Books

Arrived in my email

by on May 29, 2015 at 4:31 am in Books, Economics | Permalink

The book itself has not yet come to my pile, though perhaps it still will.  This one is self-recommending, so here is the basic information, it is due out June 2:

Alvin Roth, Who Gets What — and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design.

If you do not know why this is self-recommending, here are previous MR posts on Alvin Roth.  And here is the book’s home page.

The Essential Hayek, by Don Boudreaux.  I cannot (yet?) find an Amazon listing.

Adrian Wooldridge, The Great Disruption: How Business is Coping with Turbulent Times.

Dirk Philipsen, The Little Big Number: How GDP Came to Rule the World and What to Do About It.

Steven J. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, When to Rob a Bank…and 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants.

Dan Ariely, Irrationally Yours: On Missing Socks, Pickup Lines, and Other Existential Puzzles.

Brendan O’Flaherty, The Economics of Race in the United States.

Right now there is lots in the pile, but I thought I should let you know about those right away.

Some people are calling Steven Lubet’s new review of Alice Goffman’s On the Run “troubling” and even “devastating” but I am non-plussed. Lubet questions the plausibility of some of Goffman’s accounts:

She describes in great detail the arrest at a Philadelphia hospital of one of the 6th Street Boys who was there with his girlfriend for the birth of their child.  In horror, Goffman watched as two police officers entered the room to place the young man in handcuffs, while the new mother screamed and cried, “Please don’t take him away. Please, I’ll take him down there myself tomorrow, I swear – just let him stay with me tonight.” (p. 34). The officers were unmoved; they arrested not only Goffman’s friend, but also two other new fathers who were caught in their sweep.

How did the policemen know to look for fugitives on the maternity floor?  Goffman explains:

According to the officers I interviewed, it is standard practice in the hospitals serving the Black community for police to run the names of visitors or patients while they are waiting around, and to take into custody those with warrants . . . .

The officers told me they had come into the hospital with a shooting victim who was in custody, and as was their custom, they ran the names of the men on the visitors’ list.

This account raises many questions.  Even if police officers had the time and patience to run the names of every patient and visitor in a hospital, it would violate the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for the hospital simply to provide an across-the-board list….

In addition, Lubet contacted a source in the Philadelphia police department and asked if there was any such policy.

When I asked if her account was possible, he said, “No way. There was never any such policy or standard practice.”  In addition, he told me that all of the trauma centers in Philadelphia – where police are most likely to be “waiting around,” as Goffman put it, for prisoners or shooting victims – have always been extremely protective of their patient logs.  He flatly dismissed the idea that such lists ever could have been available upon routine request as Goffman claims.  “That’s outlandish,” he said.

It would also be outlandish for police to beat and kill people without cause but since Goffman’s book has appeared we have plenty of video evidence that the type of actions she claims to have witnessed do in fact happen.

Moreover, HIPAA does not provide privacy against the police. HIPAA was written specifically so that the police can request information from hospitals. Here is the ACLU on HIPAA:

Q: Can the police get my medical information without a warrant?

A: Yes. The HIPAA rules provide a wide variety of circumstances under which medical information can be disclosed for law enforcement-related purposes without explicitly requiring a warrant.[iii] These circumstances include (1) law enforcement requests for information to identify or locate a suspect, fugitive, witness, or missing person (2) instances where there has been a crime committed on the premises of the covered entity, and (3) in a medical emergency in connection with a crime.[iv]

In other words, law enforcement is entitled to your records simply by asserting that you are a suspect or the victim of a crime.

Finally, the records in question in this case were not even patient records but visitor records. Whether or not there is an official policy on what to do while waiting at a hospital for other reasons (say to speak to a suspect) it’s plausible to me that the police in Philadelphia can and do sneak a peek at visitor records when the opportunity arises. It’s certainly the case that people who have warrants against them avoid hospitals and other institutions that keep such records for fear of arrest (and here).

