I work mainly freelance or as an independent consultant, so I picked this book up to see what it had to say about the lifestyle of an itinerant IT worI work mainly freelance or as an independent consultant, so I picked this book up to see what it had to say about the lifestyle of an itinerant IT worker. It's actually primarily aimed at permanent employees of consulting firms who are developing for the consultancy's clients. As it's very broad, it's useful for anyone involved with consultancy/agency development in some way.
The Nomadic Developer is basically the distillation of years of experience working as an employed consultant. There are three chapters especially useful for analysing consultancy businesses.
There's a useful description of the Seven Deadly Firms, archetypes of consultancies you want to avoid. These are BOZO Consulting, FEAR Consulting, The Body Shop, CHEAP Consulting, Personality Cult Consulting, Smelzer and Melzer Accounting, and "Push the SKU" Consulting. Without describing them further, you can probably get the gist of these. (I'd add to this list, Print Agency Turned Web Dev Consulting.) It's a useful guide if you're likely to walk unawares into a dysfunctional company.
Looking at the inside, there's a field guide to the roles in consulting firms (account managers, engagement managers, sales, marketing, management, admin, even "the industry guru"), and how best to deal with each. This is fitted into the work pipeline of consultancies, explaining who interacts how and when.
The remaining chapter on consultancies on businesses is a fantastic checklist of questions to ask in interviews to create a better assessment of the company. These related to the financials, the way the sales pipeline is managed, the development process used, and the way consultants are treated. ("Interviews Are Not Just for the Employer")
Much of the rest of the book is advice targeted at consultants themselves. The Ten Unstated Traits shows how to be marketable beyond the mere technical skills that go on a CV (appearance, being active in the tech community, being easy to work with, etc). Discussions on Surviving and Thriving explain how to manage not only day-to-day issues, but career paths too. Most of the advice is phrased positively, but Avoiding Career-Limiting Moves lists the seven deadly sins of consulting, ranging from drinking too much at the office party (gluttony) to browsing porn at work (lust) to just doing bad work (sloth). This chapter is quite hard-lined, but the book's four annotators temper it slightly.
Reading this felt like two books intermingled into one. On the one hand, it feels like a clear and insightful map of consulting firms, showing how their pieces fit together. On the other hand, it feels like a wise old man standing over your shoulder offering advice on how to navigate the maze of a career in IT. Much of this doesn't apply to the places I tend to work, but I was still grateful for the author condensing so many years of experience, should I find I need it. If you're young in an IT consulting career, or would like another perspective on your job, I would say this is essential reading, even if you choose not to follow all the advice....more
I've found this immensely useful for understanding the REST principles that underpin software written for web.
The book starts by describing the levelsI've found this immensely useful for understanding the REST principles that underpin software written for web.
The book starts by describing the levels of the Richardson Maturity Model, from tunnelling RPC calls over HTTP, to full hypermedia systems. There's quite a thorough description of the use of URIs, HTTP methods (GET, POST, PUT etc), media types, conditional requests (eg how to PUT a resource only if its ETag header indicates it has not been modified), and server response codes (far beyond simple 200, 404 and 500s). The REST tools are used to build an online machine-driven coffee ordering system (Restbucks) where the client is led through the business process by hypermedia links generated on the server.
There's a chapter on caching which completely changed my understanding of the subject: rather than being an after-the-fact optimisation, caching is fundamental to the design of HTTP systems, especially to achieve high load with only moderate latency.
The authors then continues to implement parts of the Restbucks system by using the Atom syndication and publication formats. Previously I've only used Atom to subscribe to blog feeds, but the book does a good job of showing its power as a full publishing system, with excellent hypermedia controls. This is also where they introduce the concept of media type composition: embedding one media type inside another. Here, this is embedding documents of type application/vnd.restbucks+xml inside application/atom+xml, which allows a clean separation between the two protocols and concerns. I did wonder at points if they were stretching a little too far the problem domain of Atom to model the specific Restbucks business process, but it serves as a good example of re-using a well-established protocol. The authors favour the re-use of standard protocols as this gives you access to an ecosystem of tools and libraries to inspect the resources. (The broadest example being using XHTML for resources, as then even a human being in a browser can navigate the domain application protocol.)
