It took some time to get into it (much like a good bike ride) but once I did I really enjoyed it despite the fact that I don't agree with everything D...moreIt took some time to get into it (much like a good bike ride) but once I did I really enjoyed it despite the fact that I don't agree with everything David Byrne wrote. He has many interesting insights on art and culture as well as thoughts about biking. (less)
For some of the Libertarian opinions I have come to hold, I have been called “at least partially evil” on one occasion and told to “have a heart” on t...moreFor some of the Libertarian opinions I have come to hold, I have been called “at least partially evil” on one occasion and told to “have a heart” on too many occasions to count – and both of these comments from some of the people who know me best. And that is to say nothing of the times my arguments have been called "simplistic" and yet no reason is ever given for why they are actually wrong. This form of attack is one which Sowell writes about to some length and in that, and numerous other respects his book resonated with me. The Vision of the Anointed is Sowell’s counter attack directed towards powerful elites whose "vision" can most easily be summed up as "we know better than you, due to our superior intellect, morality or both and we intend to use our political power to re-engineer society for you (all in your own best interest of course)."
Sowell's critique of this vision is directed almost entirely towards the political left. While an attack aimed primarily towards “liberals” is often justified, I think it could have very easily been applied to any big government vision be it liberal or conservative (especially given the hubris and big government conservatism surrounding George W. Bush's tenure. In fairness to Sowell however, his book was published in '95). The fact that Sowell's book didn't do this made the message less persuasive than it could have been. Yet at times, the message is quite persuasive. For example, Sowell contrasts those with the vision of the anointed with those of a "tragic" vision of the world. (The anointed being those who see the world in terms of "problems" and "solutions" while those with the tragic vision see the world as a balance of trade offs, each with their own set of problems.) When politicians say things like, "We know how to solve the problem of poverty/drug abuse/poor educational outcomes" they are making implicit assumptions that these problems are a fault of "society" and therefore they can impose a so called "solution" by re-engineering society. Those with a tragic vision see these problems as being either an inherent part of the human condition or often times even a direct result of the very "solutions" put in place to alleviate the problem in the first place. It is not a simple matter of imposing a solution because the very act of such an imposition has its own set of problems (think of the war on drugs - something I might add which is both a liberal and conservative obsession). Sowell writes:
The hallmark of the vision of the anointed is that what the anointed consider lacking for the kind of social progress they envision is will and power, not knowledge. But to those with the tragic vision, what is dangerous are will and power without knowledge - and for many expansive purposes, knowledge is inherently insufficient....
Although followers of this tradition [the anointed:] often advocate more egalitarian economic and social results, they necessarily seek to achieve thoseresults through highly unequal influence and power, and–especially in the twentieth century–through an increased concentration of power in the central government, which is thereby enabled to redistribute economic resources more equally. While those with the vision of the anointed emphasize the knowledge and resources available to promote the various policy programs they favor, those with the tragic vision of the human condition emphasize that these resources are taken from other uses ("there is no free lunch") and that the knowledge and wisdom required to run ambitious social programs far exceed what any human being has ever possessed, as the unintended negative consequences of such programs repeatedly demonstrate.
This is one idea which the book explores in much more depth and is quite compelling. At other times however, Sowell paints "the anointed" with such a broad brush or the examples he uses are not explored in enough depth to fully buy into all that he writes. In a book that explores the negative effects of a small class of elite individuals (politicians) making expansive decisions to re-engineer society, Sowell does a poor job to clearly define the boundaries between where individual liberty ends and appropriate state action begins. For example, based on the overall writing, Sowell would seem to be in favor of the death penalty, state restrictions on abortion, and certain individual rights to privacy (most notably where public health is–arguably–at stake). And yet in a careful reading of the book, one realizes that Sowell rarely expresses direct opinions on these issues but mostly critiques the way in which the "anointed" apply inconsistent logic in how the issues are dealt with.
