What I’ve been reading

1. Samuel Fleischacker, The Good and the Good Book: Revelation as a Guide to Life.  A nice, articulate, and well-reasoned account of how a reasonable person might turn to faith and believe that faith and reason are compatible.  The author is a well-known Adam Smith scholar.

2. Abraham Hoffman, Unwanted Mexican Americans in the Great Depression.  The best and most readable book I have found on the deportation of Mexicans during the Great Depression, most of all during the 1931-1935 period.  Reading up on this era puts today’s America in useful perspective.

3. The Curse of Cash, by Kenneth Rogoff.  The quality of argumentation and presentation is high, as one would expect from a Ken Rogoff book.  Still, I don’t think it has so much to convince those who might be worried about a currency-less surveillance Panopticon, or those who think negative interest rates are mostly a contractionary and not-so-useful tax on financial intermediation.

4. Mats Lundahl, The Political Economy of Disaster: Destitution, plunder and earthquake in Haiti.  More of a potpourri of Haitian economic history than what the titles indicates, the best 20 percent of this book has insights you won’t find in other places.  For me that is a high hit rate, I liked it.

5. John Hardman, The Life of Louis XVI.  I’m only about fifty pages into this one, but so far it is a first-rate biography, both detailed and conceptual in nature, likely to make the list of the year’s best non-fiction books.


'The author is a well-known Adam Smith scholar.'

Unsurprisingly - it takes a lot of faith to believe in invisible things.

It would be a surprise if he was a David Hume scholar, though.


The invisible hand of the free market gives you a reach-around while the free market fucks you in the ass.

" a reasonable person might turn to faith": but why would he turn to that faith? Wot's wrong with Zeus? Or Odin?

Islam and Judaism are good too if the book description online is anything to go by. Pick one.

I suppose you could say "I'll turn to the faith of the cleverest bloke who ever lived". Then you'll find yourself in the mumbo-jumbo world of Isaac Newton.

Though, to be fair, Newton had the sense to reject the doctrine of The Trinity. He wasn't clever enough to understand it, I suppose.

There is Einstein's Spinozism.

Philosophy stagnated and declined after Descartes. This descent into Hegellism, existentialism, and nihilism is sad.

Ok, I'll go ahead and lay out my case for faith and reason, based off of Descartean mode of thought.

Postulate A: Free Will exists. ('Proof' of Postulate A: If Free Will exists, I should believe in it. If Free Will does not exist and I believe in it anyway, I am fated to believe in it. Either way, I should believe in Free Will)

Postulate B: The natural world exists with predictable rules. (disprovable either way)

Postulate C: We exist in a natural world and are made out of natural stuff. (Let's not delve into retarded existentialism and brain-in-a-jar stuff. I already passed 9th grade)

Given all of these, it seems reasonable to conclude that if we have free will, there is something SUPERnatural about us. If a synapse fires one direction and I buy the pizza, versus firing a different direction and I don't buy the pizza, my exercise of free will depends on me being able to override the results of a purely naturalist system. Nature cannot create something supernatural, otherwise it'd be a subset of natural... but the supernatural could create the natural (and yes, natural would be a subset of supernatural). Something supernatural then created me. I don't think I can use reason to explain too much ABOUT the supernatural, but reason and belief in the supernatural appear to be perfectly compatible to me.

Glad to see Hardman getting a bit of appreciation.

Rogoff leading the trendy charge of a cashless society. Already in Scandinavia many shops have signs "No Cash Please" and cash only takes up less than 10% of transactions by volume. This too will end badly (witness Delta airlines system wide crash; Bitcoin too; Etherium; etc etc etc it's pretty much an iron law of computer science that a system will crash no matter how robust it is, Google once had a RAID 5 'fail-proof' system crash).

A system crash is one thing, because everyone knows it's crashed and come together to make sure it doesn't get as chaotic as it might. Neighbours exchanging crusts of bread, shops allowing alternative payments for a very short term, etc.

But my privileges to use monetary instruments are reduced or eliminated because I said "Drumpf's a dofus" or "Congress should investigate the CIA for __________", then we have a problem. But the CIA may never have to worry about me making such a complaint, after having mined my data so thoroughly as to practically reprogram me in my sleep - or so they (or rather the particularly dodgy types among those who find themselves in such an organisation) would surely like to try.

Yay! I saved 1.3 seconds buying my coffee this morning in a cash-free society! I thought to ask for a micro-cent discount, but then I realized, none of this is actually FOR ME. No micro-cent discounts to be distributed, unless as part of a package plan to suggestively introduce more expensive and/or numerous coffee stops.

Very true, Troll me. If you are using cashless in the USA for micro-transactions, you're an early adopter.

"While phasing out the bulk of paper money will hardly solve the world's problems, it would be a significant step toward addressing a surprising number of very big ones. Provocative, engaging, and backed by compelling original arguments and evidence, The Curse of Cash is certain to spark widespread debate."

Yeah, I suppose it will. It's bad enough that the state is in charge of money, that it can make it a total abstraction stored in servers is infinitely worse. However, it would be bad enough that other forms of a physical medium of exchange outside the purview of the state would quickly arise to replace it. Perhaps we should hope that it happens soon, before everything goes down the drain.

Rarely discussed in American macroeconomic circles: there is $4,500 in cash in circulation for every American resident. Rising rapidly too, which tends to undercut the argument that it is all in suitcases doing drug deals.

