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20160130 Doomed to Succeed

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The main idea is to demonstrate, using historical narrative, that despite consistent treatment of Israel by every administration as nuisance that prevents better relations with resources and population rich Muslim world, US-Israel relations somehow tend to be good and close due either to large number of Jews among politically active Americans, or geopolitical expediency during Cold War, or some other unpredictable benefits to America from these relations. Another significant consideration is that in reality Arab kings and dictators most of all concerned with their own survival and ready cooperate with everybody including Israel and devil if this is what needed to assure it. This survival concern actually invalidates all traditional concerns of American elite about Arab’s being less inclined to cooperate with USA if America maintain close relations with Israel. This issue just is not that relevant for their main concern.


L The Evolution of U.S. Policy Toward Israel

This chapter is about Truman and his administration attitude to Middle East. Generally it was combination of sympathy with hostility typical for all future attitudes. On one hand Truman felt for Jews so much that he extended recognition to Israel. However not so much that to sell them weapons to defend themselves, keeping embargo and even threatening to forbid individual Americans to provide supplies to Israel at their own expense. Even so, it was too much for the State department that was strongly against formal recognition, leave alone any help. Israel was saved by Stalin’s order to Czechoslovakia to supply weapons. It seems to be that at this point only Cold war consideration of allowing Israel to become Stalin’s outpost on Middle East somewhat cooled anti-Semitism of American diplomatic and national security elite.

  1. The Eisenhower Administration and the Pursuit of Arab Allies

With the threat of pushing Israel into Soviet camp left behind, Eisenhower administration moved strongly to Arab side interfering on behalf Egypt when British, French, and Israel invaded Suez after canal’s nationalization. As usual Arabs paid with ingratitude by establishing close military and political relations with Soviet camp.

  1. The Kennedy Administration: Breaking Taboos and Pursuing a New Balance.

Despite generally continuing pro-Arab policies and even providing huge economic help to Egypt, Kennedy administration also extended links to Israel and even sold advanced weapons, albeit without much enthusiasm and trying to use these sales to stop Israel’s nuclear program. Overall Kennedy administration was much more attentive to American Jewish community because their support for Democratic Party was very important during election and seeing support of Israel as benefit to this community.

  1. Lyndon Baines Johnson: Emotional Ties but Constrained by Vietnam

Even more positive relations become during Johnson administration mainly because Johnson believed that Israel is an asset in Cold War games. However American support did not extended to such length as to enforce previous treaties and promises that Straits of Tiran remain open for Israel. Johnson administration also worked very hard to prevent Israel from attacking first at minimum delaying Israel action. However at this point Israel started to be more and more like an ally albeit not equal, poorly treated, but reliable because it had nowhere else to go.

  1. Nixon and Ford: Dysfunction, War, and Interim Agreements

As usual American administration started by trying to accommodate Arabs and as usual it failed. However logic of Cold War in which Arabs tended to support Soviets forced Nixon administration to support Israel. This support nevertheless was quite limited, so for example for the first days of 1973 war there was no American supplies to Israel for the first few day and only when it become clear that Israel could lose, US brought in massive shipments of weapons and ammunition dwarfing Soviet effort. As always this support was supplanted with strong pressure on Israel to agree to cease-fire when it start winning. However US responded strongly when Soviet Union threatened direct intervention, demonstrating once again that Israel survival is supported by US, while Israel’s winning not that much.

  1. The Carter Presidency: The Pursuit of Peace and Constant Tension with Israel

Carter’s administration was the most anti-Semitic until recently. Carter strongly supported Palestinians seemingly believing that their human rights include killing Jews and pushing them out of Arab lands. Carter even tried to sabotage Egypt-Israel separate peace by inserting Palestinian question in negation, but eventually he not only accepted it, but also was instrumental in achieving agreement. Somehow author links Carter’s attitude to his guilt for not participating in civil rights movement that he tried to suppress by supporting Palestinians, but it does not sound as something meaningful.

  1. The Reagan Administration and the Policy of Duality

Generally supportive to Israel Regan administration was as usual much more inclined to listen to Arab’s concerns legitimate or not than to Israel’s. Hence rebuke for attack against Iraqi nuclear program, rejection of Israel concerns about providing high tech military equipment to Saudis and such. It is an interesting fact that one of the strongest anti-Israel voices in administration was half-Jewish Weinberger. Overall Reagan administration managed to keep good relations with Arabs and support Israel security needs at the same time, the feat considered impossible by many within and without administration.

