Books

They have a new book out, namely Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why?  It is to the point, clear, uses economic reasoning very well, and serves up the information you actually want to learn.  It is a look at some major public health organizations, specifically the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the Gavi Alliance, the WHO, and the World Bank, and how they operate, from a public choice point of view.  It’s hard to think of many books I’ve looked at over the last year or two that so well understand the notion that readers want a “landscape” of sorts painted for them.  So if you have an interest in public health issues, or in either or both of the two authors, I can gladly recommend this to you.

Here is an earlier Chelsea Clinton memo on Haiti.

One of the most attractive features of cats is that contentment is their default state. Unlike human beings – particularly of the modern variety – they do not spend their days in laborious pursuit of a fantasy of happiness. They are comfortable with themselves and their lives, and remain in that condition for as long as they are not threatened. When they are not eating or sleeping, they pass the time exploring and playing, never asking for reasons to live. Life itself is enough for them.

If there are people who can’t stand cats – and it seems there are many – one reason may be envy.

Gray, a renowned cultural and historical pessimist, also offers a critique of those thinkers who promote mass feline genocide, so at this point you may be wondering why he titled his book Straw Dogs.  Here is the review.  Here is Abigail Tucker’s very good cat book, The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World.

Among its other improbabilities, 2016-2017 offers John Gray writing a positive review of Ross Douthat’s wife’s cat book.  What will be next?

That is an emailed question from Cory M.

Yes, I’ve read Lord of the Rings, but no I don’t want to be corrupted.  I’m assuming that either “life extension pill” or “piles of money” are too trivial to be interesting answers.  I’m afraid that taking a Star Trek transporter trip would be akin to killing myself, plus the receiving stations would not exist.  Nor do I want an invisibility cloak.

One Reddit answer is “a key that can open any door” — nope.

A memory eraser?

How much would the Ark auction for?  Hamlet’s tunic?  How would Sotheby’s certify either one?

Varun says: “…whatever you draw with this pencil that particular thing or person becomes real…”

Let’s stick with the physical laws of this universe.  Proust’s madeleine would spoil, so how about Ahab’s harpoon?

On February 27, I’ll be having a Conversation with Tyler with Malcolm Gladwell.  (Sorry the event is already sold out!  In due time I’ll get you information on the live stream.)  What should I ask him?

I thank you in advance for your intelligent and scintillating suggestions.

The author is Joshua Kurlantzick and the subtitle is America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA, here is one excerpt from a book I read through to the end:

It was, in fact, common knowledge among CIA clandestine officers, and surely in the embassy of Vientiane, that bombers sometimes dropped ordnance on Laos because they wanted to unload it on the way back from North Vietnam, or because they needed target practice, or because there were communists somewhere near villages in central and northern Laos, and destroying the towns might possibly kill some soldiers of Pathet Lao sympathizers.  Ronald Rickenbach, a former USAID official in Laos during the height of the bombing called it “an indiscriminate bombing of civilian population centers.”  A classified 1969 United States government survey of the effects of the bombing, the results of which were circulated among officials working in Laos, found that after interviewing people from villages across the kingdom, 97 percent of the Laotian civilians surveyed had witnessed a bombing attack, and most had witnessed more than one.  And 61 percent of the Laotian civilians interviewed for the survey had personally seen someone killed by the bombing.

By 1969, U.S. bombers were flying more missions to Laos than to Vietnam.  So, in this country, all sorts of outcomes are possible.

Andrew Jackson bleg

by on February 1, 2017 at 1:42 pm in Books, History, Political Science | Permalink

What should I read about him and his administration?  I thank you all in advance for your suggestions.

*Singapore: Unlikely Power*

by on February 1, 2017 at 12:50 am in Books, History | Permalink

Authored by John Curtis Perry, this is a good one-volume introduction to the history of Singapore, with the most interesting section being the one on the Japanese wartime occupation.  Here is one excerpt:

For the Indonesians, struggling against the Dutch, freedom from colonial rule did not satisfy; they wanted as well to redraw geographical lines of sovereignty.  Their new leader, Sukarno, in 1961 announced an aggressive policy of Konfrontasi (Confrontation), dreaming of forming a vast united Malay state, “Maphilindo,” to include Indonesia, the Malayan Peninsula (and implicitly Singapore), all of Kalimantan, and even the Philippines.