On the whole the book had many strong areas and will likely give a reader a new look on the world at large. At times however it oversteps its bounds and is in murky water if it is trying to describe a comprehensive alternative to the vision of the anointed. I particularly liked the chapter "Courting Disaster" on judicial activism vs. judicial restraint and how with increasing judicial activism we seem to be slipping away from the ideal of "a government of laws and not of men" and the senseless debate that surrounds the "intentions" of the framers of the constitution vs. what they clearly articulated given the legal language of the time. (And he points out that a built in framework exists to chaning what we no longer agree with is in place but that framework does not involve the arbitrary decisions of individual judges.) In his conclusion, Sowell has a very brief but enticing section on the role of journalism and the media and some of the inherent problems within. Speaking as somone who majored in journalism in college, I found his ideas to mirror many of my own and I would have liked him to explore the subject further.
This book is very good for a person who is interested in getting a bit more "scientific" about their workout strategy, nutrition, and bike posture. An...moreThis book is very good for a person who is interested in getting a bit more "scientific" about their workout strategy, nutrition, and bike posture. And when you think about it, if you're planning on doing a lot of biking and really want to see improvement you probably should be focusing on all these things. Additionally, the book has its primary focus on "building up to that big event that you've been planning for" as opposed simply increasing your fitness in general or building up for a multiple week/month tour (of course much of the knowledge goes hand in hand but this book has a focus on single day and multiple day rides where one is never off the bike for more than a few minutes).
On the whole I learned a lot from the book and would recommend it to anyone who is serious about getting better at bicycling. At the same time, I would have liked to have seen a few alternatives approaches where one doesn't have to constantly measure his heart-rate and then analyze the data to determine future workouts. Additionally on the nutrition front many of us won't be able to or won't want to be calculating things like the percentage of our diet from carbohydrate, protein etc. Instead we might want a more generalized outline of what foods to eat when and a few meal suggestions. While there is some of this in the book it's not as much as I would like (although a very helpful and realistic section mentions things that you can get at a convenience store when you're out on a long ride). (less)
A worthwhile read. The chapters I found most compelling (or perhaps simply the most interesting) were "Academic Facts and Fallacies" as well as "Incom...moreA worthwhile read. The chapters I found most compelling (or perhaps simply the most interesting) were "Academic Facts and Fallacies" as well as "Income Facts and Fallacies." Throughout the book Sowell highlights a solid set of tools with which readers' can analyze the validity or lack thereof of both statistics as well as the conclusions drawn from them.
He aptly quotes Mark Twain at the beginning of one of his chapters where Twain remarked on the three kinds of lies - "lies, damn lies, and statistics." Unfortunately, by taking a closer look at widespread beliefs based on commonly quoted statistics, as well as specific quotes from major and well respected newspapers (and in some instances even so called "economists"), Sowell shows that Twain was all too correct.(less)
It's a "fun" book, in the sense that it's "fun" to imagine what it would be like to imagine nature taking over our buildings and roads and everything...moreIt's a "fun" book, in the sense that it's "fun" to imagine what it would be like to imagine nature taking over our buildings and roads and everything else that we've built. It's a "sad" book in the sense that there is undoubtedly a ton that humans have done to alter the environment and make the world a less hospitable place for a number of other species. The book has an uplifting element as well however as it puts humans in their place on the geologic time scale and that the world has endured much worse than "us" before in the form of asteroids which wiped out nearly all life.
One problem area however was in the final section "Where do we go from here?" In it Weisman offers no real solutions except that of a "one child" per person policy. He doesn't propose how this should or could happen but just explores it as an idea like "What if..." This in and of itself isn't a problem as this is the whole premise of his book. But what follows this one child policy with the number of humans dropping to almost 1 Billion (from 6 billion now) within a hundred years is Weisman's all too romantic vision of the world. A world where we have all the technology of today but with hugely reduced environmental stresses. Given the difficulties we know are encountered in countries that do experience depopulation however, I really wish he had explored this more fully. I'm not at all certain there still wouldn't be resource wars or that we'd be as efficient with our resources as we are today. When one considers the "brain drain" that would inevitably occur with loosing 5/6ths of the world's population in 100 years, it seems like a huge stretch to believe that we'd enjoy life as we know it but with a much greater environment to enjoy. Of course the environment would be better off in many ways but to say that the only sacrifice would be fewer children around for us to enjoy seems a bit of a fantasy to me.
All in all though a very thoughtful and seemingly well-researched book.(less)
Wow. I finished. I have a lot to say about this book and I won't write a full review now but here are a few things for now:
- It's long and repetitive...moreWow. I finished. I have a lot to say about this book and I won't write a full review now but here are a few things for now:
- It's long and repetitive and I think that's fine. The philosophy is sufficiently different from so much of what we're used to hearing that the ideas and lessons bear repeating.