  1. George H. W. Bush and Israel: Discord and Responsiveness

Contrary to Reagan Bush had no good feelings to Israel and typically for American elite of his generation was slightly anti-Semitic with trace of contempt to these pushing Jews. It showed in his attitude to multiple Jewish issues especially during Gulf war when Bush applied pressure to prevent Israel retaliation against direct attacks by Saddam. It also was on display when Bush used loan guaranties for resettlement of Soviet Jews in Israel to put pressure to stop settlements. Author characterizes this period as “substance was good, the tone was difficult, and the readiness to disagree in public clear”.

  1. The Clinton Administration and Israel: Strategic Partners for Peace

The Clinton administration got deeply involved in Israel conflict with Arabs on the side of leftist peace movement, which was widely supported by leftist American Jews affiliated with Democratic Party. This resulted in Oslo agreement when terrorist PLO was recognized as legitimate player and received territory of West Bank and Gaza in exchange for feel good mainly meaningless declarations. The fact these declarations were meaningless was obvious from the beginning due to deep reluctance of PLO even to repeat these declaration in Arabic, leave alone to live up to them. Despite campaign of terror against Jews unleashed by PLO as soon as its leaders felt entrenched enough in newly acquired territories that lead to higher number of Jewish “victims of peace” than number of Jewish victims of all previous wars, Clinton administration and Israeli left kept pushing for final negotiated solution all the way until Arafat firmly rejected it at Camp David. The final political result of Clinton’s effort was practical destruction of Israeli peaceful left in polls from which they still did not recover 20 years later.

  1. Bush 41: Terror, Partnership, and Bureaucratic Divisions

Contrary to his father Bush junior, being evangelical, was much more sympathetic to Israel, which did not prevented his administration from knee jerk reaction to support Arab demands and consistently demand Israel to go extra ten miles in each negotiation. After 9/11 attack it even come to the point when blaming Israel for Arab terror generated forceful rebuke from Sharon, who stated that Israel would not accept fate of Czechoslovakia in 1938. This demonstrated that there is only so much that Israel would sacrifice for peace and it does not include national suicide. As usual when White House was somewhat more sympathetic to Israel it was compensated by increase in anti-Israel feelings and actions from the State department.

  1. Obama and Israel: Support for Security, Little Chemistry, and Constant


The final administration reviewed in the book – Obama’s is given all conceivable and some inconceivable benefits of doubt, but even if author was important part of this administration, he admits that friction with Israel were guaranteed by Obama’s priorities and attitudes that include deep sympathy to Muslim world and determination to free it from Western influence. Interestingly enough the author does not deny Obama’s sympathy, but claims that security cooperation was increased and quite significantly under Obama. Author also allocates lots of space to internal dynamics of pro and anti Israel struggle of factions within administration claiming that steadily deteriorating relations due mainly to change of advisers. Contrary to previous administrations White House under Obama and State Department traditionally populated by Muslim sympathizers are now clearly on the same page and work hand in glove to advance the agenda of suppressing and eventually eliminating Israel.

  1. Lessons from the Past and Implications for the Future

Author restates here his believes that whatever differences exist between USA and Israel, they will be dealt with in mutually accepted way and relations will remain strong as far as eye can see, especially after author’s expected rejection of Obama pro-Islamic approach by the next administration of either party. However author demonstrates that he is not that sure about this “doomed to succeed” thing by giving such recommendations as investing in education of American minorities about Israel, stressing non-partisan character of Israel related issues, and such. Paradoxically, it seems that at least some reason to expect improvement in US-Israel relations is turmoil at Middle East where different shades of Islamic supremacist movement continue savage war against each other, old-fashioned Middle East kingdoms, leftover secular dictatorships, and Western world. Within this bloody mess USA will have to keep its good relations with Israel because there is nobody else there with stable democratic system, civilized western oriented population, and military/intelligence capability to provide reliable support to American interests in the region.