Indonesia by size and population would naturally dominate such an aggregation.  Sukarno vowed to use force to crush Malaysia calling it “neo-colonial.”  His people seized Singaporean fishing boats; he ordered sabotage carried out on Singapore’s port and a boycott that hurt Singapore’s trade.  These threats and acts did nothing to advance his cause but fanned Singapore’s sense of vulnerability.

Recommended.

Brad Stone’s The Upstarts

by on January 31, 2017 at 7:22 am in Books, Economics, Law | Permalink

Today in the WSJ I review Brad Stone’s new book about Airbnb and Uber, The Upstarts. Here is one substantive bit:

upstartsInstead of thinking about how to protect the hotel and taxi industries, policy makers should be thinking about how to make it easier for the next Airbnb or Uber to compete. They could require, for instance, that key application program interfaces remain open to competitors, just as some utilities are required to allow alternative energy companies to send electricity through their networks.

Likewise, it’s not obvious that requiring Uber to contract with drivers as employees rather than as independent contractors is a good idea, even for the drivers. Lots of people are willing to drive for Uber, which suggests that Uber is providing drivers with opportunities superior to those that they can find elsewhere. The first rule of the regulator’s oath should be: “Do not destroy mutually profitable exchanges.” Banning the independent-contractor model could also make it harder for cash-strained startups to compete with Uber. Uber might even accept new regulations as a way of raising the costs of its rivals and locking in its monopoly. From upstart to rent-seeker in just seven years—the speed is astounding, but the arc is commonplace.

Read the whole thing.

I very much enjoyed this book.  Think of it as a substance-rich, original on every page exploration of how the space program interacted with the environmental movement, and also with the peace and “Whole Earth” movements of the 1960s.  Most of all it is a social history of technology.  If I heard only that description I might think this is a mood-affiliated load of recycled crud, but in fact it is the best non-research-related book I’ve read in the last month.  Here is one excerpt:

“There is the problem of designing and fitting a spacesuit to accommodate their particular biological needs and functions,” explained one NASA official during the fall of 1960.  The Apollo spacesuit, added another spokesperson more than a decade later, “would be damaging to the soft structures of the feminine body.”  There was also the issue of bodily waste.  By the mid-1960s the space agency had already spent millions of dollars developing a urinary collection device that slid over each crewman’s penis, but the female anatomy, NASA administrators claimed, presented additional engineering difficulties in the weightlessness of space.  “There was no way to manage women’s waste,” argued NASA’s Director of Life Sciences, David Winter. “If you can’t handle a basic physiological need like that, you can’t go anywhere.”  The national media became obsessed with this particular issue, publicizing NASA administrators’ concerns to the broader American public.

Recommended, pre-order it here.

The top bestsellers of 1916

by on January 27, 2017 at 12:56 am in Books, History | Permalink

Got an advance copy. Between my non-manual-labor job, Netflix’s excellent recommendations (The OA is so good), and virtue-signaling to my in-group on Twitter, I guess I just wasn’t feeling it.

Besides, if I did read The Complacent Class, I’d have to write a review. The review would introduce readers to a bunch of new and challenging ideas about how Americans are losing the desire to embrace rapid change, and then I would explore some of the unexpected ways our complacency hurts us as a country, possibly challenging the author, or adding to his thesis with my own insights. Oh, people say they want new and challenging ideas, but they don’t. They’re happy with their current ideas, and why should I make anyone unhappy? No one ever considers whether the boat wants to be rocked.

Or is that Cowen’s game? To point out that our lack of urgency and general NIMBY-ism have led to less migration, more segregation, more inequality, dulled creativity, increased conformity, and faded activism, all of which portends a coming unavoidable chaos? What’s he after? Is Cowen trying to jolt us out of our zombie states so we can live in the sci-fi future of no diseases and flying cars and robot monkey butlers we all dreamed about when we were kids? I don’t know, man. Maybe. Anything’s possible, right? I literally didn’t read the book.