There's a fairly detailed look at security, using OpenID and OAuth to identify users and authorise access to third party resources. Again, the Restbucks domain is nicely extended with a third party voucher service, and the full protocol for authorisation is worked through.
The only part of the book I thought was of questionable value was on semantics (RDF, OWL etc). There weren't any compelling applications of this nor examples of systems already benefitting from them. That said, it's only a short chapter.
There are liberal code examples. Perhaps because I wasn't working through them while I was reading it, but I often found the code examples too long to follow, and I had to jump backwards and forwards a lot to keep the flow. This isn't helped a lot by the fact some examples are followed by a tedious narrative (especially the early ones) which only serve to repeat what the code said. But then, many other examples have pertinent points clearly highlighted. I'm hesitant to be too critical because creating short but realistic code examples is always hard.
Overall I'm glad I've read this. I found it a bit of an effort to get through, but I've learnt a lot, and I'll certainly be referring to this as I try to implement better web systems. The real test will be how much of the book I consider invaluable in a year's time. I highly recommended to this to any web developer, as it has either changed or massively clarified many of the things I thought I knew about the machine web....more
If you are up to now hazy about the implications of the Euro, this will surely give you a clear perspective. Phillip Bagus shows through the history oIf you are up to now hazy about the implications of the Euro, this will surely give you a clear perspective. Phillip Bagus shows through the history of Europe in the last half-century, a single currency evolved through conflict, not unity. He explains the economic mechanisms behind a currency structured to fail almost like a tragedy of the commons.
Bagus tells the story along the following lines: With the Treaty of Rome, the EEC was formed in a classical liberal mindset, but a socialist opposition has existed that has wanted to turn Europe into a superstate and centralise power. Obstacles to socialists' ideal led to the proposition of the Euro as a economic vehicle to achieve their goal. Having a single currency despite widely different national economic policies encourages the smaller countries to inflate the money supply to finance their own (unsustainable) spending (herein lies the main similarity to a tragedy of the commons). The inevitable sovereign debt crisis can then be used to centralise fiscal policy and power. Means put in place to restrain the system (such as the regulations and penalties in the Stability and Growth Pact) have not been adhered to.
It was never in the wider German nation's interests to join the Euro, as the Bundesbank maintained the mark as relatively one of the least inflationary currencies (the population was extremely sensitive to inflation). Bagus pins the blame on Germany entering the currency on pressure from French socialists, most notably Delors and Mitterand. The banking crisis escalated the sovereign debt problem in the financially weaker states (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain) as these countries resorted to deficit spending to sit out the recession. In an attempt to prop up their economies, the European Central Bank systematically loosened its financial policies, buying government bonds directly (rather than accepting them as collateral for loans), and accepting Greek bonds even at junk status. It now remains to be seen how much more patience the richer countries - most notably Germany - have left for covering the deficits of the less financially prudent.
This is just a brief summary. Bagus has done extensive research into the history of all parts of the story of the Euro, especially the politics of the past few years. He gives a good framework for understanding this with selective explanations of relevant economic and financial topics, such as the effect of inflation in a multi-country, single currency system, and the mechanics of the ECB's financial operations (bond-buying etc).
The Tragedy of the Euro is only a short book (172 pages, also available as a free eBook), but it's rich and enlightening. Some bits were a bit dense for my liking, as the narrative follows every twist and turn of some meetings, but the faster paced bits made up for that. If you're an academic this is no doubt ideal; if you're a layman to the subject (I count myself here) I suspect you'll need a strong interest in the subject of the Euro to get the most out of this. I did have a strong interest in this subject, and thoroughly enjoyed the book....more
The Law is a very short text (my edition is formatted to 86 pages) first published in 1850. It asks the question: what is law? To Bastiat, it is the “collective organization of the individual right to lawful defence”. Bastiat’s foundation is that life, liberty and property are enduring human concepts that pre-date law, and that every individual has a right to defend them, by force if necessary. From this it follows that a group of people has the right to organise a common force to protect these rights. Because no individual may use force to deprive anyone else of life, liberty or property, and the law is merely the organisation of the individual rights, it also follows that the law may not by right be used to deprive and individual of these things either.
