Category Archives: Reading

What I’m Reading

Left Behind (Edwards)Sebastian Edwards’ Left Behind: Latin America and the False Promise of Populism. This, from what I understand (I’ve only just started reading it), is a pro-market economic analysis of the economic situation in today’s Latin American economies. The title alludes to a major theme, which is that the Washington Consensus of the late 1980s and early 90s was good advice, it simply wasn’t implemented well. The populist response to the perceived failure of neoliberal reforms, argues Edwards, has continued to stifle growth. Since I have to finish the book I won’t comment much on what I think about this, but it’s worth considering that populism and pro-market reform aren’t necessarily opposed to each other (Ecuador has grown quite a bit this past decade, including under R. Correa). Further, the poor implementation of neoliberal policies was a direct failure of the Washington Consensus, which didn’t take institutions into consideration. The populist response, in some countries, actually directly addressed the institutional question (sometimes unsuccessful, such as is the case with Venezuela, and other times the results aren’t obviously negative [Ecuador]).

My plan to read one book per week and fifty pages per day fell apart last month, when I went about two weeks without reading much. I was re-reading F.A. Hayek’s Individualism and Economic Order, but apart from this I didn’t get much done. My hope is that I can catch up during the summer, although I have some of the more difficult reading planned for then.

What I’ve Been Reading

February 2013 Reading

Compared to January, my reading schedule during February was weak (then again, I didn’t enjoy a winter break last month). I only read three books, which were: Bryan Caplan, The Myth of the Rational Voter; Hal Weitzman, Latin Lessons; and David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom. The only one I recommend is Friedman’s. The other two were interesting, but not books I think particularly important. Coincidentally, as I finish Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, Caplan’s thesis in The Myth of the Rational Voter seems somewhat unsophisticated. Where he develops his theory of “rational irrationality,” it may have been more powerful to blame systemically biased voting on “System 1 thinking.”

Apart from those books, I also read a number of academic articles. These were: Christina and David Romer, “The Missing Transmission Mechanism in the Monetary Explanation of the Great Depression;” Ben S. Bernanke, “Nonmonetary Effects of the Financial Crisis in the Propagation of the Great Depression;” Bennett and Friedman, “The Irrelevance of Economic Theory to Understanding Economic Ignorance;” Donohue and Levitt, “The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime;” and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “Socialism: A Property or Knowledge Problem.” The Bernanke, Bennett and Friedman, and Donohue and Levitt articles are well worth reading. I thought the Romer2 paper was sloppy and not particularly insightful, and Hoppe’s article is the worst of all of them.

Hopefully March will be a much more fruitful month for my reading. As mentioned earlier, I’m currently reading Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. It’s a great book and it’s incredibly interesting. It’s also very well written, as Kahneman is able to explain all the concepts very well, with plenty of examples. It’s also amusing, because the book acts as an experiment, where you’re the experimentee. It’s great when you catch yourself (or he points out to you when you’re) using System 1 and/or System 2 thinking. I definitely recommend it.

What have you guys (and gals) been reading?

2013 Reading: Monthly Milestone

At the end of 2012, I posted some graphs representing the “academic” (minus textbooks — because the only textbook I really read all the way through was my intermediate micro. one, and only for the chapters covered in class1 —, news journals, and similar material) reading I accomplished between June and December of that year. It was probably more than I have read at any other point in time (except maybe during mid-2011, which is when I had to read a stack of material for the Critical Review seminar), but not as much as I know I could (or should) have read. Even though we decided to do this independently, Lex Alexander and I have agreed to try to stay on a program of 50 pages a day (of reading that “counts”) — call it our New Years’ resolution. This might not sound like a lot, but I think it’s a pretty good daily benchmark when reading thicker material.

I’m happy to report that so far I’ve been keeping up. I’ve read 2,297 pages (although 100 of these are spilling over into today), split up by subject as follows,

January 2013 Reading

The 50 pages a day is just the first half of the resolution. The other is to read one book per week, but clearly this is subject to some “cheating.” For instance, since Hülsmann’s biography of Mises has required just about two weeks to finish, I first read Coase’s book which is much shorter and took around three days to complete — voila, two books in two weeks. Similarly, I plan to read some of the shorter monographs I have in my “library” so that I can focus on academic papers during the rest of the week. But, January was a books only month and the five books I read are: Bruce Caldwell, Hayek’s Challenge; David Beckworth’s (editor), Boom and Bust Banking; Ronald H. Coase, The Firm, the Market, and the Law; Yoani Sánchez, Havana Real; and Jörg Guido Hülsmann, Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism. All five books are “must read” books.