This long history of American – Israel relations is pretty interesting and contains some new information that I was not familiar with before. Unfortunately nearly all of this information is pretty consistently indicates that these relations always were complex and difficult mainly because American politicians in power normally look at Israel as unwanted ally useful only due to some temporary reasons either internal or external with lots of negatives quite deleterious to this usefulness. I am not that optimistic about inevitability of success in these relations. With Muslim population in US growing, leftists including many American Jews becoming increasingly anti-Semitic, memory of Holocaust becoming more and more distant, and general tendency of humanity to blame Jews for everything, there is only one hope for Israel: to become so rich and technologically powerful that it could stand alone without support from outside either economic or political or military. Such support was historically provided by Soviets in 1948, France from 1950s until late 1960s, USA from 1970s until recently, but it seems to be no other place for similar support to come in the future. Certainly Israel is trying to prepare for abandonment by USA and works hard to establish strong relationship with China and India, but I would not bet on success in this endeavor. Therefore logically the achievement by Israel of ability to survive on its own is becoming paramount. The alternative to Israel’s survival self-sufficiency economically and military even against the whole world is annihilation. On other hand if survivability reliably achieved, Israel could be treated as equal partner if it can provide what others need. However I also have hope that not only USA, but the whole Western world will recognize that it has no choice but either fight and win its currently barely recognized war against movement for Islamic Supremacy or parish. I believe that eventually when presented with choice either convert to Islam, die, or fight seriously, the West will start fighting to win and winning would mean to bring Islamic world to civilization so Muslims would not only tolerate, but consider it normal and unremarkable that elsewhere in Muslim countries individuals will freely select what religion if any to belong to and Church or Hindu Temple or Atheist club or even synagogue would function in Mecca without any harassment whatsoever.

20160123 Good Profit

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This book is part biography, part managerial philosophy, and part case studies of applications of this philosophy. The key overriding feature of this philosophy is respect for other people and understanding that they always act in their own interest anyway, so after effective selection of people with values and abilities in sync with company needs, the best way to achieve good results is to give these people freedom to decide and act as they see fit, providing that overall results are good and inevitable mistakes done in good faith and are source of analysis and new knowledge. The last, but not least feature of this philosophy is to provide big incentive to act in the interests of company and unlink value of incentives from formal position of individual in the company hierarchy. Practically it is a very interesting approach to deburaucratisation of large-scale organization with resulting huge increase in productivity of business and well being of its participants either owners, employees, or customers.



INTRODUCTION: A Win-Win Philosophy: This chapter describes an essence of the Koch business philosophy, which implementation led to spectacular results. Koch calls it Market Based Management (MBM) and it includes five dimensions: Virtue, Vision and Talents, Knowledge Processes, Decision Rights, and Incentives.

CHAPTER 1: The Glorious Feeling of Accomplishment. Life Lessons from My Father: This is narrative of Koch’s father Fred live with an interesting reference of his experience in Soviet Union that made him live long anticommunist.

CHAPTER 2: Koch After Fred. Building with Stones That Fit: This is story of Koch’s taking business over from his father and initial experiences that help in his development of MBM business philosophy.

CHAPTER 3: Queens, Factory Girls, and Schumpeter. The Incredible (Sometimes Terrifying) Benefits of Creative Destruction: This chapter is a small deviation into general theory of economics mainly expressing Koch’s libertarian approach developed not only from his father’s stories, but also from serious reading and clear-eyed analysis of reality. Here is a nice graph Koch included demonstrating link between economic freedom and prosperity:

Koch 1

Important thing in this chapter is Koch’s story of being on the wrong side of “Creative destruction”, surviving it, and learning lessons from it.

CHAPTER 4: Overcoming Bureaucracy and Stagnation. Economic Concepts to Set You Free: This is another discussion of economic philosophy as foundation of MBM philosophy and brief story of its implementation at Koch Enterprises.

CHAPTER 5: Learning from Adversity. Koch’s Major Failures in Applying MBM: This chapter is unusual in its concentration on Koch failures during MBM implementation. While brief, it is very useful in understanding of this philosophy and challenges in encounters in real live.



In this part Koch goes into details of his 5 components of MBM using one chapter per each.

CHAPTER 6: Vision. Guide to an Unknown Future: Business vision should be driven by future consumption because it is the only reason and meaning for production. Since future consumption patterns are unknowable the success of business depends on its leaders ability to envision as close as possible what it could be, what will be future consumer needs, how they could profitably satisfied, and what investments should be made now to be able to do it. Since future consumption is defined by future needs of consumers, the vision should be concentrated on people not things. Another point is that vision should be based on business capability not industry trends. As elsewhere Koch provides specific examples of how they did it.

