Books

*Private Governance*

by on July 28, 2015 at 2:47 pm in Books, Economics, Political Science | Permalink

The author is Edward Peter Stringham and the subtitle is Creating Order in Economic and Social Life.  I haven’t looked through this book yet, but I am very much an admirer of the underlying research by Ed.  Here is Peter Thiel’s blurb:

“Stringham dispels state-worshipping fiction with historical fact to show how good governance has preceded Leviathan, ignores it when necessary, and can surpass it when it fails.”

Peter Thiel, Entrepreneur

Recommended.

An excellent collection, edited by Jonathan Anomaly, Geoffrey Brennan, Michael C. Munger, and Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, self-recommending.  If I wanted a one-stop collection on PPE for teaching purposes, this exactly what I would use.

Arrived in my pile

by on July 23, 2015 at 2:54 pm in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink

John Kay, Other People’s Money: The Real Business of Finance.  This seems to be a book on what is wrong with finance and how to fix it.

Yes, there is a great Singaporean novel

by on July 21, 2015 at 4:50 pm in Books | Permalink

Or is it a novella?  The Widower, by Mohamed Latiff Mohamed, was not recommended to me by anyone, but I found it during my recent browse in Singapore Kinokuniya.  It starts with the meditations of a man whose wife has passed away and who then delves into his obsessions.

Although the book was published in the 1990s, it was translated into English only this year; I hope Michael Orthofer at Literary Saloon is paying attention.  But alas it is not for sale on U.S. Amazon.

Here is a recent article about the hand-wringing of Singaporeans over their failure to win major literary prizes.  Not long ago, Mohamed moved to Australia, proclaiming “Singapore is still my home.”

Here is my earlier post on what are the Singaporean literary classics, there were a few good answers in the comments.

The authors are Nobel Laureates George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller and the subtitle is The Economics of Manipulation and Deception.  It’s a popular take on how markets trap you and your preferences in places you don’t want to be.  Self-recommending of course.

There are chapters on advertising, tobacco, alcohol, junk bonds, credit cards, pharmaceuticals (some), and yes government.  My main complaint about the book is that its chooses easy targets and doesn’t puncture enough sacred cows.  For instance the chapter on government criticizes spending money on lobbying, whereas I would have preferred an attempt to show that an apparently beneficial and popular institution is in fact bad and appealing to the weaker elements in our preferences.  I wonder to what extent what the authors call “The Resistance and its Heroes” is in fact another example of…phishing for phools.  In other words, I wish this book were more Hansonian.

By the way, I have never eaten too much ice cream.

That is the new — well sort of new — Thomas Piketty book.  It was first published in France in 1997 and then updated several times through 2014, though we are told most of the book has kept its original structure.  It is a good, short read and will appeal to anyone with an interest in Piketty and “that sort of thing.”  The full-blown g > r model is not here, but you can see Piketty edging into being Piketty, with plenty of talk about capital-labor substitutability.

The book is Crazy Rich Asians, and the author is Kevin Kwan, who grew up in Singapore and also Texas.  It is a fun and popular “beach read” in its own right, but also more subtle and sociologically intriguing if you know a bit about Singapore.  I found it difficult to put down and it even made me laugh in a few places, which few novels do.  By the way, the female protagonist is an economics professor at NYU.

Here is one excerpt:

“Every time any Asian guy so much as looks in your direction, you give them the famous Rachel Chu Asian freeze-out and they wither away before you give them a chance…Honestly you are the most self-loathing Asian I have ever met.”

[the protagonist, Rachel] “What do you mean? I’m not self-loathing at all.  How about you?  You’re the one who married the white guy.”

“Mark’s not white, he’s Jewish — that’s basically Asian!  At least I dated a lot of Asian guys in my time.”

Singapore is the only place I know where you can meet someone who has an economics degree from Stanford, and have her tell you that she has a liberal arts background.

Anyway, I recommend this book to about one-quarter of you.

Yesterday I was visiting Kinokuniya, the largest bookstore in Singapore.  I asked the literature specialist which Singaporean novels I should buy.  Without irony he responded “I don’t know, for literature we are a small provincial backwater.”  But I hope that is wrong.  And after all, he didn’t mention Crazy Rich Asians to me.

But I have a question for you, dear readers — which are the Singaporean literary works to buy, read, and perhaps reread?  Amanda Lee Koe?  How about Alfian Sa’at?  Oddly enough, or perhaps appropriately enough, he published a famous poem “Singapore You Are Not My Country,” well-written, far too negative in my view but at least he mentioned easy access to all the MRT stops and also seems to understand the difference between gnp and gdp.