@joedonatelli

Here is the link.  The terms from the previous promotion still hold, you don’t even have to read it.

That was my prediction in my forthcoming book The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream, but I didn’t realize it would come true on such a scale so soon.  Yesterday we saw the largest protests in American history.  Here is one excerpt passage from the book, part of a section describing how different the past was from what we had grown used to:

As much as nonviolence was an essential feature of big parts of the civil rights movement, many blacks in the South, including many of the most prominent movement leaders, protected themselves with firearms, in recognition of what a violent and vindictive time they were operating in. Martin Luther King Jr. kept a gun at home and sometimes relied on neighbors to protect his home with firearms. Medgar Evers traveled with a rifle in his car and kept a pistol beside himself on the front seat; Evers later ended up being murdered.

Almost impossible to imagine in today’s climate of overprotective parenting, the civil rights movement even saw parents willing to put their children in the line of fire. The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March paraded large numbers of African American children in front of potentially hostile armed police, police dogs, and also angry local, racist crowds. The worst-case scenario of violence against the children did not come about, but even the relatively calm course of the demonstration makes for harrowing reading today. This is from one newspaper report of the time: “The teen-agers, most of them 13 to 16, kept moving. Then the water hit them. Cowering first with hands over their heads, then on their knees or clinging together with their arms around each other, they tried to hold their ground.” It’s hard to imagine that being considered an acceptable course of action—from the marchers as well as the police—for the last few decades. Fortunately, at the time the police did hesitate to turn the fire hoses on the six-year-olds who participated in the march. And many African Americans were upset with their leaders for allowing it to proceed in this manner, yet it did, which is a reflection of how far that time was from the current safety-first mentality.

One of the major claims in the book is that history is more cyclical than we had thought during the 1948-2009 period, and that this is a major source of systematic risk in the world today.  Another major claim is that individual attempts to make one’s lot in life safer and more secure actually may exacerbate broader risks at the macro level.

Again, if you pre-order the book in the next two weeks, I will send along to you a copy of my Stubborn Attachments, the book in my life I have worked on longest, on the philosophic foundations of a free society.  Just email me and I’ll be back in touch.

complacentclassphotocover

Here is a Barnes & Nobel pre-order link, here you can pre-order special signed copies.

Written by John Ferejohn and Frances McCall Rosenbluth, with the subtitle War, Peace, and the Democratic Bargain, this is a very important book.  Here is the main thesis:

If the modern democratic republic is a product of wars that required both manpower and money for success, it is time to take stock of what happens to democracy once the forces that brought it into being are no longer present.  Understanding war’s role in the creation of the modern democratic republic can help us recognize democracy’s exposed flanks.  If the role of the masses in protecting the nation-state diminishes, will the cross-class coalition between political inclusiveness and property hold?

…a second question is what is to become of the swaths of the world that were off the warpath in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when the European state was formed?  Continued and intense warfare forged democracies with full enfranchisement and protected property rights in the Goldilocks zone: in countries that had already developed administrative capacity as monarchies, and where wars were horrendous but manageable with full mobilization…

The bad news is that in today’s world, war has stopped functioning as a democratizing force.

You can order the book here, here is the Rosa Brooks WSJ review.

That is the new and truly excellent biography of Paul Samuelson, by Roger E. Backhouse, volume I alone, which covers only up to 1948, is over 700 pp.  So far I find it gripping, here is one bit:

…he ascribed his intelligence to genetics: “I began as an out-and-out believer in heredity.  My brothers and I were smart kids.  My cousins all weighed in above the average.  He was congenitally smart and made no secret of it, at one point noting in the early 1950s he was prescribed some medication that dulled his mind, giving him for the first time insight into “how the other half lives.”

Are you up for a 14 pp. discussion of what Samuelson learned from Gottfried Haberler?  I sure am…and if you are wondering, Lawrence Klein was the first student to complete a PhD in economics at MIT.

*The Genome Factor*

by on January 18, 2017 at 12:41 pm in Books, Science | Permalink

The authors are Dalton Conley and Jason Fletcher, and the subtitle is What the Social Genomics Revolution Reveals About Ourselves, Our History and the Future.

It appears quite serious, I look forward to reading it soon.