This book is grumpy about government (in Canada) but it is not wrong. The book to me suffers from a nostalgia for a golden age of government. There seeThis book is grumpy about government (in Canada) but it is not wrong. The book to me suffers from a nostalgia for a golden age of government. There seems to have been a time when the public sector was effective on all fronts, or at least more effective than it is at present. The book also focuses on the federal level in Canada. This means that it leaves out, for the most part, the public services delivered at the provincial and local levels: health care, education, most of the social safety net, local and regional transportation, safety and environmental protection. The approach taken is one of historical narrative and case studies. That's okay but I'm a bit drawn to traditional 'public finance' and the lessons economists have tried to sort out over the decades about 'what government is good at'. There is value in making absolute comparisons of government performance in different periods. But there is also value in looking at the comparative advantage of the public sector in providing service (or not providing service) in different fields relative to the private sector. That's not the question Savoie set out to address, but I was expecting it, and the gap disappointed. There is a lot to like in the book. His account of the rising role of the courts in setting public policy and giving direction to government, based on the judicial fashions of the day are spot on. His account of the tendency of bureaucracy to expand and of the growing role of public sector unions are valuable. And the primary lesson is the role of government from the centre: the overriding role of the Prime Minister and his ''courtiers', especially the PMO. The public service, it seems, has been neutered. It doesn't think for itself about the long-term public interest and the challenges to be faced. Instead it focuses on meeting the demands of the PM and keeping all other aspects of the delivery of government 'on the rails'. The book is also weighted towards anecdotes and news stories, and away from data. One topic where this raised doubts for me was his account of the deterioration of regulation. Terrible events like the Megantic train explosion are used to show how regulation has become weaker as governments have cut corners and purported to reduce the burden of regulations by adopting risk-based regulation, a concept that Savoie seems to view as a euphemism. But in rail (and all other industries that have seen this evolution, is there evidence to show that accidents per mile of traffic (or metrics of that sort) have risen. I'm inclined to doubt it, but the book doesn't provide the data one way or the other, just descriptions of the failures and the message that standards have slipped....more
Quick thoughts. I enjoyed this semi-comic (I think) dystopian story of the collapse of the USA in the very near future, told from the perspective of oQuick thoughts. I enjoyed this semi-comic (I think) dystopian story of the collapse of the USA in the very near future, told from the perspective of one extended family the Mandibles of the title. It's hard for me not to like a story that features an economist as one of the main comic foils. I was left a bit puzzled. I guess I expect dystopia tales to come with a moral lesson. I couldn't readily spot one here and maybe that's not a bad thing. The collapse seems to come about from the sheer weight of US excesses. The trigger event is a bit weird and perhaps not entirely plausible. The rest of the world apparently decides not to accept the US dollar as a medium of exchange or a unit of account. This leads to a unilateral default and the US becomes increasingly isolated from the world, an increasingly poor autarchy. The US Government responds by confiscating most of the liquid wealth of its own citizens.... And much merriment ensues......more
As the title makes clear, this is an ambitious book. The author develops a sequence of models to see if he can explain why European nations gained a dAs the title makes clear, this is an ambitious book. The author develops a sequence of models to see if he can explain why European nations gained a decisive edge that enabled them to conquer the rest of the world (rather than the other way around). Not to do justice to the analysis but he develops a tournament model in which sovereigns regularly pit their resources in battle with their neighbors in tournaments. The technology of war (the gunpowder technology) advances through learning-by-doing, at least until the 19th century when research and development becomes more important. Hoffman discusses the historical evidence and concludes that the conditions for (nearly) continuous rounds of tournaments existed in western Europe but not elsewhere. With the leg up of more advanced military technology and the incentive of short-run gains from conquest, Europeans were able to dominate the globe (temporarily) I enjoyed this work. It's well written with the maths (not too elaborate) confined to the appendices....more
I have very mixed feelings about this book. I learned a lot but feel I need to take what I've learned with a grain of salt. The book is very readable.I have very mixed feelings about this book. I learned a lot but feel I need to take what I've learned with a grain of salt. The book is very readable. I wouldn't have minded it being a bit duller. It is anecdote heavy, which is its strength and maybe also its weakness. Not knowing in advance very much about Eritrea I would have liked a little more conventional demographics-economics to provide some context for the stories. The author talks a lot about True Believers, westerners who adopt and idolize a particular guerrilla group or African leader. She acknowledges that she barely escaped being a True Believer wrt Eritrea herself; I'm not so sure that she did. She's enamored I think by the EPLF of the long struggle, saddened by the way things have turned out. I would like to have known a little more of the wicked Unionists mentioned in the text dismissively. Who were they and whatever happened to them? But that would have been dull stuff compared to a chapter on the misbehaviour of GIs posted to Ethiopia....more
A satisfying read. Partly a thriller, partly a romance, partly a look-back at the social norms of England, circa 1960, and, noted in the text, a bit liA satisfying read. Partly a thriller, partly a romance, partly a look-back at the social norms of England, circa 1960, and, noted in the text, a bit like the old fashioned stories in which wise children solved the mysteries and sorted out the problems. Highly recommended....more
I picked up this book by accident and enjoyed it, probably because I am an A though X Grafton fan.