The current situation, where the law is used to for “lawful plunder” (think of most forms and uses of taxation, eg protective tariffs, and industry protection laws, eg copyright), Bastiat blames on a combination of “stupid greed” and “false philanthropy”.
It has been long seen that many people will choose to acquire wealth by plunder rather than labour as long as the former is easier. The law is intended to protect citizens from others who would choose this route. But if the same citizens who would plunder rather than labour are allowed to make the law, they now have an officially sanctioned route to plunder: to pervert the law for their own gain under the guise of “justice”. Bastiat neatly sums up the inevitable result:
As long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true purpose - that it may violate property rather than protecting it - then everyone will want to participate in making the law.
The behaviour we see today, of course, is that every big business will want to participate in making the law.
The other source of perverted law - false philanthropy - is more complex, and Bastiat’s description overlaps with the other texts in this set. He criticises the socialists for acting as if they “have received from Heaven an intelligence and virtue that place them beyond and above mankind”. That is, if you accept all involuntary redistributions of wealth as forms of plunder, the best hope you have of it being done right is that it is planned by a superior intellect. The explanation for why this will fail is economic in nature, so I’ll defer it to the summary of the other books.
Bastiat gives a rule that can easily be applied to any law, existing or proposed, and determine whether it is in the spirit of the “Rule of Law”, or is actually just disguised plunder. That this distinction is so often muddied or not made made at all is the compelling reason to read this book. The Law is so short and makes its point so clearly, I can hardly not recommend it. And given that its full text is available free, there’s no excuse not to, unless you believe perversion of the law does not affect you. ...more
Often I wish I could say about some aspect of software development, literally, "let's do this by the book". Only then do I realise there is no book. IOften I wish I could say about some aspect of software development, literally, "let's do this by the book". Only then do I realise there is no book. It's like realising there is no spoon, except the problem can be solved by an experienced software developer, rather than the saviour of mankind. Until now, the process of capturing, formalising, and validating the high-level specification of software has been one of these inconsistently-documented problems. Gojko Adzic has changed that by structuring many successful TDD/BDD/ATDD/etc practices into a framework - the name of which is the title of the book - and informal pattern language, all phrased in terms of specifying a problem (rather than the usual language of after-the-fact testing).
This book examines the development process beginning at the point of deriving scope from goals, and ending with validating frequently and evolving a (living) documentation system.
It was with great relief that I read "I originally thought about leaving this chapter [on deriving scope from goals] out. I decided to include it for three reasons…". Creating a shared understanding of the overall goal is the most important part of specifying a problem, and one that developers hide away from at their peril. I'll look at the remaining chapters in two parts: the specification process and the automation of specifications.
Adzic recommends specifying collaboratively, and describes practices ranging from all-team workshops (where the team is new to SbE), to pair-writing and informal conversations (for mature teams or those with easy access to domain experts). I learnt from Metaphors We Live By that people think primarily in terms of prototypes, rather than in abstract categories, and so the idea of specifying by example seems inherently congruent to how we model the world. (Indeed, one practice, avoid using abstract classes of equivalence, makes this explicit.) The SbE approach is to create a clear, precise set of examples of a problem, free from technical or automation concerns, which can be easily verified by a domain expert. In TDD terms, this will "get you to red".
One a suitable specification is prepared with its examples, the challenge becomes to automate its validation. Here are more technical practices, such as automate along system boundaries, describe validation processes in the automation layer, and don't treat automation code as second-grade code. This will "get you to green". Note, however, that this is not a beginner's book, nor a technical reference. You'll need some other means to learn how to use specific specification/testing tools (Cucumber, SpecFlow, FitNesse, or whatever), and how to deal with the everyday challenges of automating acceptance testing (which are non-trivial, to say the least). There's also nothing in here about managing the development process itself, for which you'll need to consult the Agile and Lean literature.
Further practices makes it possible to validate frequently, such as find the most annoying thing, fix it, and repeat, set up a dedicated continuous validation environment and separate quick and slow tests. This will, in a sense, "get you to blue", or a well-refactored test system.
