Books

The author is Richard E. Ocejo, and the subtitle is Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy.   Here is one summary bit:

The three transformations that frame the content of this book — the restructuring of elite taste around omnivorousness, the changing of traditional community institutions into destinations of the new cultural elite in retail, and the recoding of work in the new economy — combine to explain how these jobs and businesses have become upscale, cool, and desired.

The jobs are bartender, distiller, barber, and butcher.

…these new elite manual labor jobs give men — mainly those of a certain race and social class standing — the chance to use their bodies directly in their work, as men did in the industrial era but do so less often today, as well as their minds, which grants them greater status in these jobs than they would otherwise have.  They are simultaneously respected knowledge workers and skilled manual laborers, and perform their work in public.  Men are thus able to use these jobs to achieve a lost sense of middle-class, heterosexual masculinity in their work.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the evolution of labor markets, how America will respond to ongoing automation, the production of status, and the role of men in an increasingly feminized society.  It is more of an “thick description, insights throughout” book than an “easy to sum up the bottom line” treatment.  Here is the book’s home page.  Here is a very positive FT review of the book.

Stubborn Attachments is the advance peek bonus book I offered to those who pre-ordered The Complacent Class.  I once described Stubborn Attachments as follows:

In that work, I outline a true and objectively valid case for a free and prosperous society, and consider the importance of economic growth for political philosophy, how and why the political spectrum should be reconfigured, how we should think about existential risk, what is right and wrong in Parfit and Nozick and Singer and effective altruism, how to get around the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, to what extent individual rights can be absolute, how much to discount the future, when redistribution is justified, whether we must be agnostic about the distant future, and most of all why we need to “think big.”

Here is the FT Alphaville blog post, with a link to the podcast, and here is the iTunes version of the podcast, it is unlike any other podcast I have done.  About the book, Cardiff Garcia writes:

Unlike the last few sequences of Tyler’s longer published works — the books on culture and economics, the self-help via economics wisdom books, and the Stagnationist trilogy — Stubborn Attachments is foundational Tyler. It represents the Tyler from which the distinctive contrarian and provocative and educational and speed-reading and culture-savvy and eccentric Tylers all emerge.

It is also the most comprehensive expression of Tyler’s particular brand of libertarianism that I have read.

There is also a “desert island” section of the podcast, where Cardiff asks me which bodies of film, for instance which directors, I would most want to have on a desert island.  He also asks me to construct my NBA “Dream Team,” which indeed I do for him.

What I’ve been reading

by on April 27, 2017 at 12:19 am in Books, Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Édouard Louis, The End of Eddy.  LitHub wrote: “Even in the wake of Knausgaard and Ferrante it is hard to find a literary phenomenon that has swept Europe quite like the autobiographical project of Édouard Louis.”  I don’t know that I enjoyed this book very much, but it was an effective fictional experience.  Most of all it scared me that such a tale of poverty and abuse could be so popular in Europe these days.  Recommended, but in a sobering way; I would rather this had been a bestseller in 1937.

2. Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs.  A novel about the consequences of a Delhi terrorist bombing that is both deep and compelling to read, full of surprises as well.  Here is a useful NYT review.

3. Edward T. O’Donnell, Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age.  This focuses more on George’s connection to social and labor movements, and less on George as an economist or land theorist, than I would have liked.  Still, it is an information-rich narrative that most of all brings the times and movements surrounding George to life.

4. Andrew Marr, We British: The Poetry of a People.  A good introduction to its topic, most of all for the mid-twentieth century, with plenty of poems reproduced.  Here is a Louis MacNeice poem, Snow:

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was

Spawning snow and pink roses against it

Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:

World is suddener than we fancy it.

 

World is crazier and more of it than we think,

Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion

A tangerine and spit the pips and feel

The drunkenness of things being various

 

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world

Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes —

On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of your hands —

There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

I loved The Dispossessed as a kid, though The Left Hand of Darkness was considered the best of her novels.

