MarginalRevolution book forum

OK people, we’re going to do an MR book forum on Greg Clark’s A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World.  Pre-order it, get it July 27.  (Guess whose book you can buy it with, for a two-fer discount?)  We’ll start the first chapter or so about a week after that and I’ll discuss the book sequentially.

The New York Times calls this book "the next blockbuster in economics"; here is my column on the book.  Here’s the book’s home page.  Arnold Kling has had some very good posts on the book as well.

And yes I will play the role of helpful critic.  Keep marginalism in mind.  Contrary to what many of you suggested, my view is not that all criticism is worthless.  I said "use Google" but that means you are indeed Googling to something by a critic and then reading it.  You are reading "critics" on Amazon as well.  It remains very likely, however, that the marginal act of criticism isn’t worth very much, relative to using Google.

But ah…which act of criticism is the marginal one?  Can we be infra-marginal?  Here’s hoping the world googles to our forthcoming symposium, and perhaps Greg will join in.

I may soon pick a work of fiction as well, though I am less sure that will work.  In the meantime, please don’t discuss Clark’s book in the comments, we’ll save that for the future.  And I would be curious to hear what kind of pace you could bear for the forum.

If the forum goes well, I’m thinking of doing Keynes’s General Theory, chapter by chapter (no, wise guy, that’s not the work of fiction!), but first I want to see if there is interest in the forum for an easier book of more general interest.

Addendum: Last I looked Greg’s book rose from about #10,000 on to #169 today, and was still rising, so I am glad some of you seem to be interested…


Awesome. If you decide to do fiction books, please do them as a completely separate book forum. I'll have time and interest to do the nonfiction, but not the fiction, and I'd hate to feel an incomplete part of the conversation or experience on the nonfiction track.

Just a note to UK readers: Release date is 1st September. You'll need to use Amazon marketplace to get it.

So, Tyler: We'll have to wait a little longer for delivery, so could you start a week later?

Does the book really counter "Guns, Germs, and Steel"? From the sounds of
it, "Alms" starts with the period prior to the Industrial Revolution as its
starting point in comparing productive and less-productive societies. "Guns"
asks, why at that point in time were European populations more productive?
And then continues the "why" question back several iterations to the
beginnings of society.

Obviously, I haven't read "Alms" but Tyler's review doesn't necessarily
sound like this book is a counter to "Guns". It sounds like it picks up
the story half-way through (at the start of the IR) and offers further
explanation or some new explanation of why wealth and standar of living
have continued to diverge.

Second Life is an online environment similar to a role playing game in which a lot of people with too much time on their hands make tons of money.

I'm surprised you haven't heard of it; I was sure you'd referred to it on MR. Stodgy professors much older than yourself such as Richard Posner and Charles Nesson have used it for forums and classes.

I can hardly use a cell phone, how many minutes would it take me to learn the technology well enough to use it?

If you learn as fast as you read, three shakes of a lamb's tail.

Okay- maybe not for your first project, but for your second or third- a work of non-economic history,
or general history which incorporates economic perspectives? I'd nominate either 'The Birth of the Modern
World, 1780-1914' by C. A. Bayly, which strikes me as possibly wrong-headed but stimulating; or an oldie but
a goodie, 'Battle Cry of Freedom', by James A. McPherson, which contains among many other things the best
analysis I've ever come across of the peacetime economy of the antebellum US and a very strong-
and convincing- attack on Fogel and Engerman's 'Time on the Cross'.

Fiction: this is hugely ambitious, but how about a short series of posts, dealing (obviously not chapter by chapter)
with 'War and Peace'? In particular, you could look at just how inaccurate or accurate Tolstoy's views of Napoleon and
and Kutuzov were, and see what microecon theory (or the political science literature dealing with reactions to
'natural disasters') tells us about the burning of Moscow and the starvation of the Grande Armée.

James M. McPherson, not A. Dumb of me.

Not enough for a book seminar, but I'd rather like Prof. Cowen to take a quick look at Hew Strachan's 'Financing the
First World War' (actually a chapter of the first volume of his projected 3-vol history of the conflict).

He's received a huge amount of praise for it, but I suspect that most of the plaudits have come from historians
without a proper econ. hist. background, and I thought that he was taking refuge in a vague prose style a lot of the
time: he did seem to shy away from saying anything definite.

Just Pre-ordered: this is going to be fun!

Based on this blog, I just ordered "1491", Tyler's book, this book, and MacQuarrie's Inca book. Coase was right: transaction costs do matter, and my demand for books has increased because Jeff Bezos and the internet have lowered these costs.

Is anyone here familiar with Jude Wanniski's, The Way The World Works.

The Wanniski book looks pretty dubious:

Although I am very interested in reading this book, it is unnecessary to counter the geographic advantage proposed in "Guns, Germs, & Steel" in order for labor quality to be a significant factor in economic success. To be fair, it is also unlikely that geographic advantage is the primary factor. I am forever confounded by the insistence among academics in social sciences that because X theory was a causal factor, then Y theory is disproved. Human events are never so simple as to have a single causal factor, and rarely a primary one.

What about European readers. Can you start a week later?

Regarding pace, 50 pages a week would be comfortable, 75 a bit of a strain, and 100 an extreme upper limit.

Just as a 'by the way' here's the website for the book:

260+ deleted comments? How much work - how much time - do you think went into writing that much text?

Since the efforts and opinions of many of your readers are subject to capricious deletion, I think I'll withdrawal my intended participation in the Clark discussion.

National differences are obviously too controversial to discuss on this blog (at least when the evidence does not veer conveniently in the favor of the moderators) so the Clark book is certainly an unsuitable selection for this forum.

I thought I posted a comment here about the IQ thread. I'm trying to remember what was offensive about it that merited deletion. I think I said in the future I'd blame my bad behavior on Tyler, but I have a hard time believing anyone thought I wasn't just joshing.

I'll offer a general apology for deleted comments that should not have been deleted. I'm sure there are and will be some, simply human error in a process that isn't fun in the first place.

How would Greg Clark explain the economic prowess of the state of California? didn't geographic factors play a crucial role in attracting skilled workers to California.

or how would he explain the rise of the American south? skilled workers moved south, I believe, because of business friendly policies.

Or how would he explain the decline of the rust belt? there's more skilled workers in michigan than in the south, but something is attracting business southward.

I am reading Clark7s book now. I am looking for a discussion group about it.

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