percent of GDP. If anything, Bhutan may show that measures of GDP get at happiness more clearly than does focusing on happiness more directly. Just look at where immigrants wish to move — it is almost always wealthier countries.
Read the whole thing.
That is the new banking book by Charles W. Calomiris and Stephen H. Haber and the subtitle is The Political Origins of Banking Crises & Scarce Credit. I went to review it, but came back to the thought that I liked Arnold Kling’s review better than what I was coming up with, here goes:
I am now reading Fragile by Design by Charles Calomiris and Stephen Haber. I posted a few months ago on an essay they wrote based on the book. I also attended yesterday an “econtalk live,” where Russ Roberts interviewed the authors in front of live audience for a forthcoming podcast. You might look forward to listening–the authors are very articulate and they speak colorfully, e.g. describing the United States as being “founded by troublemakers” who achieved independence through violence, as opposed to the more boring Canadians.
I think it is an outstanding book, although in my opinion it is marred by their focus on CRA lending as a cause of the recent financial crisis. This is a flaw because (a) they might be wrong and (b) even if they are right, they will turn off many potential readers who might otherwise find much to appreciate in the book. Everyone, regardless of ideology, should read the book. It offers a lot of food for thought.
I am only part-way through it. The story as far as I can tell is this:
1. There is a lot of overlap between government and banking. Governments, particularly as territories coalesced into nation states, needed to raise funds for speculative enterprises, such as wars and trading empires. Banks need to enforce contracts, e.g., by taking possession of collateral in the case of a defaulted loan. Government needs the banks, and the banks need government.
2. If the rulers are too powerful, they may not be able to credibly commit to leaving banks assets alone, so it may be hard for banks to form. But if the government is not powerful enough, it cannot credibly commit to enforcing debt contracts, so that it may be hard for banks to form.
3. Think of democracies as leaning either toward liberal or populist. By liberal, the authors mean Madisonian in design, to curb power in all forms. By populist, the authors mean responsive to the will of popular coalitions of what Madison called factions.
4. If you are lucky (as in Canada), your banking policies are grounded in a liberal version of democracy, meaning that the popular will is checked, and regulation serves to implement a stable banking system. If you are unlucky (as in the U.S.), your banking policies are grounded in the populist version of democracy. Banking policy reflects a combination of debtor-friendly interventionism and regulations that favor rent-seeking coalitions who shift burdens to taxpayers. The result is an unstable system.
I may not be stating point 4 in the most persuasive way. I am not yet persuaded by it. In fact, I think libertarians will be at least as troubled as progressives are by some of the theses that the authors promulgate.
1. Michael Szenberg and Lall Ramrattan, editors, Secrets of Economics Editors.
2. Joel Slemrod and Christian Gillitzer, Tax Systems.
That is the new book by Atif Mian and Amir Sufi and the subtitle is How They (and You) Caused the Great Recession, and How We Can Prevent It from Happening Again. As the title suggests, the argument focuses on household debt and also its subsequent effects on aggregate demand. Here is one bit:
From 2006 to 2009, large net-worth-decline counties cut back on consumption by almost 20 percent. This was massive. To put it into perspective, the total decline in spending for the U.S. economy was about 5 percent during these same years. The decline in spending in these counties was four times the aggregate decline. In contrast, small net-worth-decline counties spent almost the exact same amount in 2006 as in 2009.
There is much in this book of interest, but the problem is on the theoretical side. High debt means higher payments to banks and other intermediaries, and so that money need not disappear from the stream of aggregate demand. Investment is AD too, and more generally AD theories based on short-term changes in the distribution of wealth have not generally succeeded in the past (with apologies to Michael Kalecki). It is true that wealth redistribution will induce sectoral reallocations, perhaps significant ones, but then a debt-collapse theory requires a lot of the predictions of sectoral shift theories. At least for the recent crisis that is not obviously going to do the trick, even if sectoral shifts have been underrated by a lot of Keynesian commentators.
I would sooner start the foundations with multiple equilibria and then add on the Swedish and also Hayekian notion of intertemporal equilibrium, period analysis, and satisfied plans, or lack thereof. Excess household debt then can slot into that argument neatly, and without putting so much burden on wealth redistribution and sectoral shifts per se.
In any case this is a book worth reading and pondering. You can follow Sufi on Twitter here.
1. Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism. The author argues that Christianity is a fundamental moral revolution which later made liberalism possible. Maybe so, and this book is an OK enough introduction to that idea, but I did not myself learn much new from it. It is out now in the UK, but it is not clear when it is being published in the U.S.
2. Richard Marshall, Philosophy at 3 a.m.: Questions and Answers with 25 Top Philosophers. They are all smart, most of the interviews are fun, and pretty early on in this book you realize they are not going to get anywhere at all.
3. Scott Phillips, University of America: A Non-Linear Blueprint for Higher Education in the 21st Century. A new and interesting short eBook on reforming higher education:
The University of America is a conceptual model that dramatically reduces the barriers to entry for a college education for adult Americans. It proposes three structural changes to increase access to and significantly reduce the cost of getting a degree. They are:
• Create a ubiquitous, low-cost national testing infrastructure that is far more pervasive and accessible than what is available today;
• Divide content into fact-based vs. content-based modules with 75 percent of a standard 4-year degree being comprised of fact-based modules available for entirely independent learning and accreditation; and
• Require intensive residences for undergraduate degree completion.
4. Lila Abu-Lughod, Do Muslim Women Need Saving? Parts of this book were interesting, but I think if I were a Muslim women I would have found it offensive, including the title. What if someone wrote a book “Does Tyler Cowen Need Saving?” and decided “no.” But then multiply by more than 500 million. I can think of better questions to ask. The author means well but the provocative title is a representation of what is in essence a re-colonialising the object of study. Here is another, very different review of the work, indicative of how far we stand from having a good discourse on such matters.
And arrived in my pile:
5. Alen Mattich, Killing Pilgrim, Euro noir, but written by a financial journalist.