I was confused by Lubet’s other big reveal, “Goffman appears to have participated in a serious felony in the course of her field work – a circumstance that seems to have escaped the notice of her teachers, her mentors, her publishers, her admirers, and even her critics.” But this didn’t escape my notice. How could it? Goffman’s crime is the climax of the book! Lubet is talking about Goffman’s action after her friend, Chuck, is murdered:

…This time, Goffman did not merely take notes – on several nights, she volunteered to do the driving.  Here is how she described it:

We started out around 3:00 a.m., with Mike in the passenger seat, his hand on his Glock as he directed me around the area.  We peered into dark houses and looked at license plates and car models as Mike spoke on the phone with others who had information about [the suspected killer’s] whereabouts.

One night, Mike thought he saw his target:

He tucked his gun in his jeans, got out of the car, and hid in the adjacent alleyway.  I waited in the car with the engine running, ready to speed off as soon as Mike ran back and got inside (p. 262).

Fortunately, Mike decided that he had the wrong man, and nobody was shot that night.

The fact that Goffman had become one of the gang is the point. A demonstration that environment trumps upbringing. She only narrowly escaped becoming trapped by the luck of the victim’s absence. The sociology professor and the thug, entirely different lives, separated by the thinnest of margins.

That is the new book by Ashlee Vance, and so far it is the book I have enjoyed most this year.  Highly recommended.

Here is a short piece on how Elon Musk created a separate school just for his kids.

The author is Michael North, and this new and excellent book, when it comes to the earlier centuries, emphasizes the role of Swedes and Germans in shaping a region of prosperity and trade.  The most interesting section (starts p.239) is about the 1920s, when the Baltic nations underwent a radical deindustrialization, due to their severing from the Russian empire.  That is when they deviated from the Nordic economies, which for the most part continued their industrialization.

I also recommend Sverre Bagge, Cross & Scepter: The Rise of the Scandinavian Kingdoms from the Vikings to the Reformation.  If nothing else, this book will make you wonder if the recent success of the Nordic nations are in fact so deeply historically rooted after all.  As North (p.205) points out: “Industrialization arrived in all of these countries relatively late.”  Tom Buk-Swienty’s 1864: The Forgotten War That Shaped Modern Europe is a good book on how and why Denmark lost so much territory to Prussia/Germany.

Thanks to Ramez Naam!

by on May 23, 2015 at 10:03 am in Books, Economics | Permalink

Thanks to Ramez Naam for excellent guest blogging this week! Ramez’s homepage is here and his Amazon page here.

That is the new Anders Aslund book, and it is instructive throughout.  Here are a few things I learned:

1. 80 percent of Ukrainian youth receive higher education of some kind.

2. Ukraine has the world’s highest rate of pension expenditures as a share of gdp, at about 18 percent, circa 2010.  Most of that is old age pensions, and that is for a population with a relatively short lifespan, 68.5 years, 122th in the world according to UNDP.

3. At the time of publication, Ukraine’s public expenditures stood at 53 percent of gdp.

4. “Ukraine is running out of money…”  OK, that one I already knew.

5. “No economy has fared as poorly in peacetime as Ukraine did from 1989 to 1999.  For a decade, Ukrainian GDP plummeted by a total of 61 percent, according to official statistics.”  Some of this, however, was offset by the growth of black markets.

6. Crimea is no longer included in Ukraine’s formal measure of gdp, although Donbas is still included.

What I’ve been reading

by on May 21, 2015 at 3:10 am in Books | Permalink

1. Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America, by Peniel E. Joseph.  The best single book I know of on what the title indicates.

2. The New World: A Novel, by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz.  Imagine a husband who wants his head frozen cryogenically, and a wife who wants something else.  I resisted this one at first, for fear it would be schlocky and gimmicky, but I ended up thinking it was quite good.  Here is a brief NPR review, they liked it too.