- There is no ambiguity about which characters you are meant to like. Once again I think this is fine. A friend of mine said he tried to read Ayn Rand before and couldn't even get to the philosophy part because the characters were too cut and dry. I think it is impossible to read Ayn Rand and not be analyzing the philosophy with every line. That said, the story itself almost has a science fiction feel to it which makes it fun. But make no mistake, it's about the philosophy.
- I give it five stars for its thoroughness. I give it five stars for its consistency. I give it five stars because it made me feel empowered, free (despite the less than ideal circumstances of the world in which we live), and joyful for being alive. What more could you ask for?
What I like about this book is not that it is the absolute best, most clear-cut argument for smaller government and many other ideals held by Libertar...moreWhat I like about this book is not that it is the absolute best, most clear-cut argument for smaller government and many other ideals held by Libertarians. What I like about it is that it is a very readable book that I could recommend to friends of mine who want to get a better perspective about where I'm coming from. He uses enough current examples to take the book beyond the world of political theory and shows how a libertarian perspective can solve real problems confronting us now. He gets into enough "nuts and bolts" of the relevant economic theory to give the casual reader an understanding of economic concepts that have proven true time and again throughout the course of history.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who knows a "crazy Libertarian" because you might just learn a thing or two about where they're coming from as well as just how much you probably already agree with them. (less)
A courageous piece of writing from an author who has done his homework and who had every reason NOT to write this book but chose to do so anyway. Desp...moreA courageous piece of writing from an author who has done his homework and who had every reason NOT to write this book but chose to do so anyway. Despite the fact that the book is fictional, the real studies cited and real data collected will make any reader want to take a closer look at the global warming debate. (The references in the back of the book are at least as comprehensive as most non-fiction books.)
Given his chosen topics of writing it may seem strange but Michael Crichton is not a "catastrophist" (to use his own word). In other words, while the media has a tendency to elevate issues which bring about the most catastrophic headlines today, and tomorrow or five years from now forget about them, Crichton tends to take a look at the catastrophic headlines of yesterday and five years ago and ask how valid they are today.
In State of Fear through a diverse group of characters Crichton takes a look at how their beliefs have been shaped through media and political sound bites and challenges many of their assumptions with data. It's a quick and entertaining read with plenty of plot twists along the way but most readers will find the concepts lingering in their thoughts for long after they've put the book down.(less)
The Economic Naturalist by Cornell professor Robert H. Frank has an admirable goal: To take economics beyond boring textbooks filled with abstract gra...moreThe Economic Naturalist by Cornell professor Robert H. Frank has an admirable goal: To take economics beyond boring textbooks filled with abstract graphs and equations, and bring it into focus for the everyday world in which we live. He aims to show the world in such a way that will inspire the reader to develop an economic way of thinking. Through a series of one to two page explanations ranging from "Why is milk sold in rectangular containers, while soft drinks are sold in round ones?" to "Why aren't there any top-ranked for-profit universities?" Frank is successful to show how economics can be a lens worth looking through when trying to make sense of the world. Interestingly enough however, all too often he himself fails to look through this lens enough. Where he falters most obviously is in his attempts to justify absurd laws which are the antithesis to a economic naturalist way of thinking. One example is in Frank's support for New York City's laws which support a taxi monopoly. He says:
In part to help relieve street congestion, the city issues only a limited number of medallions, which makes fewer taxis available than there would be if entry into the market were unregulated. One result is that medallion owners enjoy a measure of market power that, unchecked, would enable them to charge rates far in excess of the actual cost of ferrying passengers. And so it is common for cities to regulate not just the number of taxis that can operate but also the fares they are permitted to charge. The aim of these regulations is not just to protect consumers from unfair treatment but to promote more efficient decisions about taxi use.
A true economic naturalist would look at the broader picture and allow for the development of the infinitely more complex yet natural economic relationships to play out. For example, if there were more taxis on the road wouldn't be likely to be competing against each other thus driving prices down and make taking a taxi more desirable? Or would this increased congestion balance lower prices out and make taking a taxi less desirable? Or to go even further: If taking a taxi were less desirable wouldn't people be less likely to travel into Manhattan and be more likely to spend their money at places closer to home thus creating and new opportunities for all kinds of businesses? Conversely, in this natural economic world might there not even be a net increase in congestion? Perhaps more taxis at cheaper rates would create fewer incentives for people to drive their own cars in the city. This would not only reduce the cars on the street but also the vast parking garages and lots used to store those cars when they sit idle. The point is, who knows exactly how it would play out but however it did, there would be a natural economic balance.