I realize that these posts aren’t that interesting, but they give me an opportunity to keep track of myself and make my goals public (making it all the worse not to meet them). If I don’t repeat these posts in the future it could be because I don’t want to bore you all, but it’s also likely that I didn’t meet my goal — I hope you guys call me on it! Also, I want to thank you all for clicking the links in the book titles that I usually pepper in my posts, and I also want to thank you guys for actually buying things on Amazon.com through those links. I get a very small percentage of that sale, and it all ultimately goes towards my education (i get Amazon gift cards as payment and I use these to buy my books). So far, it only comes out to a few dollars per month if I’m lucky, but even that helps a lot!

Also, I’m interested in what you guys have read. Please, let me know!

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1. The only other two textbooks that I’ve taken as much interest in are Paul Krugman, et. al., International Economics and Chiang and Wainwright’s Fundamental Methods of Mathematical Economics. I have reservations about the latter book, though, because I don’t like its pedagogical style (it’s difficult to read without independent instruction). I really like the Krugman textbook, though.

What I’ve Been Reading: Year End Recap

I’ve never been much of a consistent reader. I usually have short spurts where I burn myself out, and then I go on without reading for a while. When I write “reading,” I don’t mean reading the news or the blogosphere, but usually either academic articles or non-fiction books (I’m not much of a fiction reader; I’m not sure what was the last fiction book I read after high school). So, starting in June, I decided to record my reading to see how much of it I got done, and to motivate me to improve those numbers. I wish I would have gathered statistics for the entire year, but that’ll have to wait for the end of 2013. Even though there’s technically three days left in the year, I doubt I’ll get that much reading done over the weekend, so I’ll publish the “statistics” early.

I actually have done better than I thought I would. I used an Excel spreadsheet to record the number of pages I read, then going back to classify whatever I read based on four categories (economics, political science, journal article, and book [the latter of which includes monographs]). When deciding the amount of pages, I left out numbered pages that nobody reads (indexes, bibliographies, and sometimes notes, if I didn’t really read through them), but I included prefaces (usually numbered with roman numerals) and the like — basically, what I’d read. It’s not perfect (some half pages count as full pages, including pages with figures and tables), but it’s what I have.

I admit that a lot of the reading was “forced:” for class. This includes countless academic articles and a number of the books I read. I’m not sure I’d get this much reading done otherwise, but I guess we’ll have 2013 to test this prediction.

In total, between June and December 2012, I read 5,574 pages, including 17 books and 71 scholarly articles. Of the 17 books, 2 are related to political science and the rest to economics. Of the articles, 36 are related to political science and 35 to economics. 299 pages (which is surprisingly low) correspond to my literature review on identity and nationalism in Cataluña. Of the 5,574 pages I read, 2,474 — or, approximately 44 percent — was for class. If I were to maintain this pace (34 books per year), it would take about 6 years to finish all the books in my personal “library.” In other words, I’ll have to pick up that pace.

Coincidentally, a Facebook friend posted a status on reading, and one woman wrote that she reads an estimated 200–300 books per year (which is “[n]ot nearly as much as [she] used to”). I’m sure many of my readers have similar accomplishments. I just can’t keep up with that pace, so I’ll be happy with 50 (in my defense, non-fiction books tend to be a bit more difficult to read than fiction books — although, ironically, probably not as well written —, and warrant more meticulous reading to remember what you’ve read).

Here is my reading, broken down by category,

2012 Reading

What I’ve Been Reading: Cataluña Edition

[N.B. If you’re asking yourself why anybody would care for long lists of what I’ve been reading, I do it for myself. I list the pieces as I go, and then I go back to refresh my memory; it also helps me organize the ground I cover.]

For a short literature review,

⚀ Kenneth Bollen and Juan Diez Medrano, “Who are the Spaniards? Nationalism and Identification in Spain,” Social Forces 77, 2 (1998), pp. 587–621.

⚁ Joan Nogué and Joan Vicente, “Landscape and National Identity in Catalonia,” Political Geography 23, 2 (2004), pp. 113–132.

⚂ Stanley Payne, “Catalan and Basque Nationalism,” Journal of Contemporary History 6, 1 (1971), pp. 15–33, 35–51. Continue reading

What I’ve Been Reading: CEO Compensation and the Crisis

⚀ Rüdeger Fahlenbrach and René M. Stulz, “Bank CEO Incentives and the Credit Crisis,” Journal of Financial Economics 99, 1 (2011), pp. 11–26.

⚁ Sudhakar Balachandran, Bruce Kogut, and Hitesh Harnal, “The Probability of Default, Excessive Risk, and Executive Compensation: A Study of Financial Services Firms from 1995 to 2008,” Colombia Business School Research Paper Series (2010), pp. 2–67.

