Technology and perspective

One of my Christmas presents was this wonderful book by David Hockney and Martin Gaysford, A HIstory of Pictures: From the Cave to the Computer Screen. It’s about changes over the millennia in the way artists have represented a four dimensional world in a two-dimensional snapshot. The book ranges from cave paintings to photography and film, and although mainly about western art it does discuss eastern art too, in the context of the distinctiveness of perspective in the western tradition.

Then I moved on to another present, Teju Cole’s collection of essays, Known and Strange Things, which has a section about photography and perspective, and about the way technology is changing photographic art. And then, with the news of John Berger’s death, I started watching his TV series Ways of Seeing (and there’s an accompanying book). Early in the first programme, he emphasises this point: “Perspective centres everything on the eye of the beholder.” Interesting to look back at the series and see its debt to Walter Benjamin.

A while ago David Hockney wrote a really interesting FT article about technology and perspective (in its widest sense). I even wrote to him asking him to write a little book extending the idea but got a polite reply saying he was to busy. But I think it’s really intriguing.

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Microeconomic theory

A great resource for anyone teaching graduate micro theory – Ariel Rubinstein has updated his text, available for free download if you register your email. I don’t teach such a course but from my less intensive look at the book (I read only the social welfare chapter), it is very clear. And free – good for Princeton University Press for allowing the free e-book download, which is updated annually. For those who really want the physical copy, the 2012 edition is available.

Another of Prof Rubinstein’s books – I liked it so much it won the inaugural Enlightened Economist Prize a few years ago – is Economic Fables, also free to download as an e-book.

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Economics books in 2017

Here is my annual round up of titles that look interesting from the various spring catalogues (I’ve noted a few of these in separate posts before but it’s always handy to gather them together).

There are quite a few enticing titles in the Princeton University Press one (my own publisher). Cass Sunstein has #republic, about democracy in the social media age, Jean Tirole’s Economics for the Common Good will be out in English, and Walter Scheidel’s The Great Leveler looks intriguing – it seems to take the Piketty-esque line that violent episodes are needed to equalise society, looking at the long sweep of history since the stone age. I also like the look of Erika Rappaport’s A Thirst for Empire: How Tea Shaped The Modern World (and I thought it was cotton…..)

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Speaking of Piketty, Harvard University Press has After Piketty edited by Heather Boushey, Brad DeLong and Marshall Steinbaum. Philosopher Pascal Bruckner has a book called The Wisdom of Money, somewhat contrarian in our anti-capitalist times. Mark Granovetter’s Society and Economy looks like a must-read. I’m intrigued by Barak Rishman’s Stateless Commerce: The Diamond Network and the Persistence of Relational Exchange – an exploration of a surviving ethnic trading network.

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From MIT Press the highlights include Peter Temin’s The Vanishing Middle Class, which I blogged about after seeing him present on it in September; and alongside that Vaclav Smil’s latest, Energy and Civilisation: A History. Other titles of interest include Tap: Unlocking the Mobile Economy by Anindya Ghose; Paid: Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff, edited by Bill Maurer and Lana Swart; Information and Society by Michael Buckland; The Death of Public Knowledge edited by Aaron Davis; and Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing by Marie Hicks.

There’s also what looks like a lovely book, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, “Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds.” The blurb says, “In our era of synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, robotics, and climate engineering, this edition of Frankenstein
will resonate forcefully for readers with a background or interest in science and engineering, and anyone intrigued by the fundamental questions of creativity and responsibility. This edition of Frankenstein pairs the original 1818 version of the manuscript—meticulously line-edited and amended by Charles E. Robinson, one of the world’s preeminent authorities on the text—with annotations and essays by leading scholars exploring the social and ethical aspects of scientific creativity raised by this remarkable story.”

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Over at Yale University Press, there’s Niall Kishtainy’s A Little History of Economics; Zeynep Tufecki’s Twitter and Teargas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest; Stephen King’s Grave New World: The End of Globalization and the Return of Economic Conflict; Dieter Helm’s Burn Out: The End Game for Fossil Fuels; and Tom Hazlett’s  (about wireless technology).

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Oxford University Press offers by editors Kevin O’Rourke and Jeffrey Williamson The Spread of Modern Industry to the Periphery since 1871. There’s one I definitely want to read, Paul de Grauwe’s The Limits of the Market: The Pendulum Between Government and Market. I have a chapter myself in National Wealth: What is Missing and Why it Matters, edited by Kirk Hamilton and Cameron Hepburn, which is out later in the year. Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock are the authors of Building State Capability.41cmeonsfwl-_sx308_bo1204203200_

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One that looks very timely from Cambridge University Press is Escape from Democracy: The role of experts and the public in economic policy, by David Levy and Sandra Peart. In memory of the much-missed Suzanne Scotchmer is On The Shoulders of Giants, edited by Stephen Maurer.

