Books

…I argue that new technologies have changed the kinds of problems people face when searching for a job.  The problem is no longer, as it was in the 1970s, discovering that the job opening exists in the first place.  Instead, job seekers’ major problem is ensuring that someone notices their resume now that so many people are applying to every job opening.  When you want your resume to be noticed, it turns out that workplace ties — people who can speak to what you are like as a worker — help white-collar job seekers much more than weak ties do (61 percent of my sample were helped by workplace ties, and 17 percent were helped by weak ties).  This is not to say that Granovetter’s study is wrong, but rather that is is a grounded snapshot of a historical moment.

That is from the quite good and surprisingly substantive Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (or Don’t Find) Work Today, by Ilana Gershon.

Observe that Roman history leaves no traces of great mercantile companies like the Bardi, the Peruzzi or the Medici. There are no records of commercial manuals of the sort that are abundant from Renaissance Italy; no evidence of “class-struggle” as we have from late medieval Europe; and no political economy or “economics”, that is, no attempts to systematize one’s thoughts and insights concerning the commercial world. The ancient world, in this view, only superficially resembled that of early modern Europe. Seen from this perspective, the latter contained the potential for sustained growth; the former did not. Why is this?

The most obvious institutional difference between the ancient world and the modern was slavery. Recently historians have tried to elevate slavery and labor coercion as crucial causal mechanism in explaining the industrial revolution. These attempts are unconvincing (see this post) but slavery certainly did dominate the ancient economy.

In its attempt to draw together the various strands through which slavery permeated the ancient economy, Schiavone’s chapter “Slaves, Nature, Machines” is a tour de force. At once he captures the ubiquity of slavery in the ancient economy, its unremitting brutality—for instance, private firms that specialized in branding, retrieving, and punishing runaway slaves — and, at the same time, touches the central economic questions raised by ancient slavery: to what extent was slavery crucial to the economic expansion of period between 200 BCE and 150 AD? And did the prevalence of slavery impede innovation?

Here is the full piece, Mark is reviewing Aldo Schiavone’s The End of the Past.

For the oligarchs the greatest challenge has been getting Greater Appalachia into their coalition and keeping it there.  Appalachia has relatively few African-Americans, a demographic fact that undermined the alleged economic and sexual “threat” raised by black empowerment.  Borderlanders have always prized egalitarianism and freedom (at least for white individuals) and detested aristocracy in all its forms (except its homegrown elite, who generally have the good sense not to act as if they’re better than anyone else.)  There was — and still is — a powerful populist tradition in Appalachia that runs counter to the Deep Southern oligarchs’ wishes.

That is from Colin Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, a book worth rereading in light of recent events.

What I’ve been reading

by on April 3, 2017 at 1:13 am in Books | Permalink

1. Erica Benner, Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli’s Lifelong Quest for Freedom.  A useful and readable introduction to the practical issues of Florentine politics and how they influenced the life and writings of Machiavelli.

2. Alan Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America.  Volume one of the Penguin History of the United States, this book is especially good at tying in “settlement issues” to later “governance issues.”  It is compulsively readable and has an excellent annotated bibliography.  Circa 1770, exports were about 10% of American gdp (p.311); today exports are a bit over 12% of gdp.

3. Holger Hoock, Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth.  This is a look at the significance of violence in American history, focusing on the Revolution itself, and it is a good way to remind foreigners how screwed up (and dynamic) we are.

4. Arguments for Liberty, edited by Aaron Ross Powell and Grant Babcock.  I do not think the arguments in this book succeed as arguments for liberty, with the exception of some of the utilitarian arguments, noting that I am only a “2/3s utilitarian.”  Still, you get Eric Mack, Jason Kuznicki, Kevin Vallier, Neera Badhwar, Michael Huemer, and Jason Brennan, and so this is the rare edited volume that lives up to what you ideally might want it to be.

5. Jok Madut Jok, Breaking Sudan: The Search for Peace.  I’ve read a few books on South Sudan lately, to try to figure out, if only in broad terms, what is going on there.  This is the one that actually does a good job explaining things!  Above all else, I now have some sense of just how historically deeply rooted the current conflict is.  Recommended.

Jonathan Schwabish, Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks, is specific in all the right ways, most of all when it comes to Powerpoint slides.

My colleague Philip E. Auerswald has just published the very useful The Code Economy: A Forty-Thousand Year History.

Complacent Confessions

by on March 31, 2017 at 10:05 am in Books, Philosophy | Permalink

The specific thinkers cited for ‘cyclical models of history’ are Vico, Spengler, and Toynbee, in that order.

With that triple-burst trigger pull, the race to a second, Straussian reading begins.

Taking a cue from those statements, consider that the book itself might be a cycle. Read forwards, it is a series of slightly overcooked thinkpieces that ends on a surprisingly bold note. Read backwards, one finds it hides a thrilling call to arms.

This is a contrarian reading; one I make no claim should actually be attributed to Cowen himself. Nonetheless, the coherences pile up too neatly to simply be ignored once seen.