⚂ Kevin J. Murphy, “Pay, Politics and the Financial Crisis,” forthcoming in Alan Blinder, Andrew Lo, and Robert Solow, Economic Lessons from the Financial Crisis (2012).

⚃ James Cash Acrey, William R. McCumber, Thu Hien T. Nguyen, “CEO Incentives and Bank Risk,” Journal of Economics and Business 63, 5 (2011), pp. 456–471.

What I’ve Been Reading: Class Edition III

comparative public policy

(This is a topic of interest to me, since I have dual citizenship: Spain and the U.S.)

⚀ Cristina Escobar, “Extraterritorial Political Rights and Dual Citizenship in Latin America,” Latin America Research Review 42, 3 (2007), pp. 43–75.

⚁ Rainer Bauböck, “The Rights and Duties of External Citizenship,” Citizenship Studies 13, 5 (2009), pp. 475–499.

⚂ Michele Wucker, “The Perpetual Migration Machine and Political Power,” World Policy Journal 21, 3 (2004), pp. 41–49.

miscellaneous

Not really reading, but I’ve made numerous recent acquisitions. In the area of political science, I bought used copies of Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia and M. Lessnoff’s (ed.) Social Contract Theory. The latter is a collection of readings, which I figure I should do since I never took a class on Western political theory. I also purchased a used copy of Bryan Caplan’s The Myth of the Rational Voter.

Oftentimes to take advantage of low prices I find, I also procured a good stack of economics books: Henry Hazlitt (ed.), The Critics of Keynesian Economics; William Easterly, The White Man’s Burden; Gary Gorton, Slapped by the Invisible Hand (based on the speech given at a Federal Reserve conference, which I read last week) and Misunderstanding Financial Crises; James Barth’s The Rise and Fall of the US Mortgage and Credit Markets; Stiglitz’, Freefall; and Andrew Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail. As you can see, the majority of the books deal with the Great Recession and the related financial crisis.

What I’ve Been Reading: Class Edition II

While I started reading Minsky’s John Maynard Keynes, I’ve had to abandon it because of other responsibilities. Apart from reading Stiglitz’ The Price of Inequality, I also have a lot of reading to get through for two classes in particular: “Comparative Public Policy” and “International Monetary Theory.” The former is also requiring me to write a literature review on Catalán nationalism within the context of Spanish citizenship, which will occupy much of time between now and December.

Comparative Public Policy

⚀ Robert E. Koulish, “Attitudes towards Roma Minority Rights in Hungary: A Case of Ethnic Doxa, and the Contested Legitimization of Roma Inferiority,” Nationalities Papers 31, 3 (2003), pp. 327–345.

⚁ Peter Vermeersch, “Exhibiting Multiculturalism: Politicised Representations of the Roma in Poland,” Third Text 22, 3 (2008), pp. 359–371.

⚂ Martón Rövid, “One-Size-Fits-All Roma? On the Normative Dilemmas of the Emerging European Roma Policy,” Romani Studies 21, 1 (2011), pp. 1–22.

International Monetary Theory

⚀ Gary Gorton, “Slapped in the Face by the Invisible Hand: Banking and the Panic of 2007,” Prepared for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s 2009 Financial Markets Conference: Financial Innovation and Crisis (2009).

What I’ve Been Reading: Class Edition

Citizenship Theory

⚀ T.H. Marshall, “Citizenship and Social Class,” in Gershon Shafir, The Citizenship Debates: A Reader (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), pp. 93–111.

⚁ Nancy Fraser and Linda Gordon, “Contract versus Charity: Why is There No Social Citizenship in the United States?,” in Gershon Shafir, The Citizenship Debates: A Reader (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), pp. 113–127.

⚂ Rogers M. Smith, “The “American Creed” and American Identity: The Limits of Liberal Citizenship in the United States,” The Western Political Quarterly 41, 2 (1998), pp. 225–251.

Economics

⚀ Angela K. Dills, “Social Host Liability For Minors and Underage Drunk-Driving Accidents,” Journal of Health Economics29, 2 (2010), pp. 241–249.

⚁ Patricia M. Flynn and Michael A. Quinn, “Economics: Good Choice of Major for Future CEOs,” American Economist 54, 1 (2010), pp. 58–72.

⚂ William R. Emmons, et. al., “The Foreclosure Crisis of 2008: Predatory Lending or Household Overreaching?,” The Regional Economist 19, 3 (2011), pp. 12–15.

What I’ve Been Reading: Economics & Method Edition

⚀ F.S.C. Northrop, “The Impossibility of a Theoretical Science of Economic Dynamics,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 56, 1 (1941), pp. 1–17.