CHAPTER 7: Virtue and Talents. Values First: In this chapter Koch makes important point about selection of people. The key here is that integrity and values are more important that talent and credentials. He provides 10 guiding principals for such selection and looks in details at how they applied in practice.

CHAPTER 8: Knowledge Processes. Using information to Produce Results: Koch is clear about his understanding of business as knowledge based activity so he made the Knowledge process an important part of MBM. It includes clearly defined knowledge sharing processes, external networks building, spared use of consultants, and, most important, process of conversion information into results. For sales and pricing he provides a nice diagram, representing core of his analytical framework:

Koch 2

CHAPTER 9: Decision Rights. Property Rights Inside the Organization: This part of MBM is probably the most important and unusual because it represents an attempt to turn Koch’s employees into virtual business owners by assigning clear-cut resources, duties, decision-making authority, and responsibilities to individuals. The result is maximization of individual involvement and effort in achieving result. Obviously it also minimizes tragedy of commons within the company.

CHAPTER 10: Incentives. Motivating the Right Behavior: The final part of MBM has somewhat psychological foundation derived from ideas of Maslow. The point is to use company not only as source of income for employees, but create such strong opportunities for self-actualization within the company that participation in the company business would be a significant source of meaning of live for everybody. The most interesting part of this is how it is done at Koch Enterprises.


CHAPTER 11: Spontaneous Order in Action. Four Case Studies in Market-Based Management: This is review of 4 real live cases with detailed break down into 5 MBM dimensions.

CHAPTER 12: Conclusion. The Real Bottom Line:

The final chapter is about implementation of MBM, how to succeed in it and what mistakes to avoid.


I am not get excited that often, but it is an exciting book. It is so nice to see somebody clearly formulating business philosophy based on virtual individual ownership within big organization and, much more important, being capable actually implement it in real live with such spectacular results. It is no wonder that Koch incite such open hate in all leftists whose core believe is based on primacy of collective and suppression of individual. Their reason for being is based on idea of higher productivity of the top down command system led by the best and brightest where individuals at the lower levels of hierarchy are not that important, while individual at the bottom are outright expendable. I think that Koch’s demonstration of by far superior business result is much more important reason for this hate, than money Koch gives to libertarian causes. At this point in time despite being in his 80s Koch seems begin to understand that in attacks against him from leftists and their media he encounters not misunderstanding between people who all want prosperity for everybody, but have difference in opinion how achieve it. Quite contrary he and we all should understand that when dealing with leftists we deal with power crazy people whose motivation is to be among best and brightest on the top and enjoy all perks that these positions would bring in top down command and control hierarchical society. We are not in dispute about opinions, but in civil war, even if so far it is non-shooting war, mainly because American culture is still highly individualistic and even libertarian, making leftists relatively week. However if leftists able fully utilize their current dominance in education and mass media, then concentration camps and basements with bullet to head as it was in Soviet Union or Communist China would not be that far away.


20160116 The Great Escape

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Over the last several hundred years humanity achieved the great breakthrough in its ability to produce necessities for human live on continuously increasing scale and overcame previously deadly health and sanitary problems. There is potential setback for this development due to increasing inequality of income both within countries and between rich and poor countries. There is need to tackle both of these problems that author believes could be done by decreasing inequality and changing the way of how aid provided to developing world.



This book is about humanity’s escape from poverty and deprivation and author starts with movie analogy – escape from captivity in WWII and continue with his and his family story of escaping from poverty, diseases and early death, into contemporary affluence over just a few generations.

Introduction: What This Book Is About

Author’s stated intention is to look at what happened that allowed humanity escape from deprivation and how it is deeply connected to the growth in inequality. It is not only about money and resources, but also about health and general quality of live. A big part of discussion also involves consequences of inequality and general look at link between national income and national happiness.

  1. The Wellbeing of the World

Author begins the detailed analysis with relations between health and wealth and then looks at correlation between income and live expectancy in different countries. Generally both health and wealth improved in XX century, but with significant interruptions caused by World Wars and socialist experiments in Russia, China, and all over the world. At the end of chapter he looks at relationship between GDP per capita and population perception of happiness with happiness increasing until $3,200, then staying flat until about $15,000, after which it going quite dramatically up again.



