20170325 – The Nobel Factor
The sub-main idea of this book is that economics is not a real science and that majority of economists including those who received Nobel price understand this. However the main idea is that Prize in Economics is not really the Nobel price, but somewhat external creation of Swedish right wing economists who used it to provide more legitimacy to free market ideologues whom authors, being clearly of socialist persuasion, deeply resent. Correspondingly overriding objective of this book is to undermine this legitimacy and convince reader that Scandinavian socialist model of 1950s really worked just fine until reactionaries succeeded in undermining it and moving Sweden back to horrors of capitalism.
The introduction spells out authors believe about economy being something like not completely legitimate way to undermine what they call Social Democracy – the combination of market economy with government controlled massive redistribution of income and Keynesian interventions on the large scale. They provide a gist of the book as retelling of history of economic views with paradise (Social Democracy) achieved and then lost due to intrigue of evil free marketers.
- Imaginary Machines
This is about economic models that build similarly to technological models like airplanes with one important difference – they never work in real live. Authors look at Robert Lucas as contemporary model builder and then jump back to David Ricardo as most effective builder of oversimplified models. They also discuss idea of rational expectations and complete this chapter by countering what they call New Classical Macroeconomics (NCM) with Social Democracy. Interestingly enough, they link NCM with ideas of post-modernism and anti-realism, which are quintessentially anti-capitalist ideas.
- A Prize in ‘Economic Sciences’
This is mainly discussion of meaning of science as it relates to economics and value of prizes as symbols and ritual.
- Bitter Roots: Finance and Social Democracy between the Wars
This is brief review of interwar economics in Europe with stress on monetary issues, specifically consequences of loosing gold standard. The special attention paid to development of Stockholm School of economics and its support of sound money and resulted clash with Social Democracy that obviously wants fiat money controlled by government. They also provide not very well known, but interesting story of interwar Bank of International Settlements.
- The Riksbank Endows a Nobel Prize
This is mainly story of after war struggle between Banks and Swedish Social Democracy when socialists wanted to spend on social programs to buy votes and power and banks wanted maintain sound money and retain economic power. The Nobel price for economics in this story is a by-product of this struggle or as authors call it “A Cuckoo in Nobel Prize Nest”.
- Does Economics Have a Political Bias?
This is pretty much story of liberal (in American understanding) vs. conservative evenhandedness of awards that author seems to consider unfair despite much higher level of references for liberals. They provide a nice graph where “Arrows” means characteristics of citations”
- Individual Reputations (with Samuel Bjork)
This is data heavy review of impact of the Nobel Price on popularity and citations of individual economists. Authors conclude that prize does have credibility, but it rather follow citation curve than leads it, albeit it does raises popularity of specific economists. Here is a graph to support this idea:
- Nobel Economics and Social Democracy
Here authors look at Nobelists based on their approach to economics either as Empiricists or Formalists and here is how they define them:
They also discussed contrasts in approach between what they call Social Democracy (good because it provides managed solution for resource allocation over live cycles via redistribution) and Market Alternatives (bad because it hold that world is too complex for simple management and just rely on market to allocate resources in the best way). They even provide ideal sequence of development right out of book for systems analysis:
- Models into Policy: Assar Lindbeck and Swedish Social Democracy
Here authors trying to describe Swedish Social democracy as nearly perfect solution for economic issues of society that was successfully implemented in Sweden from 1930s to 1970s, but then somehow was undermined by international competition and evil Swedish economists like Assar Lindbeck.
- Swedosclerosis or Pseudosclerosis? Sweden in the 1980s
This chapter seems designed to convince people that Swedish economic sclerosis of 1980s that eventually led to significant market oriented reforms, actually did not occur, but was rather invented by market oriented economists. Their main point is that economic calculations designed in such way that they underestimate value of production for countries with high level of public services. In short this is an attempt to explain away economic failures of Swedish Socialism as imaginary.
- The Real Crisis: Not Work Incentives but Runaway Credit
Correspondingly this chapter is an attempt to explain away success of market by assigning it to unhealthy levels of easy credit that eventually caused financial crash.
- Beyond Scandinavia: Washington Consensus to Market Corruption
The final chapter is comparison of Washington consensus (Regulated Market) that authors consider corrupted vs. Social Democracy that authors consider to poses high levels of integrity.
Conclusion: Like Physics or Like Literature?