I am about to read The Word for World Is Forest. The idea of space travel privileging homosexuality really struck me as a child. Perfectly practical and nifty idea. Why shouldn’t there be something that gay people are more suited for?

That is interesting.

Reproduction in space travel is a really bad idea. So gay people are the way to go.

The interview is interesting throughout.

Dennis was actually the first stagnation theorist I read, at about the age of eighteen, due to a recommendation from Walter Grinder.  His strength is to tie stagnationist claims into the political economy of war.  This is from 1940 (book link here), I hope it is no longer relevant:

The importance of clearly understanding the dynamic and purely unmoral function of change cannot be exaggerated at a time like this when the major problem is stagnation.  America’s problem of unemployment could be solved by rebuilding America or going to war with Japan.  The war with Japan is more likely.  Why?  The answer is that our social philosophy recognizes a need for national defense but not for social dynamism.

And:

…stagnation in any culture is far more normal or usual than what we have been accustomed to think of as progress.

I found this interesting:

A civilization must exalt a tradition of heroism.  This it may do in war or pyramid building.  Liberalism never glorified heroism in theory but, in its frontier empire-building days, it exemplified heroism in its practice.

You can read Dennis as an extension of the Henry George model, except he is more bullish about population growth and adds the variable of war.  In the George model, there are increasing returns and so city life becomes crowded and the scarce factor of land captures the social surplus.  Think San Francisco or Singapore.  Dennis assumes diminishing returns, and so the frontier is usually more potent than the city, if only a frontier can be kept open and alive.  But that is hard to do because it runs against the natural desire of so many human beings for stasis, and thus capitalism tends to evolve into a kind of socialistic fascism.

Dennis, by the way, had an interesting life.  Unlike most “alt right” writers, he was half black, but his skin was pale so he was able to pass for white.  (In fact he started life as a child preacher, touring the south, accompanied by his African-American mother.)  He spent some of his energies trying to convince his “fellow travelers” to support civil rights for blacks, but without much success, and he also was desperately afraid of being unmasked.

Early in his career, he was accepted into mainstream American intellectual life and hung out with elites, rising to the top through the State Department and Wall Street.  As the 1930s passed, he became more extreme and the center became more hostile to fascist and semi-fascist ideas, especially if bundled with tolerance for potentially hostile foreign powers.  His career had a long downward trajectory, and during World War II he was tried for sedition, though he got off and later died in obscurity, after a final gig as a critic of the Cold War.  Gerald Horne wrote a very interesting biography of Dennis.

Back in Gyeongju, Kim had the spy arrested, tortured, and executed…The rest of Kim’s story, as far as we know it, is true: He conquered Baekje in 660 and Goguryeo in 668 with the help of the Tang armies, then had to give the Tang the Manchurian half of Goguryeo.

Modern nationalist historians have criticized Silla for relying on China’s help in the first place, saying it set a historical pattern whereby Koreans instinctively call on outside powers to help solve internal problems.

That is from the new book by Michael Breen, The New Koreans: The Story of a Nation, a very good introductory treatment to that part of the world.

What I’ve been reading

by on April 16, 2017 at 12:40 am in Books | Permalink

1. Mark Zupan, Inside Job: How Government Insiders Subvert the Public Interest.  This is now the very best book on how special interest groups subvert the quality of public policy.

2. Historically Inevitable: Turning Points of the Russian Revolution, edited by Tony Brenton, contributors include Dominic Lieven, Orlando Figes, and Richard Pipes.  I, for one, often find it easier to learn history through counterfactual reasoning.  “What if they hadn’t put Lenin into that train?, and so on, and so this is my favorite from the recent spate of books on 1917 in Russia.

More generally, there are people who very much like counterfactual reasoning (say Derek Parfit), and people who don’t care for it much (say Jim Buchanan).  The two types often don’t communicate well.  The counterfactual deployer seems like a kind of smart aleck, caught up in irrelevancies and neglecting “the real issues.”  In turn, the non-poser of counterfactuals seems stodgy and unable to understand the limitations of principles, how one might handle the tough cases, and what might cause one to change one’s mind.  Being able to bridge this gap, and learn from both kinds of thinkers, is both difficult and yields high returns.