  1. From Prehistory to 1945

This is review of historical change in mortality, health and live quality since prehistoric time with special stress on development in USA in XIX and the first half of XX centuries. It is best represented by the graph:

Escape 3


  1. Escaping Death in the Tropics

This chapter about mortality, its type and levels as related to income:

Escape 2


  1. Health in the Modern World

This is about health and live expectancy, again in relation to income. Here is an interesting graph for correlation between bio parameters such as height and income:




  1. Material Wellbeing in the United States

It is a review of economic development of USA, but main point is presented in graph of income inequality historical dependency on political events:

Escape 4

Author makes point that inequality outgrowing into plutocracy could choke economic development and consequently cause political instability.

6.Globalization and the Greatest Escape

Here author expands discussion from US to whole world. He notes that recent development allowed huge numbers of people around the world escape poverty and misery. However measurement of exact change is nearly impossible because of wide variety of human needs and demands dependent on culture, climate, and million other things. Correspondingly comparison of economic well being between countries is practically not possible for the same reasons. However, despite lack of reliable measurement, author pretty sure that global income inequality if growing and it creates tension between developed rich countries and the rest of the world.



  1. How to Help Those Left Behind

This part is about western aid to developing world. Despite huge amount of resources spent, it is not particularly effective. More often than not it comes down to western bureaucrats taxing population to transfer wealth to bureaucrats and politicians in developing countries. Author reviews causes of this problem and multiple proposed solution, but does not see any specific way to overcome it.

Postscript: What Comes Next?

The final world is relatively optimistic when author expects that process of improvement will continue, albeit not without setback and in unequal tempo in different times and places.


It is nice to see such well-documented and detailed description of process of improvement in human lives over extended period of time that shows no real indications of stopping or reversing. Information contained in this book confirms my opinion that we are still on the road of improvement, but it is not guarantied that we’ll continue on this road in the future. We still have to achieve more progress in developing world, but the most important improvement should occur in developed world where the quality of live pretty much stopped increasing in the last couple decades, despite dramatic improvement in technology. This stoppage has very little to do with capacities of developed societies to produce goods and services and everything to do with society institutions that define process of resource creation and allocation to individuals. Current processes often leave people unhappy even if they are doing not that bad materially, because humans need movement to the better and these movement is lacking. Moreover there is no such thing as constancy in quality of live so if it is not improving, then it is deteriorating. Normally people are not inclined to tolerate such deterioration, especially when they see other people doing better and better. Consequently we have to change existing processes and institutions to renew improvements in quality of live, that does not necessarily means improvement in availability of material resources exclusively. The alternative to such dramatic improvement, I am afraid could be self-destruction of civilization.


20160109 Institutions

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Human institutions are immaterial constructs of human mind that define rules of behavior and cooperation, providing kind of software on which human society runs. Institutions based on technology achieved by society and in turn define to significant extent cost of transactions in this society, making it more or less prosperous comparatively to the level supported by given level of technology. Institutions are highly path-dependent and therefore could be quite different in different societies even if they are at the same technological level, leading to quite different results in terms of lives people live in these societies. Institutions are constantly changing, however it is mainly incremental change at the margins that becomes obvious only during brief disruptive changes such as revolutions when old hollowed out institutions give way to the new ones, more or less fully developed within framework of old. Institutional analysis had to be much more fully included into economic analysis for us even to begin understand why some societies are highly prosperous, while others disastrous even at the same level of technology and similar level of natural resources availability.


Part I Institutions

1 An introduction to institutions and institutional change

Author defines institutions as rules of game in the society. Obviously rules of game strongly impact outcome that is economic and societal performance of society. Author differentiates institution from organizations, the former defining what people can or cannot do, while latter are groupings of people combined in order to achieve something. Author also stresses need to separate rules of game from strategies of game. Obviously different institutions lead to different outcomes and one of main interests here is how it happens and why and how institutions change. Author clearly understands that institutions created by individuals and in turn put restriction on actions of individuals, therefore creating very interesting dynamics of human interactions.