There are many reasons why I think this book is important, so I'll try to highlight the key points:
• It's nothing new - an odd form of praise maybe, but this book is a structuring of many well-understood, proven practices • It defines a meaningful language - out with the irrelevant technical testing terms, in with the goal-driven specification terms • It provides a framework - there's a broad process to follow, all of which is coherent with proven agile and lean principles • It's sensitive to context - while not a rigorous pattern language, each practice is clearly described in terms of what problem it solves and where it is applicable • It's sensitive to inexperienced teams - there is advice on not just the practices, but how to introduce them
My experience working in software is that most companies have either an ad-hoc approach to specification, or a pseudo-formal process which carries administrative demands but does little to help actually build the right thing. My hope is that Specification by Example can be a template to improve this, and reduce one of the biggest sources of routine waste in current software development. No process can be applied blindly, but by writing this, I think Gojko Adzic will open better specification and testing practices to a much wider audience....more
Friedrich Hayek (an Austro-Hungarian) wrote this book in the early 1940s in Great Britain, as a warning to a country he thought was unwittingly walking the same path that Germany took decades before. It is a description of how even the most well-intentioned socialist ideals will eventually lead to totalitarianism. In contrast to Bastiat’s The Law, which is focused on one point (justice), The Road to Serfdom traces a complex story at the boundary of politics and economics, and shows how and why justice and freedom are ultimately sacrificed on the path to collectivism.
According to Hayek, when “we find ourselves threatened by the evils associated by the past ages of barbarism, we blame naturally anything but ourselves.” So naturally, the unexpected situation that “the relative ease with which a young communist could be converted into a Nazi or vice versa” was not considered inherent in socialism itself.
Collectivism involves orienting a society around a “social goal” such as “general welfare”, but this “presupposes … a complete ethical code in which all the different human values are allotted their due place”. But “no such complete ethical code exists” because “people will have either no definite views or conflicting views on such questions”. As well as the conflict inherent in trying to co-ordinate a diverse society, trying to scientifically organise a society towards some end runs into the economic inconvenience that “far from being appropriate only to comparatively simple conditions, it is the very complexity of the division of labour under modern conditions which makes competition the only means by which such co-ordination can be adequately brought about”. Both Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson and Callahan’s Economics for Real People show that trying to make centrally co-ordinated economic decisions inevitably lead to failure and waste, as no central planner can have access to, or process, enough information to make an informed choice.
Hayek emphasises the distinction between the Rule of Law (in Bastiat’s sense of “law” - justice) and arbitrary law. In the former, “the government confines itself to fixing rules determining the conditions under which the available resources may be used”; in the latter “the government directs the use of the means of production to particular ends”. While it might be done in the name of “fairness”, “one could write a history of the decline of the Rule of Law … in terms of the progressive introduction of vague formulae into legislation”. Outright economic arbitrariness appears to have fallen out of favour, structural manipulation (eg central banks setting interest rates and buying government bonds) having taken its place; although we do still have redistributive policies via the EU. The most popular form of arbitrary law at the moment is probably anti-terror legislation.
That anti-terrorism is the fracture being used to wedge in arbitrary law today is not surprising according to Hayek. “It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative programme, on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off, than on any positive task”. Collectivism tends towards nationalism (to gain support) and to support a particular group (conflict would destroy it otherwise). To these ends, it must exclude or suppress intelligent opposition, and use the principle of negativity to rally the rest around its cause. No complex society can agree on all the issues towards one common goal, so large-scale central planning must be done by force. Hayek uses this explains the inevitability that “the worst get on top”, despite even the best intentions of the initial idealistic socialists.
In the UK today, we don’t see such a strong trend towards socialism that Hayek saw in the middle of the last century. But The Road to Serfdom is valuable even without imminent totalitarianism, as he explains step-by-step the various economic and political decisions, and the corresponding political and economic consequences. Maybe we won’t see National-Socialism again in its archetypal form. If not, I suspect it may be even more important to read this book sooner rather than later, as we may see the world play out in a more subtly oppressive way: most of the causality Hayek describes is quite timeless. ...more
Economics for Real People is the densest and most detailed of the economics books here. But like What Has Government Done to Our Money? it’s written with such clarity that it’s accessible to anyone with the patience to read it.