3. Mary Gaitskill, Somebody with a Little Hammer, Essays.  Short pieces, never too long, strong throughout, mostly on literature (Nicholson Baker, Peter Pan, Norman Mailer, Bleak House) with some essays on movies too.  This will make my best of the year list, and she remains an underrated author more generally.

4. Jace Clayton, Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture.  An original and consistently interesting extended essay on how “World Music” is evolving in digital times.  A must-read for me, at least.

5. Johan Chistensen, The Power of Economists Within the State.  I haven’t read this one, but it appears to be a very interesting look at the role of economists within government, for the case studies of New Zealand, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, and other cases (in less detail).  “Economists in government” remains an underappreciated topic, so I expect this book is a real contribution.

6. Julie Schumacher, Doodling for Academics: A Coloring and Activity Book.  It’s funny, for instance one panel has the heading “Find and color the many readers who will enjoy your dissertation.”  The images include a rat and a snake in the grass, but there aren’t even so many of those.

*Machine Platform Crowd*

by on April 15, 2017 at 1:44 pm in Books, Web/Tech | Permalink

The authors are Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, and the subtitle is Harnessing Our Digital Future.  Arguably McAfee and Brynjolfsson have become America’s leading authors of business/management books (with an economic slant).  This one is due out June 27, I am eager to read it.

A great many of the impulses which now lead nations to go to war are in themselves essential to any vigorous or progressive life. Without imagination and love of adventure a society soon becomes stagnant and begins to decay. Conflict, provided it is not destructive and brutal, is necessary in order to stimulate men’s activities, and to secure the victory of what is living over what is dead or merely traditional. The wish for the triumph of one’s cause, the sense of solidarity with large bodies of men, are not things which a wise man will wish to destroy. It is only the outcome in death and destruction and hatred that is evil. The problem is, to keep these impulses, without making war the outlet for them.

All Utopias that have hitherto been constructed are intolerably dull….[Utopians] do not realize that much the greater part of a man’s happiness depends upon activity, and only a very small remnant consists in passive enjoyment. Even the pleasures which do consist in enjoyment are only satisfactory, to most men, when they come in the intervals of activity. Social reformers, like inventors of Utopias, are apt to forget this very obvious fact of human nature. They aim rather at securing more leisure, and more opportunity for enjoying it, than at making work itself more satisfactory, more consonant with impulse, and a better outlet for creativeness and the desire to employ one’s faculties.

That is from Principles of Social Reconstruction, 1916.  The pointer is from Alex, our Alex.

I will be doing a Conversations with Tyler with him, no public event, podcast only.  Today by the way is his birthday, so send along some good questions as a birthday present to him, and a non-birthday present to me!

Garry’s forthcoming book Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins is just superb, and the podcast will be released around the time of book publication in early May.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here are a few bits, these are all highly imperfect metrics:

For much of the 18th and early 19th centuries, under British rule, Indian economic performance was mediocre at best. It has been estimated that the yearly agricultural wage was higher in 1810 than in 1946. It’s difficult to prove how much of that decline was because of the British, but it is hardly a ringing endorsement.

And:

Another way to make the historical comparison is to consider which Southeast Asian economy never fell under colonial rule. That would be Thailand, which has a per capita income in the range of $16,300 by World Bank estimates, compared with India’s $6,100. Again, that single comparison is not dispositive, but it hardly favors the British record in India.

And:

Another possible comparison is between British-ruled India and India’s “native states,” namely the numerous territories and principalities where British involvement in direct rule was minimal. To be sure, those regions still were embedded in a broader nexus of British control, and there is no comprehensive database. Nonetheless, historian Jon Wilson, in his recent book “India Conquered: Britain’s Raj and the Chaos of Empire,” offered this assessment: “Economic growth and institutional dynamism occurred in the places that were furthest from the rule of British bureaucrats.” For instance, Tata Steel Ltd. put India’s first modern steel plant in Jamshedpur, a tributary area outside of British rule. Another study found that the independent areas had better performance in terms of education and health care during the post-colonial era.