2 Cooperation: the theoretical problem

Here author explores the theoretical foundations of institutions – need for human cooperation. Cooperation is defining factor in economic performance, but it is difficult to sustain in non-repeating situations. Author reviews work of several researches of cooperation and concludes that institutions create environment when all situation could be treated as repetitive by substituting experience from encounters by compliance with institutional rules.

3 The behavioral assumptions in a theory of institutions

Here author looks at behavioral assumption normally used and suggests modifications. He reviews 7 neoclassical behavioral assumptions and their deficiencies. The key to understand these deficiencies comes from two aspects of human behavior: motivation and deciphering the environment.

4 A transaction cost theory of exchange

This chapter is about costs of transactions and role of institutions in defining these costs. The case made here is that robust institutions dramatically decrease cost of transactions for example institution of private property assure individual that investment into planting seeds would benefit him without huge expense of continuously watching and defending planted field. The benefits of such institution as money seem to be obvious and tremendous.

5 Informal constraints

Here author looks at institution as set of informal constrains, which seems to encompass much wider area of human activities than formal constrains and play very important role in human relations. The most important role is probably facilitation of development and change of institutions via mechanism of culture, which is at the end is just a totality of informal constrains and established perception that define behavior of individuals.

6 Formal constraints

Correspondingly this chapter is about role of institutions as formal constrains on human action. The formal constrains such as laws and regulations are just a formalized expression of informal constrains of culture. The formal constrains much less susceptible to enforcement than informal and therefore play outsized role in work of institutions.

  1. Enforcement

This chapter is about enforcement of constrains, which actually defines effectiveness of institutions. Here author separately looks at self-enforcement of contracts and external enforcement both of which necessary for institutions ability to decrease cost of transactions.

  1. Institutions and transaction and transformation costs

Here author combines together results of previous discussion to finalize role of institutions in defining production and transaction costs.


Part II Institutional change

  1. Organizations, learning, and institutional change

This is about interaction between organizations and institutions. Especially important is interaction between organization and institutions when organization slowly changes institutions while developing of institution in turn could not only change, but also could destroy organizations. Author also looks in detail at the interplay between tacit and articulated explicit knowledge and how it impacts institutions, organizations, and, eventually, transaction costs.

  1. Stability and institutional change

This chapter is about stability of institutions and causes of their loosing this stability. Every institution carries inside causes of future change. The agent of change responds to incentives embodied into institutional framework. Author presents an interesting idea that change is caused by variation in relative prices that modify incentives within institutional framework until these incentives lead to dissatisfaction with existing framework and consequently to institutional change. The most important thing about change is that it is always incremental and consists in slow modification of institutional framework on the margins until at some point old framework is practically emptied out and falls, opening way for the new one. One necessary factor in this process is generation of ideology for the new framework within old one and significant group of people with deep ideological commitment to it.

  1. The path of institutional change

This is very interesting discussion of institutional change and its dependency on historical path of society’s development. This discussion as usually uses example of QWERTY to demonstrate path dependency in technology, but it expands this idea to all forms of institutions including political ones. Some examples in these areas are American Revolution with its Constitution and institutional revolution in Western Europe in XIX century when property rights substituted feudal rights as main method of resource allocation. An important note here is that similar changes in relative prices in two different societies lead to different institutional changes because they are path dependent and all societies have different paths. As example of this thesis author looks at the colonization of America by Spain and Britain. It was conducted according to the two different paths: one defined by Spanish and another by British society, leading correspondingly to institutions of Latin America and institutions of United States and Canada.


Part III Economic performance

12 Institutions, economic theory, and economic performance

This is more detailed look at theoretical implications of institutions on economic performance of society. Analysis of institutions is complex because, being just constructs of human mind, they could not be measured. However economic development of society could be used as proxy for analysis of institutional effectiveness. Eventually better institutions lead to lower transaction costs making for richer and more prosperous society. Author again looks at comparison of British-North American Path versus Spanish – South American for detailed analysis.

13 Stability and change in economic history

This chapter is about institutional change and its impact on complex and dynamic western economies and how it caused economic growth. This is a very brief overview of historical institutional changes and their link to technological changes over all known stages of development of human societies.

14 Incorporating institutional analyses into economic history: prospects and puzzles

The final chapter is about implementing result of institutional analysis into framework of overall economic analysis and some historical application that could follow from such development.