3. Walter Scott, Ivanhoe.  This isn’t just of fusty, antiquarian interest, rather the book comes alive on virtually every page.  The plot is gripping, there are neat twists on “multicultural” themes, the descriptions of clothing are wonderful, and the whole thing can be read as extended commentary on Shakespeare, most of all Merchant of Venice and Richard.

4. Jane Alpert, Growing up Underground.  One of the best 1960s memoirs, she goes from being a Swarthmore radical to a bomber who tries too hard to please her boyfriend, to a reconstructed peaceful feminist.  This book is notable for how it combines extreme self-awareness and extreme self-delusion, often on the same page.

The Robot Employment Act?

by on May 20, 2015 at 10:26 am in Books, Economics | Permalink

In light of LA’s vote to increase the minimum age to $15 an hour by 2020 here is one of my favorite pictures and caption from Modern Principles of Economics.

From Cowen-Tabarrok, Modern Principles of Economics

Should the Minimum Wage be called the “Robot Employment Act?”

Cowen-Tabarrok, Modern Principles of Economics, 3rd ed

 

Tyler and I are delighted to have the great Ramez Naam guest blogging for us this week. Ramez spent many years at Microsoft leading teams working on search and artificial intelligence. His first book, More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement was a thought provoking look at the science and ethics of enhancing the human mind, body, and lifespan. More recently, I enjoyed Ramez’s The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet, an excellent Simonesque guide to climate change, energy and innovation.

Frankly, I didn’t expect much when I bought Ramez’s science fiction novel, Nexus. Good non-fiction authors don’t necessarily make good fiction authors. I was, however, blown away. Nexus is about a near-future in which a new technology allows humans to take control of their biological operating system and communicate mind to mind. Nexus combines the rush of a great thriller, the fascination of hard science fiction and the intrigue of a realistic world of spy-craft and geo-politics. I loved Nexus and immediately bought the second in the trilogy, Crux. I finished that quickly and I am now about half-way through the just released, Apex. Thus it’s great to have Ramez guest blogging as I race towards the end of his exciting trilogy! The trilogy is highly recommended.

Please welcome Ramez to MR.

Nexus Cover


The Grasping Hand, written by our GMU-law colleague, Ilya Somin, is an excellent read and the definitive treatment of eminent domain and the Kelo case. As you might expect, Somin discusses the legal issues with aplomb. So much so that the book is endorsed by both of Kelo’s opposing counsel! In addition to the law and economics, Somin offers what for me was an eye-opening investigation of the history behind many of the major cases.

graspingIn the famous Poletown case, for example, GM and the cities of Detroit and Hamtramck used eminent domain to forcibly remove 4,200 people, 1300-1,400 homes, 140-600 businesses, 6 churches and one hospital in order to build a factory. The primary argument for the expropriation was the economic benefits that GM and the mayor promised would flow from the creation of at least 6,000 GM jobs.

Even though the entire case hung on the number of jobs to be created this number was simply cheap talk. In the marketplace, if GM says that this 100 tons of aluminium is worth more building cars than it is building airplanes they have to demonstrate their belief by outbidding Boeing and all the other users of aluminium. In politics GM need only voice an assertion and with the right lobbying the political system will make the transfer for them. Neither GM nor the city were under any requirement to guarantee new jobs but the majority judges simply accepted the numbers as given to them.

…many judges may have an unjustified faith in the efficacy of the political process and thus may be willing to allow the executive and legislative branches of government to control oversight of development projects. For example, the Poletown majority emphasized that courts should defer to legislative judgments of “public purpose.” Whatever the general merits of such confidence in the political process, it is misplaced in situations in which politically powerful interest groups can employ the powers of government at the expense of the relatively weak.

So what happened?

The GM plant opened two years late; and by 1988— seven years after the Poletown condemnations— it employed no more than 2,500 workers.

Moreover, as Somin continues, it gets much worse because not only were the benefits overstated the costs weren’t stated at all.

