For all the descriptive detail of the individuals involved and the setting, the action part of the story was somewhat disappointing. Like many "battle...moreFor all the descriptive detail of the individuals involved and the setting, the action part of the story was somewhat disappointing. Like many "battles," the shooting was over almost as soon as it started.(less)
I've read Steven Johnson, Virginia Postrel and Matt Ridley in the past week. Johnson has some of the best stories, but the weakest book. As I read Fut...moreI've read Steven Johnson, Virginia Postrel and Matt Ridley in the past week. Johnson has some of the best stories, but the weakest book. As I read Future Perfect, I realized why I thought he was the weakest of the three.
The reason is simple: Postrel and Ridley have a social theory that is not just "it's getting better," but is rooted in economics and political philosophy. As a result, he is all over the place when it comes to policy issues. In particular, he repeats here some of the arguments you'll find in Where Good Things Come From. Essentially, no good thing comes without support from the public sector. Postrel and Ridley get how ideas, private action, and innovation work; Johnson just has stories.(less)
I expected to resist the opening counterfactual: that Lincoln survived his assassination attempt. But one was swept immediately into the story and I q...moreI expected to resist the opening counterfactual: that Lincoln survived his assassination attempt. But one was swept immediately into the story and I quickly forgot the counterfactual and simply enjoyed the story. Indeed, keeping Lincoln in the story allowed me to learn a lot about the forces and interests swirling around him and his successors. It made sense that Andrew Johnson was impeached. (less)
I've written a short review for CHOICE. Here I'll make some more specific comments.
I expected, from comments I've read, a very poor argument for a wis...moreI've written a short review for CHOICE. Here I'll make some more specific comments.
I expected, from comments I've read, a very poor argument for a wishy-washy romantic argument about the end of scarcity. Robert Skidelsky is the biographer of J. Maynard Keynes, who famously thought that the prospects for his grandchildren would be a world without scarcity. (Just this morning I realized that Frank Knight made a quite similar argument in the final chapter of The Economic Organization.) While there is some of that here, the Skidelskys are focused more on the argument for why we should become less consumption focused than they are on some version of the end of scarcity.
Unfortunately, they are more concerned about mustering as many different arguments for the reduction of consumption than they are in providing a single consistent approach. In part, this results from their demand for, but lack of, a clear basis for why reducing consumption is part of human flourishing. As well, because they assume that rich nations have reached the point at which consumption could be reduced, they do not provide a lot of help for those who are increasing consumption elsewhere in the world. To their credit, they don't argue that others should not pursue what the West has gained, but they don't go too are toward any creditable arguments that would help those in the rest of the world to know what to do.
There is a nice chapter on the problems with the literature on happiness. Deirdre McCloskey's arguments are better, but the Skidelsky's have the general arguments down. For McCloskey, see Happyness in The New Republic.
After all the rhetoric, however, they get down to basics in the last several chapters. Their seven elements of a good life (basic goods) are: health, security, respect, personality (what they mean here is probably Kantian autonomy), harmony with nature, friendship, and leisure (by which they mean doing something for its own sake). The policies designed to provide these basic goods would be (surprise, surprise: not so radical as you thought, are they!): a basic income, an expenditure tax base rather than an income tax base, and constraints on advertising. As well, they expect we need to draw back from further globalization; economic integration, they argue, only contributes to human flourishing when the playing field is level.
On basic incomes, they are more inclined to support demographic capital endowments rather than a guaranteed annual income. There argument for expenditure-based taxes is straightforward Kaldor, which is hardly surprising! The one place they seem to verge into romanticizing policy is in constraints on advertising. About the most they can promote is bunching ads so people can avoid them, and disallowing advertising as a tax-deductible expense.
So on the whole, the book could be used as a good starting point for a conversation about economics and ethics. Those inclined to refer to Catholic social teaching could use the book as a conversation starter, because they make frequent reference to the social encyclicals. In general, I'm dissatisfied with the arguments which support their conclusions, but could also support basic incomes (with no additions for specific groups) and expenditure based taxes (preferably flat rate).
But one could do much better, especially by reading McCloskey's Bourgeois Virtues!(less)
Enjoyed this history of Soviet idea of a centrally planned economy. Blend of history and fiction (not really historical fiction, but fictionalized his...moreEnjoyed this history of Soviet idea of a centrally planned economy. Blend of history and fiction (not really historical fiction, but fictionalized history).(less)
Volf provides a tour of Christian social ethics that walks a middle path among the various schools of thought. While brief and written in a plain, alm...moreVolf provides a tour of Christian social ethics that walks a middle path among the various schools of thought. While brief and written in a plain, almost casual style, there is much here to mull over. His basic message is captured in the "Two Noes and One Yes" section on pp. 93-97. After arguing that the way Christians confront society is via their personal difference from the mainstream of society (the Christian is always different than a culture without being completely separate from it), he says:
a) Christians will not be able to transform the whole culture of which they are a part because they cannot get "outside" of the culture which raised them; however, b) Christians should not simply accommodate themselves to the surrounding culture; they have a unique identity to embrace and celebrate; and c) therefore, Christians must engage their society as prophets of what human flourishing can look like.
I concur, but can't help leaving Volf's book with commenting on his almost total disregard for political economy. Like most social ethicists (yes, this is a broad claim, but my long experience of reading this literature would make the claim defendable), he is not sure what to make of our participation in the economic realm and in defense/criticism of the features of society which encourage human flourishing. For him, it all seems to happen in local communities. Perhaps, but more is required!
Two aspects of the book which do touch on economic subjects are the section on vocation and work (pp. 32-36) and the section on creation (pp. 43-46). The former is the only section which explicitly incorporates the relevance of his ideas for economic life, and it is pretty consistent with standard treatments of vocation and personal responsibility. The latter section is written in the context of a discussion of the use of violence, but includes the striking sentence: "Creation, then, is not a coercive act" (p. 45). Here is a central piece for a theology of innovation. Innovation, which emerges from our co-creation with God (he treats co-creation in this same section), is not a process which gives some power over others, but which creates possibilities for new ways for humans to flourish. I wish he had done more with the theme of creation in the book.(less)