Unfortunately these are the kinds of questions Frank fails to ask. In too many of his examples Frank seems content to agree with the extent to which the natural economic world has been allowed to develop. He seems less concerned with analyzing what the world could be if truly natural economic conditions were allowed to play out. But what makes this most disappointing is that the result is a book whose detail and explanations are good for cocktail party conversations but little more. If his aim is to captivate the next generation of would be economists he'll have to do more than that.(less)
Interestingly it doesn't matter if you're reading The Wall Street Journal, The Economist or a report directly from the Federal Reserve itself – more o...moreInterestingly it doesn't matter if you're reading The Wall Street Journal, The Economist or a report directly from the Federal Reserve itself – more often than not inflation is referred to as if it is some wild beast that can never be fully understood or completely stopped. And yet when you break it down, by the very definition of inflation we know that this is completely false. Why? Because inflation is not the rise in prices or the devaluation of money. Inflation is the increase in the supply of money and through this it causes a rise in prices and the devaluation in money. Hazlitt does an excellent job of making this distinction clear. And it’s an important distinction to make. If one does not understand the causes of a problem he will be unlikely to have success in stopping it.
Another element of the book that many readers may find enjoyable is the way in which Hazlitt demystifies the supposedly crazy concept of “The Gold Standard” and why it is a natural system that evolves after a breakdown in other forms of money valuation. It is much more than an arbitrary system of money no better or worse than any other. My only wish for Hazlitt’s book would have been for it to cover this concept in depth earlier in the book than it did. Although when he ties this concept into the resolution for the inflation crisis it becomes clear why he works it in when he does.
Finally, I think the book is important now as much as ever. Today many Americans are living on much tighter budgets and they are seeing the cost of living going up much faster than their increases in pay. This is often used as the justification for more government spending, largely to pay for so called “safety nets.” Unfortunately the question is rarely asked why the cost of living is going up faster than increases in pay. After reading Hazlitt’s book it becomes clear that more government spending from a government that is already broke will only worsen the problem and hurt those who can least afford it.
At times the book was above my level of understanding but without a doubt still provides a very accessible breakdown of how money works and will continue to be a very valuable resource for years to come. If a reader is willing to re-read pages and take it as slowly as he or she find it necessary, even one never formally trained in economics can understand nearly all the ideas Hazlitt puts forth. As a friend of mine said, the book makes money as simple as it should be...but no simpler.
When I read Natural Capitalism I was quite enamored of it. However, since reading other material I have less enthusiasm for this book and the approach...moreWhen I read Natural Capitalism I was quite enamored of it. However, since reading other material I have less enthusiasm for this book and the approach they generally describe (I've seen a documentary with the authors and read a number of news articles both by and about them). In order to work, many of their "solutions" require top down command and control economic framework which generally has a very poor record for using resources wisely.
Additionally, many of their predictions and/or time lines for the viability of new environmentally friendly technology have been flat out wrong or way off. I suspect that this is because they, too often don't take into account all economic costs. So for example when describing a new way of making a much more environmentally friendly car, they only look at some of the factors involved in making it and have no idea how their end goals affect all the hundreds or thousands of related industries will be effected. In fact however, the only way all costs can be accounted for is in open markets where prices are not set or manipulated by government intervention - something the authors often fail to realize. To quote one of their obvious errors they state "Markets know everything about prices and nothing about costs." This makes no sense. Prices ARE costs! The price I set is the cost you pay - it all depends on the vantage point. So to translate their quote into the real world they're saying, "Markets know everything about prices and nothing about [other people's:] prices." Now doesn't that sound a bit weird?
So while they're on the right track with the basic idea that waste is bad for business and bad for the environment (and bring up lots of fun examples to show how some companies have revolutionized their way of doing business) this fundamental lack of economic understanding really brings this book down in my view. Many economists and even journalists and active environmentalists have criticized their work for just this reason.(less)