An especially striking aspect of the Poletown decision was the majority’s failure to even mention the costs imposed by condemnation on the people of Poletown or the city of Detroit as a whole.

According to estimates prepared at the time, “public cost of preparing a site agreeable to . . . General Motors [was] over $200 million,” yet GM paid the city only $8 million to acquire the property. Eventually, public expenditures on the condemnation rose to some $250 million. In addition, we must add to the costs borne by the city’s taxpayers, the economic damage inflicted by the destruction of up to six hundred businesses and fourteen hundred residential properties. Although we have no reliable statistics on the number of people employed by the businesses destroyed as a result of the Poletown condemnation, it is quite possible
that more workers lost than gained jobs as a result of the decision.

*Guantánamo Diary*

by on May 9, 2015 at 12:33 pm in Books, History, Law, Political Science | Permalink

That is the recent book by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who has been held at Guantánamo for many years.  This is a classic of prison literature, and I will teach it next year in my Law and Literature class.  Almost every page is interesting:

It is just amazing that the FBI trusts the Jordanians more than the other American intelligence agencies.

And:

I don’t know any other language that writes Colonel and pronounces it Kernel.

His written English is quite good.  Definitely recommended, and the heavily redacted nature of the text enhances the reading experience rather than detracting from it.  Here is a good review from The Guardian.

Jonathan Rauch, Political Realism: How Hacks, Machines, Big Money, and Back-Room Deals Can Strengthen American Democracy.  The tag “self-recommending” was made for books like this one.  According to Rauch, transparency is overrated and politics should be more transactional.

Jeffrey Towson and Jonathan Woetzel, The One Hour China Consumer Book: Five Short Stories That Explain the Brutal Fight for One Billion Customers.  The short tale of why the most successful beer companies are the state-owned enterprises is alone worth the price of this book.

And I just downloaded Hugo Dixon’s The In/Out Question, which argues the UK should try to stay in the European Union…

The residential segregation bill won the City Council’s approval of December 9, 1910…

Blacks simply were not allowed to live in white neighborhoods, and when it comes to mixed blocks, it was hardly the rule of law which reigned.  Blacks who moved into mixed blocks were penalized when white politicians wanted to do so.  The entire regime was extreme:

Baltimore’s innovation was the use of government legislation to achieve systematic, citywide race separation.  “Nothing like it can be found in any statute book or ordinance record of this country,” the New York Times wrote.  “It is unique in legislation, Federal, State, or municipal — an ordinance so far-reaching in the logical sequence that must result from its enforcement that it may be said to mark a new era in social legislation.”  Baltimore thus became a national leader in residential segregation.

That is from Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City, by Antero Pietila.  Anyone interested in the roots of current problems in Baltimore should read this book

Robin Grier (with Jerry F. Hough) puts it thus:

The great weakness of the Spanish government was not its bureaucratic nature, but its inability to build an effective bureaucracy until the 1700s. Without an effective bureaucracy, Spain was doomed to a personalistic policy process in which options and tradeoffs often were not properly weighed. Rulers could not trust the market because they were incapable of taxing decentralized economic activity.

One example of the lack of bureaucratic capability during the 1500s and 1600s is found in the example of Philip’s attempt to conquer England with the Spanish Armada. Until the 1580s Philip’s “defense department” had only one secretary assisted by a handful of clerks, none with military experience.

As he prepared to launch the Spanish Armada to try to conquer England, he doubled the number of responsible defense officials to two – one for the army and one for navy!

The ships were largely rented from Genoa. Although many of them were sunk in the failed attack, Philip did not try to build a merchant fleet of his own to match Elizabeth’s rapid expansion of her armed merchant fleet at the same time.

That is from her new and excellent The Long Process of Development: Building Markets and States in Pre-industrial England, Spain and their Colonies, recommended.  This is essential reading for the history of colonial Mexico in particular.