The non-existent shark

Self-help books aren’t my cup of tea, so I’ve only really paged through It’s Not About the Shark: How to Solve Unsolvable Problems by David Niven. The title comes from Steven Spielberg’s decision to make Jaws with very few shots of the shark, because the expensive mechanical shark he’d had built didn’t work. It turned out to be more menacing with an imagined shark. That’s the gist of the book – re-interpreting problems as a changed environment rather than an immovable object. There are some other nice anecdotes. It’s a quick, light plane or train read if you like this kind of book. I didn’t spot anything that really tells you how to exercise your imagination in Spielberg-style creative ways.


Which economists should be more influential?

Chris Dillow over at Stumbling and Mumbling has responded to The Economist’s controversial list of the world’s most influential economists with a post saying complexity economics should be more influential. I agree with him. But he set me thinking about which other economists ought to have featured in the list.

One glaring feature of the ranking is the complete absence of women. It excludes current (but not former) central bankers, so Janet Yellen doesn’t feature. Nor does Christine Lagarde – a lawyer, true, but not all the people on the list are economists anyway. There are other highly influential women who surely ought to have featured, such as Esther Duflo, Claudia Goldin, Mariana Mazzucato, doing work that has been much discussed in the publications and blogs I look at. It’s a very Anglo-American list too, as it is about the English language blogosphere.


The other striking thing is that the list only contains two sub-disciplines, behavioural economics and macro. Important, but my goodness there is so much more to economics.

So my nomination for economists who ought to have been included are all those applied micro people working on public policy issues. They are often attached to institutes and work collaboratively. It only takes a quick glance at the research publications issued by the IFS, CMPO, CEP, CEPR, NIESR in the UK, or the NBER or TSE – or many, many other groups in many countries – to see what an impressive amount of empirical economic evidence is accumulating. I guess it isn’t so visible because it is dispersed among different questions – everything from my University of Manchester colleague Rachel Griffith‘s work on the causes of obesity to Marc Ivaldi on competition policy in the telecoms and technology sectors  to Costas Meghir and colleagues on the inter-generational returns to women’s education. Nor does it make the headlines often, as the public debate is so macro-dominated.

Which is a handy way of segueing into saying I am now on the roster of contributors to the FT’s new blog The Exchange, and have a post there today about how we should be thinking about infrastructure investment. I’ll be writing about applied micro and policy issues.

Books to look forward to in 2015 – updated

It’s the time of year when I try to flag up interesting-looking titles out in the next six months or so. There’s a feast of reading coming up. This post has been updated thanks to many suggestions from people on Twitter.

Starting with my own publisher, Princeton University Press, one imminent highlight is the 3rd and  expanded edition of Robert Shiller’s Irrational Exuberance. Ian Morris has another new book (how does he write so many?), Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels: How human values evolve. I am *really* looking forward to reading Dirk Philipsen’s The Little Big Number: how GDP came to rule the world and what to do about it. Francois Bourgignon’s The Globalization of Inequality is due in May, Cormac O Grada’s Eating People is Wrong in April. There’s also Gernot Wagner & Martin Weitzman’s forthcoming Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet. Outside economics, The Enlightenment by Vincenzo Ferrone and The Shape of the New: four big ideas and how they made the modern world by Scott Montgomery and Daniel Chirot look enticing. For professional reasons I’ll want to read the new edition of the Stiglitz and Atkinson Lectures on Public Economics that’s out in April. Outside my field but very timely, a second edition of Jordi Gali’s Monetary Policy, Inflation and the Business Cycle: An introduction to the New Keynesian framework.


From MIT Press, Nick Stern has a follow-up to his big climate change report, in Why Are We Waiting? The logic, urgency and promise of tackling climate changeThere is Measuring Happiness: The economics of well-being by Joachim Weimann, Andreas Knabe, and Ronnie Schöb. On crises, Understanding Global Crises: An Emerging Paradigm by Assaf Razin; Systemic Risk, Crises, and Macroprudential Regulation by Xavier Freixas, Luc Laeven, and José-Luis Peydró. From the ever-interesting Vaclac Smil, Power Density: A Key to Understanding Energy Sources and Uses. Outside economics, I like the look of Atlas of Knowledge: Anyone Can Map by Katy Börner, and The Eternal Letter: Two Millennia of the Classical Roman Capital edited by Paul Shaw. There’s also a cultural history of the shipping container, The Container Principle: How a Box Changes the Way We Think by Alexander Klose (regular readers of this blog will know of my fetish for containers).

OUP is bringing us quite a lot of interesting titles on its forward list: The United States of Excess: Gluttony and the Dark Side of American Exceptionalism by Robert Paarlberg; Disruptive Power: The Crisis of the State in the Digital Age by Taylor Owen; Migration by Christian Dustmann; Everything in Its Place: Entrepreneurship and the Strategic Management of Cities, Regions, and States by David B. Audretsch; The Ant Trap: Rebuilding the Foundations of the Social Sciences by Brian Epstein; Choosing Not to Choose: Understanding the Value of Choice by Cass R. Sunstein; The Maze of Banking: History, Theory, Crisis by Gary B. Gorton; a book of essays Sunlight and Other Fears by Amartya Sen; and Hall of Mirrors: The Great Depression, The Great Recession, and the Uses-and Misuses-of History by Barry Eichengreen.

The United States of Excess: Gluttony and the Dark Side of American Exceptionalism

Two coming up from Yale University Press really interest me: Dieter Helm’s Natural Capital; and Hubris by Meghnad Desai, about what the crash has revealed about the state of economics.