For years economists have tried to dismiss the cash and said perhaps half of it is overseas anyway. We don't know how much is overseas but even if it is half, that's more than $2,200 per resident in circulation domestically.

Doesn't take a lot of velocity for cash to be a major component of the US economy. We are talking about $1.4 trillion in greenbacks.

I suspect a lot of this cash is used in a plebeian underground economy of auto repairs, home repairs, informal services and so forth.

But that still does not add up. Is there a lot of more cash in the offshore Panama type accounts, or even in US bank safety deposit boxes, than we realize?

It may be tax evasion is a much larger pastime than suspected.

The real solution is not to create an digital police state, but to raise the rate of inflation to 3% or 4% annually.

I'm trying to spread the point on Fark, that negative interest rates have some sinister undertones and that cash is a useful lubricant in a free market. Fark's been overrun with marxists, so it's a fool's errand... but a dash of populism may work through.

For my part, I'm trying to use and carry more cash nowadays. Debit cards are so convenient, but I'm a strong believer that if you don't exercise a right/privilege, you lose it. As well as keeping a small part of my saving in physical cash.


I take a back seat to no man in my respect for Ken Rogoff & his arguments, the man is learned & brilliant. BUT the ideas of a cashless society & negative interest carry far greater downsides than up, & so should be approached with maximum skepticism.

3. Rogoff is best known for his study of Betsy McCaughey in which Rogoff developed the Rogoff Theorem: that a 90% bullshit to substance ratio is the tipping point for the bullshit to lose all of its effectiveness.

Depends on suggestible people are. Some will take 99% bullshit at face value, so long as the 1% of truths presented are selected carefully.

*on how suggestible there are*

ABout 1) Even with regard to some non-religious works, like those by Marx or Ayn Rand, the respective disciples refuse to countenance the possibility of error. When it comes it books believed to be revealed, the problem is more severe since God himself is questioned when a revealed work is questioned. That explains why it is very difficult to get rid of outmoded and discriminatory practices in nations which swear by a holy book believed to be, literally, dictated by God. How on earth does Fleischacker think he can persuade an Islamic fundamentalist to listen to, say, what the Bible has to say,
I no longer adhere to mainstream Hinduism but I should concede that one advantage with Hinduism is that no holy book is regarded as binding for formulating legislation. That is why legislation protecting the property rights of Hindu women could be passed although it violated traditional norms. Some Hindus did oppose this legislation but on grounds mostly unrelated to revealed scripture. recently a liberal Hindu spiritual leader and a fundamentalist Hindu group both supported the demand of some Hindu women for change in tradition restricting the entry of women found in some temples. Again, no revealed book was cited by any of them . By contrast, a demand for entry of women in a mosque will be rebutted by pointing to a revealed book . And that acts as a huge hurdle for eform

I would consider myself a pious man, myself - maybe even a gnostic theist. God is a part of my worldview, and I subscribe to a fair amount of Christianity philosophy. However, I think the term Religion is losing some of its utility. I know some people who believe in completely unsubstantiated feminist theory - The Patriarchy, the Wage Gap, the Blank Slate of human nature - and believe the ideology with a fervor I'd normally associate with religion. Like you said, the same with Marx and Rand. They have religious followers of an atheistic framework.

The Bible, for me, is not a primary source for my ideology. "Because it's in the Bible/Koran/Torah" is not a good argument - however, I do believe there's wisdom to be had in their pages. In Judaism, there's a tradition of argumentive legalism that makes it adapt to more modern norms. Christianity is similar, and in Protestantism is also generally a very personal religion. I do not know enough about Islam to comment much on its path to reform... I still think that its decentralized nature is a problem.

I know some people who believe in completely unsubstantiated feminist theory – The Patriarchy, the Wage Gap, the Blank Slate of human nature – and believe the ideology with a fervor I’d normally associate with religion. ,/i>

Yes. and then there is Barack Obama's famous definition of sin: not being aligned to Barack Obama's personal value system.

Regarding The Life of Louis XVI, what is, in your opinion, the best book on the French Revolution? Apart from http://www.revolutionspodcast.com/

I can't speak for Mr Cowen but my pick is Simon Schama's Citizens. He wrote it long before he became a figure of fun.

2. Unwanted Mexican Americans.... deportations of Mexicans? Mexican Americans, similarly to Italian Americans etc. are American of Mexican ancestry. Can an American citizen really be deported to Mexico because his grandfather was Mexican???

Heh, noooo. What the author meant is Mexican citizens living illegally in the US, didn't he?

Can anyone name another country you can infiltrate illegally then claim your right to citizenship (protest and even riot to get it, and then avail yourself of amnesty)? Japan? South Korea? Singapore? Taiwan? Qatar? Kuwait? Israel? Canada? Ireland? New Zealand? Australia?. Anyone?

I can never understand how illegal migrants can demand ... not even request ... right to American citizenship and how some intellectuals and activists support them . In India there are allegations of illegal migrants from Bangladesh in a state bordering that nation. But they don't demand citizenship; they manage to stay on for good and somehow even get the right to vote. The US is the only nation in the universe where illegal migrants have the audacity to publicly assert their right to citizenship
I saw a film about an illegal migrant to US from Lebanon. He is caught and when detained his mother cries "he did nothing wrong" , and we are supposed to sympathize with her. But of course he did something wrong: he is in the US illegally!!

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