I find ideas presented in this book highly consistent with what I know about history, economic development, and human psychology. I think that the next step should go beyond just analysis of the past, but rather develop a conscious approach to design of institution including their periodic updates in order to keep them at the most effective and efficient status according to currently achieved level of technology. Obviously any conscious design will always be clumsy and unsatisfactory because of the huge difference in ability of human mind to process complexity of the world represented in language and images and actual complexity of real world, which is higher by orders of magnitude. This posits need to maximizing freedom of individuals and groups to test various theories / ideologies in various places and freedom of competition between them so individuals could pick ones they like more. The key here should be avoiding violent competition that always imposed huge costs on institutional change.



20160102 The seven sins of Memory

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The main idea is to summarize current knowledge about workings of human memory, and what kind of deficiencies it has. The bulk of text is allocated to discussion of 7 specific features of human memory and problems in causes in contemporary live. The overriding notion, however, is that human memory is completely different from artificial carriers of sounds and images of the past such as photos. It has reconstructive rather than recording and reproducing character, meaning that human memory is recreated every time at the moment of remembering and includes not only reactivation of neural networks created at the moment in past, but multiple networks created much later, opening memory to manipulation and making it unreliable. However it is not a bug, but feature very important for human evolutionary fitness.


Introduction: A Blessing Bestowed by the Gods

It starts with the story of a writer who unexpectedly encounters woman and learns that she sincerely believes that they were lovers once in the town of Yumiura. He does not remember women, but initially believes her only to find out later that such town does not exists, so her claims could not be true. From here author moves to other examples of memory failures, consequently coming up with seven key transgressions: Transience, Absent-mindedness, Blocking, Misattribution, Suggestibility, Bias, and Persistence. This book is a detailed look at memory transgressions based on results of latest research and logic of evolutionary fitness applied to explain these results.

  1. The Sin of Transience

The chapter on transience looks at foundational research of Ebbinghaus who produced experimental evidence of transience long time ago in 1885. This followed by formal diary based research to demonstrate reconstructive character of human memory and our ability to reshuffle, include, and/or exclude actual artifacts of our lives that left traces in the memory into this process. As example author reviews cases of Bill and Monica, various memory problems of baby boomers with research based on age groups comparison on memory tests. Afterword discussion goes into technical side of memory formation based on fMRI technology. At the end author provides some mnemonics to decrease memory transience.

  1. The Sin of Absent-mindedness

The second sin of memory is absent-mindedness nicely demonstrated by example of inability of National Memory Champion who is capable to remember huge amounts of information, at the same time forgetting to carry on simple tasks. The simple explanation seemingly supported by fMRI is the human tendency to automate familiar tasks by pushing them into unconscious. In short absent mindedness highly linked to attention paid or not paid to a subject. It also linked to event based prospective memory. In other words if intention to do something linked to an event that supposed to occur in the future, the possibility of realizing this intent usually increased. Another effective tool is to post reminders and to do planning.

  1. The Sin of Blocking

Blocking is inability to access something that one knows that he knows, but just cannot retreat from memory at the moment. Typical examples are names of people and objects. Often individual not only knows, but also can describe in details different characteristics, but fails to reproduce the name of an object. Author also discussing issue of suppressing painful memories, eventually concluding that recent phenomenal interest in this issue somewhat unjustified since there is very little scientific support of reality of suppression in healthy people, however it was demonstrated in individuals with damaged brains.

  1. The Sin of Misattribution

A typical misattribution case is when people remember things that never really happened. The experimental research demonstrated that it happens when brain files up gapes in the memory with something that logically fit based on previous experience. It is often the case with eyewitnesses of crimes. The real perception of events in this case is always fragmented and unclear because attention is not concentrated on details that witness is asked about during interrogation, so brain adds whatever is necessary to build complete picture. Author describes very interesting studies using fMRI and PET scanning in attempt to separate actual memory from later additions and misattributions. Similar problem occur when individual has brain damage causing difficulties in image recognition and/or false recognition such as seeing movie starts everywhere. Another interesting example is subconscious plagiarizing when people forget that they actually encountered some ideas and even texts in other individuals’ works and sincerely believe that they produce these ideas themselves.