From Cambridge University Press, a must-read for me will be British Economic Growth, 1270-1870 by a distinguished cast of economic historians led by Stephen Broadberry. Two among quite a few on environmental economics are The Renaissance of Renewable Energy by Gian Andrea Pagnoni & Stephen Roche and Ecosystem services: from concept to practice by J Boume and P Van Beukering. There’s also An Economic History of Europe: Knowledge, Institutions & Growth 600 to the present, Karl Gunnar Persson and Paul Sharp. A more technical one to look forward to is Causal Inference in Statistics by Guido Imbens and Donald Rubin.

Later in the Year, Harvard University Press is publishing The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism by David Kotz; and as a paperback Angus Burgin’s 2012 book The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression. In April, we get Anthony Atkinson’s Inequality: What Can Be Done. I’ll want to read also  From Mainframes to Smartphones: A History of the International Computer Industry by Martin Campbell-Kelly and Daniel Garcia-Swartz. Brandon Garrett’s Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations is just out. This month comes Frank Pasquale’s The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms that Control Money and Information, which sounds really intriguing.


Beyond the university presses, Norton is publishing Citizen Coke: The making of Coca Cola capitalism by Bartow Elmore, and Move: putting America’s infrastructure back in the lead by Rosabeth Moss Kanter. In January the new edition of Burton Malkiel’s classic A Random Walk Down Wall Street is out. Unmissable will be Dani Rodrik’s Economics Rules: Rights and Wrongs of Dismal Science in the autumn.

Citizen Coke – The Making of Coca-Cola Capitalism

Cesar Hidalgo’s Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies from Penguin sounds unmissable too. I like the sound of Philip Roscoe’s A Richer Life: How Economics Can Change the Way We Think and Feel. Robert Skidelsky has compiled The Essential Keynes. James Rickard is predicting The Death of Money: The coming collapse of the international monetary system – the UK paperback edition of a US bestseller.

John Kay’s books are also must-reads. He has Other People’s Money – about redesigning the financial system for the people not for it’s own participants – out in September (Profile in the UK, Public Affairs in the US).

From Harper Collins, we will get The Network: The Battle for the Airwaves and Birth of the Communications Age by Scott Woolley, about RCA; and a bio of Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance; and Data-ism by Steve Lohr, about Big Data.

Alvin Roth has a terrific-looking book out from Houghton Mifflin, Who Gets What – and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design. It’s due in June.

From Routledge in January, Morten Jerven’s Measuring African Development: Past and Present. Zed Books is publishing in May his Africa: Why Economists Get It Wrong.

Metro Books will be publishing in January The Secret Life of Money: Everyday Economics Explained by Daniel Davies and Tess Read. Peter Bylund has flagged up his intriguing-looking The Production Problem: A New Theory of the Firm, an Austrian perspective.

Picked up from the papers this weekend: Roberto Savaiano, Zero Zero Zero about the cocaine trade (Allen Lane, July); Post-capitalism: A Guide to Our Future (he hopes!) by Paul Mason, Penguin in August; and by Dominic Sandbrook, The Great British Dream Factory (Allen Lane in October) about the success of British popular culture – I’m hoping he covers its commercial success.

Little Brown will publish Mervyn King’s Alchemy or Achilles’ Heel? Money and Banking in Modern Capitalism in the autumn; the press release says: “The book will argue that although reform of the banking system is needed, the present crisis is not one of banking alone, but of ideas. Assessing the proper role of money and the implications of the massive growth in banking, and giving his views on managing uncertainty, the power of markets, monetary unions and the role of central banks, this will be a landmark and important book about where we are now, and where we should go next.” Ben Bernanke is also due to publish a book about his time at the Fed.

Little Brown is also the publisher of Will Hutton’s How Good Can We Be, due out in a couple of weeks.

Basic is publishing Martin Ford’s The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of A Jobless Future in April.

Finally, in my hands now, forthcoming from Icon Books, is It’s Not About the Shark: How to Solve Unsolvable Problems by David Niven. I’ll report back on whether it has the answer.

As always, if you’re a publisher and I’ve missed something exciting, let me know and I’ll update this!

Update: Gary Karz of Investor Home has sent me his list of books on the financial crisis – a really great resource, which includes upcoming titles as well.

Most popular posts of 2014

It’s that time of year. Here they are, most-visited first.

1. Investment rats – massively visited, and massively followed up in many places.

2. Inequality, economics and politics – summary of a Piketty conference at the Bank of England

3. Capital and destiny – review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century

4. Canada versus Minsky – review of Fragile by Design

5. Teaching economics

6. Not bowling alone – a review of Hard Times: The Divisive Toll of the Economic Slump (not Hard Times!)

7. Economics books in 2014 – my annual preview of the catalogues for the year ahead. This year’s coming up soon!

8. The eclipse of capitalism – or maybe not – a review of The Zero Marginal Cost Society by Jeremy Rifkin

9. Festival of Economics – books associated with the Festival

10. Calling young economists who want to write – about the FT/McKinsey competition. I hope it had lots of entries.

My brilliant holiday reading

Cormac O Grada’s Eating People Is Wrong (and other essays on famine) proved a good antidote to seasonal over-indulgence. It’s a – perhaps surprisingly – compelling read. I have a proof copy, so will save a review until closer to publication date in April.

My other holiday read was Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. I’d never heard of the author until a newspaper feature on her books appeared a few weeks ago, and happened to pick up a copy because it was on the table at the front of Daunts, one of my favourite bookshops. It’s one of the best novels I’ve read. It’s about the specifics of two girls growing up in a tough, violent working class community in mid-20th century Naples. But also, as with all great novels, about the generalities of human life: friendship between girls (even better than Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye); relations between men and women; economic and social forces changing the fabric of life; education as a ladder out of poverty and the resulting deracination. My Brilliant Friend is the first of a quartet, and the author has three previous novels, so that’s my fiction for 2015 sorted.