Rather than derive economics from a Robinson Crusoe environment, Callahan uses a more contemporary metaphor:
In our alternative universe, Rich is still the winner [of the first series of Survivor], but as the film crew packs up, they decide that they are fed up with his antics. Instead of transporting him home, they quietly slip off while Rich is getting in a last session of nude sunbathing.
Rich arises to find that he is alone. He is now facing the most elementary human problem, how to survive, in the most basic of settings. What can economics say about his situation?
Callahan takes his definition of economics from Ludwig von Mises: “Economics … is the theory of human action. Human action is purposeful behaviour. Or we may say: Action is will put into operation and transformed into an agency, is aiming at ends and goals”. Where the Austrian school’s definition of economics differs from the popular conception is that it has no basis in money (money is explained as emerging at a later point). If you have a sense of dissatisfaction, say you are “disturbed by a buzzing sound”, and you can determine a cause in your control, say “you look around … and see a mosquito”. You now “have to make a choice. Being rid of the mosquito would be grand, sure - but you’ll have to get up. And that’s a bummer. The benefit you expect to receive from being rid of the mosquito comes at the cost of getting up”. Human preference is subjective. “We take the thoughts and plans of humans as an ultimate given, and begin our investigation there.”
An astonishing number of concepts are introduced before even a second person appears on the island: economisation of means, preference, utility, marginal units (one extra bucket of water), the law of diminishing marginal utility, error and regret, consumer goods, capital goods, capital stock, complementary goods, time preference. All of which might sound overwhelming, but is actually told effortlessly in the story of Rich choosing to invest his time in making barrels (to collect water) and traps (to trap rats, which is the primary local food supply), all while deciding at which point he’d like to go back and sit in his hammock.
An economic community forms when Callahan introduces a second person to the island: Helena Bonham-Carter.
What does Rich decide to do? One possibility is that Rich might react like a bear does, [and] try to drive the intruder away. Now, he might refrain from doing so due to moral constraints or benevolent feelings. But there is another reason for him not to drive Helena off - as long as there are sufficient unused resources on the island, it will materially benefit both of them to co-operate rather than fight. They can initiate the vastly enriching process of the division of labour and voluntary exchange.
In Callahan’s version of this post-Survivor scenario, “Rich, the more dexterous of the two, will make traps, while Helena, the more cunning, will do the hunting”. From here we are taught the way direct exchange plays out, in terms of each of their subjective preferences for rats and traps. As more people join the island, we see goats and corn introduced, and a market start to form. But, notably, there is still no money on the island.
As the economy in “Richland” grows more complex we see the difficulty in economic calculation, and finally money emerge, but as the most marketable medium of exchange. No special status is granted to money, it’s merely an economic good that meets certain criteria, and is subject to the same supply and demand rules as any other.
It’s in this careful, step-by-step way that Gene Callahan works through a broad range of other economic topics, including: fluctuations in money supply, socialism, government interference, business cycles, externalities (for example pollution, which is connected to tragedy-of-the-commons situations), and a brief summary of political economics. With a couple of minor exceptions, everything is as clear and grounded as the foundations in chapter 1.
This was by far the most enlightening book in the list to me, although it took correspondingly the most investment in time. ...more
I have mixed feelings about this. There's some interesting psychology that explains the sales and marketing process, but it's not especially detailed.I have mixed feelings about this. There's some interesting psychology that explains the sales and marketing process, but it's not especially detailed. Also the examples are variable - some I really bought into and will definitely try to replicate, others felt very tenuous.
I'm torn between whether this is the best book I've ever read, or the second. It's in contention with The Goal, also by Eli Goldratt.
The Goal introducI'm torn between whether this is the best book I've ever read, or the second. It's in contention with The Goal, also by Eli Goldratt.
The Goal introduces the concept of the Theory of Constraints by starting in a factory and identifying a manufacturing bottleneck. Towards the end, it talks about the idea that the thing constraining a business may not be physical, but mental - an idea or policy. The Goal's key idea is a process of ongoing improvement, targeted at whatever the current constraint is.