Maybe you can twist all of those back to neutral, but the data make it surprisingly hard to make a case for British rule in India.

*Everybody Lies*

by on April 11, 2017 at 2:54 am in Books, Data Source, Economics, Web/Tech | Permalink

That is the new and fascinating book by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, with the subtitle Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are.  Here is one of many interesting bits:

Urban areas tend to be well supplied with models of success.  To see the value of being near successful practitioners of a craft when young, compare New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles.  Among the three, new York City produces notable journalists at the highest rate; Boston produces notable scientists at the highest rate; and Los Angeles produces notable actors at the highest rate.  Remember, we are not talking about people who moved there.  And this holds true even after subtracting people with notable parents in that field.

Many of the results in the book are taken from Google data and Google searches.  I was a little chuffed to read this part:

A child born in New York City is 80 percent more likely to make it into Wikipedia than a kid born in Bergen County.

[Actually I was born in Hudson County, but grew up in Bergen.]  And this:

Of the trillions of Google searches during that time [2004-2011], what do you think turned out to be most tightly connected to unemployment?  You might imagine “unemployment office” — or something similar…The highest during the period I searched — and these terms do shift — was “Slutload.”  That’s right, the most frequent search was for a pornographic site.

Here is previous MR coverage of Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.

What I’ve been reading

by on April 11, 2017 at 1:19 am in Books, Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Philippe Desan, Montaigne: A Life.  Knotty, complex, and almost 800 pp., the bottom line nonetheless is that I will not liberate this book but rather keep it forever.  I’ve read only about 200 pp. so far, but it is one of the best guides to understanding its main topic, most of all when it comes to integrating how his written texts sprang from his actual life.

2. Dieter Helm, Burn Out: The Endgame for Fossil Fuels.  That’s not the right title, because most of this book covers the game rather than the endgame.  This is a careful and conceptual look at how different sectors of energy production are likely to evolve, taking good care to distinguish different parts of the world and stationary vs. mobile energy sources.

3. John F. Pfaff, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform.  A very good and readable book on a much misunderstood topic.  Upon a close read of the data, it turns out the War on Drugs and private prisons are overemphasized as causes of overincarceration, whereas much of the actual blame should be placed on altered incentives for prosecutors.  Note that Pfaff also has a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago in addition to his JD.

4. Kevin N. Laland, Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind.  If you read and profited from Joe Henrich’s The Secret of Success, this book is the next step.  Here are remarks by Robin Hanson on the book.

5. Edna O’Brien, August is a Wicked Month.  Irish fiction, 1967, old and old-fashioned enough that the sex in the story still sizzles, as does the comeuppance.  I will read more of her.

Nadia Hillard’s The Accountability State: US Federal Inspectors General and the Pursuit of Democratic Integrity, is a thorough and useful account of what the title promises.

Soon I will be doing a conversation with Dave Barry, podcast only, no public event (alas).  In case you somehow do not know, that is Dave Barry the humorist.  So what should I ask him?

From Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, vol.II, p.99, from “The Soul of the City”:

The stone Colossus “Cosmopolis” stands at the end of the life’s course of every great Culture.  The Culture-man whom the land has spiritually formed is seized and possessed by his own creation, the City, and is made into its creature, its executive organ, and finally its victim.  This stony mass is the absolute city.  Its image, as it appears with all its grandiose beauty in the light-world of the human eye, contains the whole noble death-symbolism of the definitive thing-become.  The spirit-pervaded stone of Gothic buildings, after a millennium of style-evolution, has become the soulless material of this daemonic stone-desert.

These final cities are wholly intellect.

And on p.107, these cities are described as:

Rootless, dead to the cosmic, irrevocably committed to stone and to intellectualism, it develops a form-language that reproduces every trait of its essence — not the language of becoming and growth, but that of a becomeness and completion, capable of alteration certainly, but not of evolution.

Good thing this is such a silly book!