The final chapter is restatement one of authors’ main points that Economics is not really science and should not be included in Nobel prizes. Finally they add another issue that economics is a-moral because it just trying to link inputs and outputs, while humans are moral and consequently economic priorities and methods should not be really applicable for society management.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This is an interesting review of Nobel prizes in economics with multiple diatribes against market and glorification of social democracy of Swedish type. It is typical product of people who somehow fail to understand complexity and diversity of humanity and consequently believe that the best way of society organization is kind of elitist oligarchy masked as democracy when the best and brightest, mostly defined by academic achievements, control resources and decide what when and how to produce and consume them, while mentally deficient masses blissfully participate in elections mistakenly believing that they actually decide direction of the society. Unfortunately authors heavily concentrate on small homogeneous Sweden society as example of successfully working Social democracy and completely ignore other much larger scaled socialist experiments of Russia, Chine, and Nazi Germany – all of them being economic and humanitarian disasters. Somehow they also missed a simple historical fact that very well explains Swedish prosperity of 1950-70s – destruction of WWII that for Sweden was a huge bonanza of German military orders paid by wealth transferred from all over occupied Europe. From this point of view the temporary success of Swedish Social Democracy was purely parasitic and disappeared when both Europe and Asia recovered after the war. It short authors’ ideas of superiority of Social democracy just do not hold water.
20170318 The Perfect Dictatorship
The main idea of this book is that Chinese mix of socialism and market economy in reality is a lot less effective and efficient than it is usually perceived. Comparatively to other Asian nations like Japan and especially Korea Chinese development lags behind, leaving population at the level well below it wants and needs to be. The result is a shaky stability of society highly dependent on economic growth that now beginning to slide. The alternatives of Chinese Dream and other nationalistic ideas may or may not work on the long or even medium run.
The introduction is about complexity of China and somewhat illusory character of top down control in this country. It also states author’s objective to analyze the multifaceted character this society.
The first chapter is about leadership structure of Chinese party-state dictatorship: who are the people in leadership and what are their priorities. It looks at relations between state and economy, reasons and prospects of growth, corruption, and overall view at the China project.
- What They Say
This is about ideological presentation of Chinese version of one party totalitarian system not only to the world, but also for internal consumption. Here author defines 3 types of states and asks his most important question: whether it is trivial state most concerned with sustainment and territorial integrity, welfare state most concerned with well being of population, or power state most concerned with increase in power by all means including territorial expansion. After presenting these 3 options as testable hypothesis, author is trying to provide answer in the next 3 chapters.
- What They Do
Based on actions of Chinese leadership author looks at activities directed at self-preservation by obtaining legitimacy of the state by producing economic growth and continuing improvement in quality of live. At the same time raw power is used widely and decisively via 6 pillars of Chinese society: party, military, executive, legislature, police, and judiciary. Author looks in details at each oh these pillars.
- What They Produce
This chapter analyses what and how Chinese state produces its services in order to test welfare hypothesis. He looks at Taxes, Welfare services, Public Sector provisions, and various social services. Overall conclusion is that it is not welfare state and it could not easily develop into one.
- Who They Are
The final chapter concludes that it is totalitarian state, but complex and sometimes even benevolent so author goes through is sort of compilation of what Chinese party-state gives to people and what it takes from people. After analyzing his 3 hypotheses author concludes that it is trivial state, but with clear tendency to develop into power state and it is not clear yet whether such development will occur or not.
Here author discusses several possible developments that he considers more or less probable:
- Steady on – continuation without significant changes
- Demise – economic failure leading to loss of legitimacy and destruction of the state
- Utopia – development of successful utopian socialist state
- Democracy – resurrection of latent peasant democracy still existing in rural areas and its expansion through the country.
- The perfect fascist state – development into classical power state.
Author assigns kind of probabilities to each option, but it is really everybody’s guess of what future will look like.
MY TAKE ON IT:
For me China does not seem that interesting from societal structure and ideology system. It is clearly still socialism and totalitarian dictatorship, but with leadership that was smart enough a while ago to practically discard Marxist dogmas and rather than trying to move to world proletarian revolution and build the drastically new and much more productive society of communist utopias, choose to use totalitarian power to convert the country into economic supplement of highly developed rich Western world by providing very cheap labor, cost of which defined by state power rather than by market, in exchange for investment and technology flow. These factors: investment and technology would allow for a while maintaining increase in material quality of live, but at the expense of denial of many characteristics of quality of live such as freedom and environment quality. The problem here is that at some point it would become impossible to continue because without freedom truly effective development is not possible, while margins for expansion of economy as cheap labor supplement is already challenged. Internally because after getting a bit better materially people start wanting more and more undermining main China’s asset on world market – cheap and diligent workforce. Externally because shift of labor from Western world caused some serious societal problems in this world that could and will be addressed via multiple measures shifting labor demand back to Western developed countries, consequently cutting off external labor markets that currently sustain Chinese system. I think one of two developments is possible: either the slow degradation of Chinese totalitarianism with consequent transfer, hopefully peaceful transfer to democracy similarly to development in South Korea, or strong move to increase in totalitarianism of more nationalistic form with following Cold war with the West. I believe and hope that the former development in more probable mainly because Chinese society and its leadership much more familiar with civilized world of market based democracy and seems to be much less ideological than previous totalitarians, but one could never be sure about the future.
20170311 – The Attention Merchants
The main idea of this book is to provide a detailed look at business model of communication and information services including news, entertainment, and Internet services as a method to capture customer attention and then sell it to advertisers.
Introduction: Here’s the Deal
The introduction starts with the story of poor school in California that obtained funding by allowing companies advertise to students. It follows by definition of what are the attention merchants.
