Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What I'm Reading

I'm not nearly as voracious a reader as some out there *cough cough Tyler Cowen cough*, but every six months or so the books in the list change.

Paul Collier's The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About it? (2007): One of the first points that impressed me was that, rather than seeing the world as 1 billion rich and 5 billion poor, he divides the world as 1 billion rich, 4 billion getting there, and 1 billion stuck in poverty. He then describes four of the reasons a country might get its people stuck there (conflict, natural resource curse, landlocked, and poor governance) and promises to cover a bit on how to get out. He does a good job of not sticking too firmly to his one hobby horse thesis, puts in a lot of good caveats, and has surprisingly nice things to say about different factions in the development industry. It's backed by a long list of impressive research (cogent caveats by Easterly here and here.)

Frederic Bastiat's Economic Sophisms (1845) isn't about putting forward new economic ideas, but playing economic journalist to some that were old back in the 1800's when he wrote. He casts trade protectionism as pursuing the theory that scarcity is wealth. And it is - for sellers. As buyers, we want everything to be plentiful, easy to find and purchase, and cheap. As producers, we want all our inputs to be plentiful, easy to find and purchase, and cheap. As sellers, we want the thing we sell to be scarce and as expensive as possible. Any trade protectionist argument is based on one form or another of the notion that restricting production and purchasing is good: fostering us vs. them mentalities, protecting the environment by scarcity, preventing a very poor person (or multiple of the same) from having a job in order to preserve a middle-class job of "ours"... .

Frederich von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom (1944) was written from a unique perspective: someone who lived through the Nazification of Germany saw the same signs in England and wrote to warn that the growing tendency toward central planning was the start of the road to totalitarianism, whether fascist or Marxist. I'm planning a future summary of his better points in another post ... once I've finished it. It seems highly topical given renewed efforts to put our financial, auto, and health industries under government control. Speaking of which, I finished Milton Friedman's Free to Choose and have been meaning to get some of his points out here also. Have to get to that.

I've also been poking around in Joseph Schumpeter's Capitalism, Democracy, and Socialism (1942), which is interesting in that it is written to socialists, starting with a quite flattering discussion of Marx (that's as far as I've read). To borrow the summation from Wikipedia: "Schumpeter's theory is that the success of capitalism will lead to a form of corporatism and a fostering of values hostile to capitalism, especially among intellectuals. The intellectual and social climate needed to allow entrepreneurship to thrive will not exist in advanced capitalism; it will be replaced by socialism in some form. There will not be a revolution, but merely a trend in parliaments to elect social democratic parties of one stripe or another. He argued that capitalism's collapse from within will come about as democratic majorities vote for the creation of a welfare state and place restrictions upon entrepreneurship that will burden and eventually destroy the capitalist structure. Schumpeter emphasizes throughout this book that he is analyzing trends, not engaging in political advocacy. “If a doctor predicts that his patient will die presently,” he wrote, “this does not mean that he desires it."" Sound about right so far, anyone?

--- FUN ---
Fire in the Bones by Michael Wilcox is the biography of William Tyndale, the fellow who translated 90% or so of the King James Bible. It's written by an LDS author, so there are numerous comparisons to the language of the Book of Mormon and how Joseph Smith was influenced by Tyndale's work and life. One quote from Tyndale rings out particularly strongly in that regard as he complained to the clergy:
Morover, seeing that one of you ever preacheth contrary to another; and when two of you meet, the one disputeth and brawleth with the other, as it were two scolds; and forasmuch as one holdeth this doctor, and another that ... so that if thou hadst but of every author one book, thou couldst not pile them up in any warehouse in London, and every author is contrary unto another. In this great diversity of spirits, how shall I know who lieth, and who sayeth truth? Whereby shall I try and judge them? Verily by God's word, which only is true. But how shall I that do, when thou wilt not let me see scripture?
Joseph writes similarly about the contentions in his day even with the scripture in the common tongue, learning from James 1:5 that the one place we can find such answers is from God Himself in prayer. Fire in the Bones is really an outstanding work and strengthened my testimony of the Bible.

The Lovely and Gracious and I just finished Harry Potter 5 and are well into #6. It's fun introducing these to her. Reading #5 immediately after #4 helped me see Harry in a much more sympathetic light. The first time through, Harry's perpetual outbursts of anger bothered me and made it my least favorite of the 7. Now it makes perfect sense: the boy needs a therapist, bad. Not because he's crazy, but a lot has happened and he needs a place to talk it out with someone who isn't about to start yelling "Heir of Slytherin!" "Half-blood!" "Kill him!" Poor kid.

After the disappointing movie of Mansfield Park, I picked up the book to rejoice in Ms. Austen's writing. Every night for a while I would regale the Lovely and Gracious with another superbly crafted paragraph the movie had butchered.

I'm also making my through White Banners by Lloyd C. Douglas, the fellow who brought me such joy (and a talent show act) with his autobiography, Time to Remember. I haven't gotten very far, but it's very thought-provoking.

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