The Choice adds a whole new dimension by taking the essence of The Goal (focussing on the constraint) and It's Not Luck (thinking in cause-and-effect) and explains in simple terms how to apply it to, no less, the problem of having a "full, meaningful life". To do this, Goldratt claims - we must have enough successes, which depend on our stamina to overcome setbacks, our ability to create opportunities, and our ability to collaborate with people.
Goldratt's argument is that to achieve these steps to a full life, we must be able to think clearly. But, we are blocked from thinking clearly by four obstacles:
• We see reality as complex, rather than (as Newton showed) a thing of Inherent Simplicity • We accept conflicts as a given, rather than seeking to remove them • We blame, rather than assuming goodness and looking for explanations of other people's behaviour • We think "we know", rather than challenging our assumptions and looking for breakthrough ways to change a situation
The book is written as a dialogue between Goldratt and his daughter Efrat. The real win from that is that as the conversation progresses, Goldratt removes one-by-one the barriers that stop Efrat believing that anyone can learn to think clearly. The end result is a few simple steps that anyone can practise.
I've used Theory of Constraints tools to tackle big- and medium-sized problems before. But I've come away from The Choice enthused to practise day by day, hour by hour. It's an enlightening and inspirational guide to "thinking clearly"....more
I'm a software developer and most of the stuff I work on is web-related. But I've done primarily server-side work, and I've been put off doing more clI'm a software developer and most of the stuff I work on is web-related. But I've done primarily server-side work, and I've been put off doing more client-side development due to the poor programming model in web browsers. As The Register once put it, In Web 2.0, we are able to create a Rich Internet Application, and give the user the experience he deserves. Careful observers may notice, however, that the programming model has lost some of its former coherence. I read this book in the hope it would convince me the browser is ready for prime time development, or at least close enough that it's now worth investing significant time to learn about.
For my purposes, then, Introducing HTML5 has been a worthwhile read. It covers not only HTML5 (new, semantic, markup, forms, audio and video, data storage, offline support, canvas etc), but also some related technologies, such as CSS3, SVG, geolocation, web workers and web sockets. Actually I'm still a little hazy on what's inside the HTML5 spec and what's out - it is described, but the book is basically a summary of the important bits of HTML5 plus a few related (new, trendy) technologies.
The authors specifically state that the book is not complete, but it does contain a wealth of advice from practical experience using HTML5 technologies. I read the second edition, which is up-to-date as of some time 2011, but it's notable that they talk about Chrome 12, when I'm writing this review in Chrome 16 already.
The book has quite a lot of code snippets, but it's not a programming manual. Other reviewers have complained about the amount of code. If all you know is HTML markup and CSS, the code may frequently be useless to you. On the other hand, this book doesn't feel like a suitably detailed reference for heavy development.
After I'd read this I came away with the feeling I'd read the world's longest introductory HTML5 blog post. And that's it's strength and weakness. If you'd like an easy to read, whirlwind tour of (almost) the latest web technologies and their associated gotchas, this book is great. If you need more detailed, rigorous documentation, this is not the book you are looking for. For me, it answered my question: HTML5 is not ready for prime time, but it is close enough I should start learning more right away....more
This book literally changed the way I see the world.
This is the way I introduce this book to see if anyone is listening out for metaphors. Lakoff's arThis book literally changed the way I see the world.
This is the way I introduce this book to see if anyone is listening out for metaphors. Lakoff's argument is that metaphor is not a superficial aspect of (poetic or flowery) language, but it is actually the basis of how we think.
It's quite easy to demonstrate how much language is metaphor. In this sentence alone, for example, I can convey two metaphors: that sentences are containers, and that meanings are objects that can be transported. For how can anything be "in" a sentence, never mind "conveyed" by it? But metaphors like these are so common, we usually hear them literally.
Most metaphors reduce to some physical basis. "Prices are rising" is based on more is up, because more of physical objects produces a higher pile. And '"Prices are rising" is based on more is up' is based on the architectural metaphor that ideas are constructed, and can have foundations. The strength (to extend the architectural metaphor) of Lakoff's arguments comes from the consistency with which they explain our language.