⇉ This was suggested to me by George Machen, who often times comments on this blog; it was a good suggestion, because it was an incredibly interesting read.  The main take away, as I interpret it, is that the main difference between physics and economics is that while in the former you can make universally valid statements about both general and specific properties or a ‘thing’ or event, in economics you can only make objective general statements (such as that value is subjective).  Northrop’s argument is that this makes a theory of dynamics impossible.  One disagreement is that while Northrop is right that this impedes accurate prediction, it doesn’t impede the establishment of general laws that explain causality (that may hypothetically occur).  So, a theory of dynamics might be possible, but its application must be historical.

⚁ Karl Popper, “The Poverty of Historicism, I,” Economica 11, 42 (1944), pp. 86–103; “The Poverty of Historicism, II,” Economica 11, 43 (1944), pp. 119–137; “The Poverty of Historicism, III,” Economica 12, 46 (1945), pp. 69–89.

⇉ This is my first literary encounter with Popper, and I have mixed feelings.  To some extent, the last three sections of the final article assuages some of my uneasiness, and I see that with regards to social progress I’m probably closer to Popper than I at first realized — what this means is that reading these three articles will undoubtedly guide me to a better exposition of my sociological beliefs.  Nevertheless, it’s difficult for me to accept the idea that how one draws a theory doesn’t matter, what is more important is testing it and attempting to falsify it.  On the one hand, I see where Popper is coming from; the progress of science requires introspective critical rationalism, and it also requires competitions of ideas (in the self and between multiple scientists).  On the other hand, I find that the method of developing theories is also important in establishing scientific truth.  On the whole, though, my experience is positive.

⚂ Bruce Caldwell, “A Skirmish in the Popper Wars: Hutchinson versus Caldwell on Hayek, Popper, Mises, and Methodology,” Journal of Economic Methodology 16, 3 (2009), pp. 315–324.

⇉ This is a brief piece by Caldwell describing the exchange between he and Terrence Hutchinson, regarding Hayek and Popper’s influence on the former.  It’s a great introductory bibliographic reference towards future reading.

⚃ Jeffrey Friedman, “Popper, Weber, and Hayek: The Epistemology and Politics of Ignorance,” Critical Review 17, 1–2 (2005), pp. 1–58.

⇉  I’ve read this paper before, but never as closely as I’ve just done.  We seen here one of the clearest expositions of radical ignorance (versus rational ignorance), which is Friedman’s response to rational choice theory (and any political theory that stresses the motivations of political actors).  Everything by Friedman is worth reading, but this essay is particularly good.  I do think, though — and I’m not sure if he’s responded to similar criticism before —, that his theory of ignorance, and the relation of this to piecemeal social engineering, implies a certain degree of nihilism. But, this is a criticism I’ll have to pose elsewhere.

⚄ Milton Friedman, “The Methodology of Positive Economics,” in Essays in Positive Economics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), pp. 3–16, 30–43.

⇉  Unfortunately, I don’t own the actual book and I can’t access the complete article online, so I’m stuck reading only the first and last thirds of the article. But, this is enough to get the gist of Friedman’s argument, which I actually find somewhat persuasive in some regards.  He argues that all theories necessarily abstract from some aspect of reality, and I think he’s mostly correct.  However, like I write in my reaction to Caldwell’s article on Post Keynesian methodology before, I don’t think the preference for predictive over explanatory hypotheses is well grounded; rather, I think economics should seek to explain phenomena.  Sometimes these explanations, which establish laws of causality, can be useful for making general, relatively short-term predictions, but this isn’t the main purpose of economic science.  Finally, it also seems to me that Friedman underrates the benefits of studying the same phenomenon from different angles — i.e. different models which abstract from different realities; this is readily apparent in the classical monetarist explanation for business cycles: a scarcity of money (as opposed to this being a secondary consequence or even unimportant).

⚅  Bruce Caldwell, “Post-Keynesian Methodology: An Assessment,” Review of Political Economy 1, 1 (1989), pp. 43–64.

⇉  This is my first foray into Post Keynesian methodology, and given the age of Caldwell’s piece (23 years) I figure that it’s a bit out of date; that is, Post Keynesianism has progressed since then, including in the department of methodology.  Nevertheless, he has some interesting points on Misesian a priorism, and discusses for a bit the work of Hollis and Nell (Rational and Economic Man), who try to construct an a priori economics within the classical/Marxist framework.  In any case, this article by Caldwell seems more like a guideline for where Post Keynesians ought to go.  I don’t agree with his conclusion that the focus should be more on a predictive science than an explanatory science, and I find some of his statements confusing (like the idea that an explanatory methodology, even if successful against the neoclassicals, would find competition by part of other schools’ alternatives — i. this is not necessarily true, and ii. if true, so what?).  On the other hand, his “critical pluralist” approach seems like the best bet for anybody, like me, who doesn’t strongly or unwaveringly adhere to a particular method.