Please leave your Singaporean literature recommendations in the comments.

That was my response to reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.  We all overinvest in non-diversified mood affiliation portfolios, so why not read someone else’s non-diversified mood affiliation portfolio from a less common point of view?

The writing I thought was superb and also original, so I agree with the take of Christopher Hayes on Twitter:

Read book because the writing itself is in many ways more important and essential than the *argument* it’s making.

Many of you will object to this book, and not entirely for incorrect reasons.  This is a fire hose but there is not much if any engagement with potentially contradictory facts.  And if you read only this book, and otherwise would know nothing of America, you would not come close to guessing national black per capita income.

Still, if you’re wondering whether or not you should pick it up, I will nudge you in the direction of “yes.”

Here is a good article on the author.

James Buchanan was a fountainhead of ideas, as his twenty volume collected works demonstrate. But there is another side to Buchanan’s contributions that is less apparent. Buchanan was more than a scholar, more than an idea man. He was also an intellectual entrepreneur who led a worldwide movement. We like to believe that good ideas defeat bad ideas, that the cream rises to the top, that truth wins out in the end, but as John Stuart Mill (1859) stated, “Men are not more zealous for truth than they often are for error.” Indeed, error may attract more zealots, since error can bend itself to flatter, and the truth does not bend.

Buchanan understood right from the beginning that for good ideas to win requires a movement, and a movement is not built on ideas alone, but also on students, on conferences, on outreach, on media, and on money.

That is the opening to a I talk I gave at the 2013 memorial, “James M. Buchanan: A Celebration of Achievement,” just now published.

But around the world men are the first to give up their ethnic costumes.  They are outside the village more, more likely to know the majority community’s language and understand the comments about them in the towns, more apt to conceal their ethnic identity in social or commercial encounters so as to become part of the anonymous mainstream.  In Yunnan the only minority men who may still dress in their ethnic style are the Tibetans, the Dulong, the Lisu, some northern Yi groups and the Yao.

That is from Jim Goodman’s The Exploration of Yunnan, a useful and appealing book about one of the world’s most attractive regions.

The Stoics aside, most of these Twitter nominations are terrible.  What comes to mind immediately for me is:

Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

Pascal’s Pensees

Hume’s Enquiry

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels or Melville’s Moby Dick

That’s off the top of my head, I am sure I am forgetting some strong candidates.  Plato is too Straussian (not that there’s anything wrong with that…), Aristotle is too dull and it is often just lecture notes anyway, many other writers are too prolix, and contemporary books typically don’t have enough breadth, or for that matter wisdom, to top this list.

What is your pick?

Arrived in my pile

by on July 10, 2015 at 1:35 pm in Books, Economics, Travel, Uncategorized | Permalink

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

Murat Iyigun has a new book out titled War, Peace & Prosperity in the Name of God.  I haven’t read it yet, but Timur Kuran’s blurb seems helpful:

“Challenging many prominent theories of human history, this captivating book shows that competition among the world’s leading monotheistic religions was a more powerful driver of development than competition within them. Cogently argued, insightful, and entertaining throughout, it demonstrates that struggles between Islam and Christianity produced momentous transformations not only in Muslim-governed lands but also in Europe.”

That is the new book by Jason F. Brennan and Peter Jaworski.  I like my own blurb for it:

“There are many books on the morality of commerce and market commoditization, but this one is better than the others. It is better argued, penetrates into the issues more deeply, and most of all it is right.”

What I’ve been reading, and viewing

by on July 7, 2015 at 1:37 am in Books, Film | Permalink

1. Stephen Witt, How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy.  Most of all, Learned how much hard work and ingenuity was behind the MP3 standard, in any case a good and useful book.

2. P.W. Singer and August Cole, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War.  More of a speculative exercise than a traditional novel — what if the Chinese could beat the Americans? — but still a fun read and a book that people are talking about at high levels.

3. Vendela Vida, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty: A Novel.  To the point and lots of fun.  A recently divorced woman travels to Morocco and surprises start to happen.  Occupies that intriguing space between “not deep” but also “not superficial.”

4. Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend.  This writer has been called a “female Neapolitan Knausgaard,” arguably a deliberate oxymoron.  It took me my second read through to “get it,” which I suppose means I am not the natural target audience.  But I am very glad I gave it that second read, and this is in fact the female Neapolitan Knausgaard, in four volumes by the way.

5. Red Army, a film documentary about the hockey team of the Soviet Red Army, its rise and fall.  Chock full of social science, I loved this movie, philosophical too, even though I am not especially interested in hockey.  One of my favorite documentaries.