More complex metaphors can be astonishingly extensive: if arguing is war, then an argument has a winner and a loser, positions of strength, attack and retreat, and is even fought over a metaphorical territory. But some concepts are not fully expressed with a single metaphor: love may be war sometimes (we speak of conquests), but at other times it's a journey (when a couple goes their separate ways). The nature of metaphors to selectively highlight and conceal allows the people who choose the metaphor to determine the way others conceive of a situation. Watching for metaphors in newspapers shows the significance of this.
Amongst the most profound points is that even our notion of truth relies on metaphor. "The iPhone 4S is a hot seller" is something most people could determine (or debate) the truth of, and yet - to my knowledge - no new iPhones have been sold with exploding incendiary batteries. Even "chair is in front of the wall" needs metaphorical explanation, as walls don't have a front or back until we project one onto them.
The best way to decide if you would enjoy this book is to do this: read something, or listen to someone talk for a few minutes, and pick out everything that has a literal (often physical) interpretation that makes no sense directly, but which is coherent when interpreted metaphorically. If you notice that you often only get three words into a sentence before hitting a metaphor, and wonder what the implications of such extensive use of metaphor are, you need to read this book. You could even practise on this review, so you don't even have to turn the (metaphorical) page....more
Economics in One Lesson is a book with a very simple premise. It’s divided mainly into three parts - Part 1: The Lesson, Part 2: The Lesson Applied and Part 3: The Lesson After 30 Years (the last of which I will skip). Part 1: The Lesson consists of just one chapter, The Lesson, which is only five pages long, and explains that the lesson itself can be reduced to a single lone sentence:
The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.
While he never refers to it as such (in general, the Austrian economists don’t), Hazlitt is effectively describing economics as a systems thinking problem.
Hazlitt argues that “nine-tenths of the economic fallacies that are working such dreadful harm in the world today are the result of ignoring this lesson”, and goes on to demonstrate the effects in Part 2: The Lesson Applied, with 24 chapters each exposing a form of incorrect economic reasoning. I’ll pick three as examples, based purely on ones I notice myself most often. These summaries are not complete, so if you suspect they are incorrect I recommend reading the original chapters first (they are all quite short).
The Broken Window fallacy is the belief that if, say, a vandal throws a brick through a shop window, the work generated for the glazier to replace it is an economic stimulus. The logic is that by the shopkeeper giving the glazier, say, $250 for the window, the glazier has extra money to spend with merchants of his choosing, who will in turn spend that money with others. The reasoning is flawed because what is ignored is that the shopkeeper wanted, say, to spend that $250 on a suit, which he must now forgo. So rather than having a window and a suit, the shopkeeper now has only a window, and the world is a poorer place. The tailor is overlooked in the original analysis simply because he never enters the scene. While this is a simple example, the same argument applies to damage from civil unrest (I saw it myself on Twitter regarding the UK riots in August 2011), revolutions, and even world wars. There is no net economic benefit in rebuilding what was prematurely destroyed during a war.
The desire to Save the X Industry arises when members of industry X lobby the government to protect it, by tariffs, subsidies, price guarantees or similar. It’s argued that without saving the X industry (we’ve seen it happen in agriculture, manufacturing, banking and others), that industry will provide jobs, and the money it generates will be spent elsewhere, on the machinery it needs, and by its employees with butchers, bakers and other consumer merchants. To take the most direct solution as an example - subsidy - it could be argued that taxation used to subsidise this essential industry will redirect money for greater overall benefit. But every consumer taxed to pay for this now has less money to spend in other elsewhere, in industries that lose out. And, as demonstrated by the fact that industry X needs support, money is being diverted from more efficient businesses to prop up the failing ones. This means the productivity of the society is now lower, and overall everyone has lost out.
As a final example, Minimum Wage Laws initially appear to benefit workers, who will now receive a higher wage and be able to increase their standard of living. Hazlitt argues that wages are prices no different than any other (like the prices of oil, wheat or gold), but that our thinking about them have become emotionally clouded. Making it illegal for someone to charge less that a certain amount for their time does not automatically make them worth more. Businesses affected by minimum wage have to either charge more or reduce their margins. If they charge more, customers may buy less of the product, or switch to alternatives. By reducing the profit on products, marginal producers in the industry will be thrown out of business, which deprives consumers of the products they previously enjoyed. There is no guarantee that workers made unemployed by minimum wage laws will be sufficiently productive in other industries to justify paying them the minimum legal amount. All roads lead to lower productivity and higher unemployment overall.