  1. The Sin of Suggestibility

This is probably one of the most difficult to accept features of human brain when false memories could be planted intentionally or unintentionally so a person believes that something happened, which never really did. It is widely used in police investigation often leading to miscarriage of justice. Author discusses in details a famous case in 1990s when teachers were imprisoned after investigators managed to plant false memories of sexual abuse into minds of their students.

  1. The Sin of Bias

This problem as many other relates to the nature of memory as continuously constructive process when result is highly susceptible to impact of the new information obtained well after events under review. Author provides multiple examples from Ross Perot supporters’ modified memories of what they believed before his drop out from election bid, to memories of pre-game anticipation of Red Sox fans. In all cases the after event memories of pre-event believes are markedly different from actually recorded pre-game attitudes and believes. The typical human approach: “I knew it all along”. The sin of bias relates not only to the memory, but also to real time attitude and processing of perceptions. Author provides a wonderful example of impact of received information on behavior when inconsistency of such information with bias overrides biased attitude. The story goes like this: being a black man and walking at the night on the street in nice area author noticed fear that he generated in people he encountered who tried to avoid approaching him. However after he started whistling some melody from Vivaldi, the attitude changed dramatically. Instead of fear and vigilance he saw smiles and sympathetic interest. Obviously nothing changed in color of his skin, or dress, or anything, except that sound of baroque music sent signal that author is member of educated, non-violent, and friendly American middle class, rather then member of inner city violent lower class. Author also brings in split-brain studies to demonstrate that bias it one of regular methods of brain to make sense of environment with high levels of informational deficiencies.

  1. The Sin of Persistence

This one is about persistent memories that people have difficult time ridding off. Often it linked to traumatic events that had dramatic impact on individuals’ lives and consequently is continuously rerun in the memory in search of solution of the problem decreasing or even removing this impact. This memory feature is highly related to PTSD when memories practically torture people until some resolution is found.

  1. The Seven Sins: Vices or Virtues? End Matter

In the final chapter author not only suggests that all reviewed memory sins are also virtues from evolutionary point of view and goes on to demonstrate how all these sins could be instrumental in human survival and promote evolutionary fitness.


It is very nice catalog of performance consequences of the simple fact that human memory technically is just reactivation on demand of randomly connected neural networks related to remembering event or fact. Consequently all memory sins look consistent with this idea and support evolutionary fitness. Here is how it happens in my opinion:

  • Transience – every bio-electro-chemical network tends to deteriorate over time and without constant reactivation its ability to recreate original signal deteriorate correspondingly.
  • Absent-mindedness – The is quite a narrow bandwidth between human receptors and environment therefore attention is very important in order to pick up key features of environmental situation at any moment. As soon as something ceases to be such key feature, it is out of memory and gets missed.
  • Blocking – this is just a consequence of incomplete activation of neural network related to specific memory. The typical cause would be that instead of being invoked by unconscious mind and taking time before bringing it to the forefront, memory if consciously activated, for example in response to external questions. In this case brain just did not have time to fully activate all parts of related network.
  • Misattribution – this one is probably the most interesting feature of human brain because it somewhat proves that memory is reconstruction, rather than retraction of previous state. In short activation of network related to memory at the time of its creation also activates related networks created much later.
  • Suggestibility – It probably has the same mechanism as Misattribution with difference being conscious implant of additions and/or substitutions to existing memory network by external interlocutor.
  • Bias – this is a wonderful and very important tool absolutely necessary in dealing with unknown. Without bias, correctly understood as ability to build future scenario of outcome from encountering unknown based on previously accumulated information, it would not be possible to survive. For example a human in natural environment who encountered unknown individual of big cat species would be fine if acts according to bias against big cats being predators, but would probably not live long if try to overcome bias and treat the cat too friendly.
  • Persistence – Finally persistence of memory is probably a result of activation of critical networks related to survival that basically command to replay the painful memory again and again in order to find reliable solution in case of encountering situation again. Interestingly enough it seems that latest and most successful approach to treating PTSD is to replay situation multiple times until it become somewhat routine and response to it well defined. As soon as this response fully incorporated in survival toolkit, the emotional networks critical for survival cease to be activated when related memory invoked.

In short our memory is just part of survival machinery of hunter gatherers which works just fine as selected by evolutionary process, but need some external enhancements to make it effective in contemporary live.