I read it back to front, starting with the stories aI picked up this book by accident and enjoyed it, probably because I am an A though X Grafton fan.
I read it back to front, starting with the stories at the end which I take to autobiographical, more or less. They made me sad. Perhaps a lot about the characters was invented but I was left with a feeling that Grafton came through a tough upbringing, raised by two alcoholics, probably neglected rather than abused, and not someone to don the cloak of victimhood.
At the front end are what I take to be early Kinsey Milhone short stories. They were moderately enjoyable but the full length novels and the proper format for this great series. There's a lot of fun background and duelling storylines and not necessarily relevant to the main mystery dynamic going on with Kinsey and a full length novel is needed to let those entertaining themes play out. ...more
Retired Rebus and semi-retired Cafferty meet again after someone takes a shot at 'Big Ger'. Personal drama; contemporary social issues; great pointersRetired Rebus and semi-retired Cafferty meet again after someone takes a shot at 'Big Ger'. Personal drama; contemporary social issues; great pointers to Scottish pop music of the '70s and 80s; good malt; bad habits; vicious villains; and a challenge for subsequent volumes: will Rebus keep a dog? Not the greatest of the series, but always a pleasure to read....more
I thought this was a terrific short book that I will recommend both to my non-economist friends and to those of us who work as economists outside acadI thought this was a terrific short book that I will recommend both to my non-economist friends and to those of us who work as economists outside academia. Economics continues to evolve. Rodrik argues we should understand economics as a (growing) collection of models rather than models that evolve through scientific evolution when new models supplant old and old models are discarded when they can't stand up to the data. Economists should and in the best case do, try to select models than best help analyze specific problems in specific contexts. There's lots of excellent descriptions of recent developments in economics as well as a solid examination of both the external and internal criticisms of economics. Many of these are marked down to misunderstandings. I'm not sure why I don't give it five stars. Perhaps because it covers ground that I find pretty familiar (i.e. not much truly new to the engaged practitioners) though that ground is described very well.....more
In 2016 everyone knows about this book. I wonder what they'll think in 2016. I don't know the answer to that. I enjoyed it, overall, though the sheer vIn 2016 everyone knows about this book. I wonder what they'll think in 2016. I don't know the answer to that. I enjoyed it, overall, though the sheer volume made it hard work. I can understand why many would decide to shelve it unfinished. There were large parts that could well have be stroked out by an editor. It is a thriller packaged up as a performance art project. The writing is smooth and entertaining for the most part. The story unfolds from from a multitude of the characters' voices, folks from different classes and races who find themselves connected in a mysterious web: Money, power, protest, music, love and lust. Well, they don't always get to discover the connection, but we, the readers, do, if we persevere Dark forces, apparently the evil side of the US government-intelligence machine, lurk below the surface. These rarely rise above the hint of conspiracy....more
This is a very readable and interesting book. It draws on a lot of important strands of contemporary literature, of the interface between social scienThis is a very readable and interesting book. It draws on a lot of important strands of contemporary literature, of the interface between social science and neuroscience that has made it into the public domain so that the likes of me can have access to it. It incorporates builds on works such as Thinking Fast and Slow and Nudge. At heart it is an argument for restoring the primacy of rational thinking and debate in politics. Heath thinks that the world has become crazier (though he hedges his bets it seems, noting that we've always been pretty crazy in many respects). Rational thinking is hard; instinctual reactions or their close cousin, 'common sense' responses are easy. We revert to our primitive responses unless we work at it. We are easy to manipulate, so the more rational and calculating prey on us with sneaky and manipulative nudges. Those forces have become more and more powerful. Furthermore, they tend to be more effectively employed by the Right and by greedy corporations. The progressive or left is both less adept at these manipulations and somehow simply averse to them. There is a rational (and evil) conservative block as well as an irrational conservative blocs (Donald Trump I suppose, though Reagan, the Bushes, Mike Harris probably fit the mold as well). The left or progressives also has its irrational 'if it feels good do it' block, but it seems that Heath sees the left as the natural home for rational people. He does give due attention to the conservative tradition that recognizes that social and political structures built up over time have survived due to their strengths and because they provide solutions, though perhaps not perfect ones, to the governance of real places (nations). I was irked by the left-right dichotomy that Heath employs. Isn't there a place for the centre, where I think most of us are, one way or another? Perhaps I'm oversensitive, but I feel that the idea that caring about others and wanting to make the world a better place is the property of leftists is just plain wrong. The market or the role of markets is treated oddly in this book; sometimes warmly; sometimes as a field for manipulation. Heath, of course, distances himself from the past triumphs of the left, of scientific socialism in the USSR, for example, but he does implicitly hint that its an ideal. Towards the end he writes: "It [the market] is actually just an indirect way of achieving the optimal production and allocation of resources that socialist planners have always dreamed of." There is probably some justification for this in the formal models of welfare economics but in actual practice within economics that's really a framework enabling the analysis of the many forms of 'market failure' that arise everywhere you look. Worth reading....more