Economics in One Lesson explains many more points, and does so in a very concise, readable way. While the topics are connected, each chapter is a short, largely self-contained application of “the lesson”. It’s very straightforward to read, and gives you powerful toolset to analyse the changes in government policy discussed in the news. I highly recommend it if you’re skeptical of the consistency of economic arguments put forward by politicians in the news. ...more
Murry Rothbard’s short text is a three-part book that explains first, what money is; second, how governments have meddled with it; and third, the history of the breakdown of money.
Money is introduced as coming naturally from exchange.
Clearly Robinson Crusoe had no need for money. He could not have eaten gold coins. Neither would Crusoe and Friday, perhaps exchanging fish for lumber, need to bother about money.
Initially people traded with barter, but this is hampered by finding people willing to exchange at the right time. Eventually someone will realise they can trade their own goods for something more desirable to the person owning what they want, and complete a trade by indirect exchange. Over time, some goods become more useful than others for indirect exchange, and eventually one a society will settle on one or two most exchangeable goods as money. People “buy” money when they exchange their goods for money, and “sell” their money when they exchange it for goods. Rothbard’s explanation of this and a few other related ideas is piercingly clear and concise.
The story of how Governments have meddled with money is equally intriguing and shocking (even if you are not new to the story). Rothbard starts with the nature of governments:
Governments, in contrast to all other organisations, do not obtain their revenue as payment for their services. … In a barter economy, government officials can only expropriate resources in one way: by seizing goods in kind. In a monetary economy, they will find it easier to seize monetary assets, and then use the money to acquire goods and services for the government. Taxation, however, is often unpopular. … The emergence of money, while a boon to the human race, also opened a more subtle route for governmental expropriation of resources … counterfeiting.
We now imagine that an economy has 10,000 gold coins, and that a counterfeiter can introduce 2,000 more, undetected. The early holders of this new money will be at an advantage: they can buy goods at the old prices. But this spending bids prices up, and people last to receive the new money will find that prices have been going up long before their income. “Whenever the newly issued money is used as loans to business, inflation causes the dread ‘business cycle’”. (This asymmetry of the effects of inflation is also discussed in Economics in One Lesson and Economics for Real People.)
Initially, governments monopolised the minting process, taking the right to produce coins from the previously free economy. Governments chose the denominations, not the people, and they named them so as to disassociate them from the underlying weight of metal: marks, francs, dollars etc, instead of grams or grains. This paved the way for debasement. The Saracens of Spain had a coin, the dinar, the which in the mid-twelfth century contained 65 gold grains. The Christian kings conquered Spain, and by the early thirteenth century the coin, now called the maravedi, had only 14 grains. Soon it was too light to circulate, and was replaced by a coin containing 26 silver grains. This was in turn debased, and by the mid-fifteenth century contained only 1.5 silver grains, again too small to circulate.
Governments learnt another trick: legal tender. By defining what money could be, rather than leaving it open to the market, governments gave themselves the power to define the poorest form of money as legal tender. For example, worn coins can be defined as good as new ones. The real power of this came with the introduction of paper money, when the metal backing each unit of currency could be gradually decreased. People redeeming gold still threatened the extent of this inflation, because banks that over-printed paper money would eventually lose their gold as suspicious depositors withdrew it. This inconvenience was resolved with central banking. Giving a false confidence in the backing of the banking system and centralising (co-ordinating) control of the money supply allows the banking system to almost inflate at will.
What Has Government Done To Our Money? is the shortest of the economics books in this list. It’s focused more on money that general economics, but the stories it tells should encourage you to pick up some of the longer ones if you want more details. If you think you may have an interest in the broader economic issues but want a short taster, this is a good place to start. If you’re relatively new to concepts such as fractional reserve banking (the current situation, where the banking system is inherently insolvent) and fiat currency (as opposed to a free money market), this book is an essential read. I especially recommend it if you’re angered by the constant banking bailouts: the act debasing our money by turning on the printing press and throwing the inflated supply at what Hazlitt shows is inevitably the least efficient businesses. ...more