There is much more of substance at the link.  That is from Thomas Barghest, via Justin.  By the way, someone else did a long “Alt Right” take on the book and emailed it to me, and I meant to link to it, but I misplaced the email somehow.  If you email it to me, or leave it in the comments, I’ll put it into Links tomorrow.  And here is just a wee bit more:

Cowen shows us that if we had the courage of immigrants and foreigners to ignore contemporary mores and treat our strengths as something to take pride in rather than something to hide, we might restore our culture to a dynamic greatness. Such honest pride in ourselves and our abilities was ours only a half-century ago, before the 60’s, he implies. It is not so long gone.

However, a proper neoreactionary, he doesn’t pretend we can simply wish ourselves there. Americans’ current complacency is not pure timidity. The transcendent is not something we’ve simply lost. It was crushed, stolen, and turned against us.

Overall, you guys crack me up, and I do mean “guys.”

Here is part of the book summary:

This book examines SEZs from a political economy perspective, both to dissect the incentives of governments, zone developers, and exporters, and to uncover both the hidden costs and untapped potential of zone policies. Costs include misallocated resources, the encouragement of rent-seeking, and distraction of policy-makers from more effective reforms. However, the zones also have several unappreciated benefits. They can change the politics of a country, by generating a transition from a system of rent-seeking to one of liberalized open markets. In revealing the hidden promise of SEZs, this book shows how the SEZ model of development can succeed in the future.

Here is my blurb:

‘What do Special Economic Zones actually accomplish? And what are their drawbacks and limitations? Lotta Moberg’s The Political Economy of Special Enterprise Zones mixes theory and empirics to offer the very best available answers to these questions.’ ― Tyler Cowen, Professor of Economics, George Mason University, USA

Here is Lotta Moberg’s home page.  Here is a related article of hers on special economic zones.  Here is the Amazon link.

Here is one of Noah’s bits:

Smith: OK. I wanted to press you on a couple more things. First, you discuss how productivity growth has slowed down, but you also mention that people might be slacking off a lot more at work. Don’t those two contradict each other? If people are producing the same amount as before in half the time and spending the other half of their day surfing the net, doesn’t that mean true productivity has risen rapidly?

Second, you discuss how matching leads to complacency — how the Internet allows us to find jobs, mates, and consumption goods that are perfectly suited to us, and how this can make us lazy and over-satisfied. But you also talk about how people, especially working-class people, are getting stuck in high-unemployment places. Isn’t better matching part of the solution to the mobility problem?

Here is the whole exchange.

…the [English] census of 1851 for the first time registered a majority as living in urban areas…the rest of the world remained overwhelmingly rural, perhaps one-tenth of humanity living in towns.  The exceptionalism persisted throughout the century.  In 1890, 61.9 percent of the population of England and Wales dwelled in towns with at least 10,000 inhabitants, while the figure for the country second on the list, Belgium, was 34.5 percent, France staying at 25 percent, China at 4.4 percent.; by 1900, the metropolitan region of Manchester — including satellites such as Bolton, Oldham and Stockport — contained the largest concentration of human population on the planet.

That is from the at times quite interesting Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming, by Andreas Malm.  It is most interesting on steam power and the history of energy, not the treatment of current environmental debates.

In 1947 British forces set off here the largest non-nuclear explosion on record, blowing up what was left of Hitler’s island fortress.

That is from the new (and recommended) book Heligoland: Britain, Germany, and the Struggle for the North Sea, by Jan Ruger.

Here is further information, the blast was estimated to be one-third the power of Hiroshima, note that Heligoland is a holiday resort once again.

A few of you have been asking me about the Straussian readings of The Complacent Class.  One of them refers to Deuteronomy 4:25-26:

“When you have had children and children’s children, and become complacent in the land, if you act corruptly by making an idol in the form of anything, thus doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, and provoking him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that you will soon utterly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to occupy; you will not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. “

Here is external commentary on the passage: “It may be surprising that the result of complacency is not atheism but idolatry.”

Northern Ireland of course is much smaller than the southern Republic:

The difference between north and south — in 1926, for example — was crucial, agricultural and manufacturing sectors of the economy playing very different roles in the two jurisdictions.  Almost 35 percent of the workforce in Northern Ireland were engaged in manufacturing, while under 10 percent were engaged in the nationalist Free state; nearly two-thirds of Ireland’s manufacturing employment was in the north.

That is from Richard English, Irish Freedom: The History of Nationalism in Ireland, pp.348-349.  (By the way, this is one of the best books I’ve read in months.  It is a subtle treatment of politics, history, religion, and most of all political psychology; it is especially strong on why the Unionist movement in the north never has perished and why a formal reunification of the two Irelands would be so hard to pull off.)

We also can learn that “In 1969 output per head in the [Northern] region was still around one-fifth higher than in the Republic.”  And in 1984, living standards in Northern Ireland were about 25 higher than in the south.

Today “Northern Ireland’s per capita GDP is similar to that of the Border region of Ireland which is about 38 per cent lower than the national average.”

On Twitter, I suppose that would be #MNIGA.