Columbia University Press has an intersting mix. One that jumps out for me is Paul Milgrom’s DIscovering Prices: Auction Design in Markets with Complex Constraints. Also Vera Zamagni’s An Economic History of Europe Since 1700. Josh Lauer’s Creditworthy is intriguing for its subtitle: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America.

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One of the new titles from Polity Press will be a must-read for me, Lorenzo Fioramonti’s The World After GDP. Steve Keen has Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? (The blurb doesn’t tell me the answer.) There’s also The Ascendancy of FInance from Joseph Vogl, and Another Economy is Possible by Manuel Castells and others. I’m also quite taken by The Invention of Celebrity by Antoine Lilti – in the Enlightenment, apparently.

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Moving on from the university presses…

From Norton’s Spring catalogue comes the latest from Andrew McAfee and Erik Bryjolfosson, Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing the Digital Revolution.

Profile Books has There and Back Again: The world of things and the end of globalisation by Finbarr Livesey (which appears to have alternative titles); and, with The Economist, Bill Emmott’s The Fate of the West and Dan Franklin’s Megatech: Technology in 2050. From Little, Brown I like the look of Rebel Cities: Paris, London and New York in the Age of Revolution by Michael Rapport.

In its various imprints, Penguin has Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger; William Cohan’s Why Wall Street Matters; Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back; Chris Renwick’s Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State; Klaus Schwab’s The Fourth Industrial Revolution; Daniel Levitin’s A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics: A Neuroscientist on How to Make Sense of a Complex World; and by Adam Lashinski, Wild Ride: Inside Uber’s Quest for World Domination.

From Verso, The Production of Money by Ann Pettifor and In the Long Run We Are All Daed: Keynesianism, Political Economy and Revolution  by Geoff P Mann. Anything by Tyler Cowen is a must-read. He has a book called The Complacent Class (St Martin’s Press) out next month. Other impending titles are: David Kynaston’s Till Time’s Last Sand: A History of the Bank of England; and Rethinking the Economics of Land and Housing by Josh Ryan-Collins, Toby Lloyd and Laurie Macfarlane (Zed Books). We’re promised Niall Ferguson (a Marmite-effect author), The Square and the Tower: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Networks from Allen Lane later in the year.

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The economy through the Schelling lens

Since Thomas Schelling’s death was announced I’ve been (re-)reading some of his work. Today it was one of my all-time favourite economics books, one I always recommend to students, Micromotives and Macrobehaviour. As the title suggsts, it’s all about how individuals’ behaviour aggregates, taking account of how social influence. The final chapter, Hockey helmets, daylight saving and other binary choices, starts with a discussion of why hockey players (I think it means ice hockey) won’t voluntarily wear helmets even when everyone knows it’s much safer to do so.

The answer is that each individual would like to be required to wear a helmet but won’t be the first to do so because it might give them a small disadvantage against others in play, and would also get them mocked by their opponents. The chapter goes on to argue that when there are any situations with a binary choice in the face of externalities, either the ‘rational’ behaviour needs to be mandated for a social optimum; or a tipping coalition needs to form, whereby a number of individuals will act together to bring about the better outcome, all the while cursing those who still hold out.

Once you read the book, it’s hard not to see everything through a Schelling lens. A friend of mine helps the Close The Door campaign. High street stores often leave their doors wide open in winter – even though they are burning energy wastefully and exposing themselves to more shoplifting. Why? Because they fear that if they close their doors, they will lose impulse shoppers to neighbouring stores that keep their doors open. I tried to get the Department for Business etc. (in one of its precursor variants) to see the logic and regulate to keep shop doors closed. The senior official – an economist I know and respect – said to me, “But what’s the market failure? The shops would all keep their doors closed if it were really in their interest.”

The answer is in Micromotives and Macrobehaviour Chapter 7. If only all economists would read it.

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Most popular posts of 2016

It’s always interesting to look back and see which posts resonated with readers of this blog. Here are the top 10 of 2016, most popular first.

(I have to apologize for the broken links in the earlier posts; the blog needed a tech revamp in the summer and I’ve not had time to go back and fix them. If anyone has a tech savvy teenager looking for a bit of work, I can offer them a task!)

1. What should the well-educated student read? Recommendations to educate economists of the future.

2 Forthcoming books in 2016  – part 1 and part 2

3. Markets in all their glory – review of Fisman and Sullivan’s The Inner Lives of Markets.

4. Commoditized services – one of a series of posts debating Branko Milanovic.

5. Longlist for The Enlightened Economist Prize for 2016.

6. Rescuing Macroeconomics – review of Roger Farmer’s Prosperity for All.

7. Better than Karl Polanyi – post on the social context of markets.

8. The trade-investment-service-intellectual property nexus – my review of Richard Baldwin’s book The Great Convergence.

9. Computing, the British way – review of Electronic Dreams: How 1980s Britain Learned to Love the Computer

10. A land built by economists – on infrastructure.

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