Part I: Masters of Blazing Modernity
This part is about the beginning of this business in early XIX century with mass paper based news and later broadcasting corporations.
Chapter 1: The First Attention Merchants
The first serious business based on reselling captured attention was Benjamin Day’s New York Sun first published in 1833. It changed business model to rely not on subscription and retail sales, but on advertisements. Author also traces even earlier form of advertisement – Posters, which were around since 1796. Author also discusses mechanism of human attention that makes this business model viable.
Chapter 2: The Alchemist
This is about the story of patent medicine that was mainly based on advertisement to sell snake oil with no need to prove that it actually works as advertised.
Chapter 3: For King and Count
This is about patriotic advertisement that allowed countries with relative tradition of freedom and voluntary military to successfully mobilize population for large-scale war.
Chapter 4: Demand Engineering, Scientific Advertising, and What Women Want
The next step in progress of attention capturing and selling was scientific advertisement developed in 1920s. The key feature was demand manufacturing, which is development via advertisement consumer needs that did not exist before. It was especially successful with women.
Chapter 5: A Long Run
This is a story of tobacco advertisement which promoted product increasingly understood to be harmful. It also summarizes achievement of advertisement industry that by late 50s defined informational environment of American live.
Chapter 6: Not with a Bang but with a Whimper
The last chapter of this part is about the fall of advertisement industry from grace caused by disconnecting advertisement with reality and eventual government interference, which limited methods and tools of advertisement. All these, plus global economic crash brought advertisement industry to its knees by 1930.
Part II: The Conquest of Time and Space
This part is about formation of the new mass broadcasting media such as radio and TV that brought not just a nice recovery, but huge growth in advertisement.
Chapter 7: The Invention of Prime Time
This is about different methods tried by radio advertisement, with special attention to black radio show Amos ‘n’ Andy that unexpectedly attracted huge numbers of listeners who were ready to adjust their schedule to sit by their radio set at specific time, which eventually become Prime time.
Chapter 8: The Prince
This is story of CBS – the smallest of the big broadcasters, its chef William Paley and his struggle with RCA and NBC that were under control of David Sarnoff. It also provides brief story of Edward Murrow – the first successful political commentator on mass radio show at CBS.
Chapter 9: Total Attention Control, or The Madness of Crowds
This is about political use of mass broadcasting in Germany during Nazi rules and their perceived success in manipulating population. Is also discusses similar use of broadcasting in USSR.
Chapter 10: Peak Attention, American Style
This is about American TV in 1950s that commanded unprecedented control over attention of population via just a few TV shows. It also discusses appearance of Nielsen popularity evaluation tool that facilitated competition.
Chapter 11: Prelude to an Attentional Revolt
This is about new invention by Zenith Corporation that provided technical ability for viewer to exercise power via remote control. It also looks at a number of scandals with TV shows such as quiz show 64000 that demonstrated sometime fraudulent character of these shows, undermining trust and consequently interest for them.
Chapter 12: The Great Refusal
This is about the great rebellion of baby boomers in 1960s that refused TV world and preferred to look for entertainment and information in the reality of their lives, filled with rock music, drugs, and political protest. It also discusses changed character of TV shows in this period that moved away from quiz to Mary Tailor Moor, Archie Banker, and M*A*S*H, bringing them much closer to issues of interest for population.
Chapter 13: Coda to an Attentional Revolution
This is about Jon Robbin and PRIZM – computer based analysis of American population by ZIP codes into 40 different groups so diverse in their attitudes that they could be called different nations. What followed, as one could expect, multitude of specialized stations like ESPN. Eventually it led to new competition even in the political news area by Fox news that practically ended monopoly of leftist intelligentsia on mass broadcast of political information. It also discusses channel serving and consequent decrease in attention span afforded by public to broadcasters.
Part III: The Third Screen
This part is about initial invasion of computers into information exchange business and how it started diminish the role of traditional broadcasters.
Chapter 14: Email and the Power of the Check-in
This is about the first encroaching of the new peer-to-peer tools such as E-mail. At this point these were mainly small number of computer enthusiasts, but writings were on the wall.
Chapter 15: Invaders
The next step in computers growing competition for attention was proliferation of computer games.
Chapter 16: AOL pulls them in
This is about final part of initial computer invasion: massive expansion of e-mails with AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe. The interesting part of this story is the failure of big business that supported Prodigy to effectively compete with more entrepreneurial AOL. Nevertheless AOL also went down in early 2000 with advance of free e-mail provided via Internet.
Part IV: The Importance of Being Famous
This part is about attention attracted by celebrities that created qualitatively new phenomenon when technology made information access available at will.
Chapter 17: Establishment of the Celebrity-Industrial Complex
This chapter starts with process of creating celebrities, initially by Time with its Man of the Year cover. It continues with analysis of mechanics of “illusion of intimacy” that makes lots of people allocate extraordinary amount of time and attention to lives of and gossips about some celebrity, consequently opening channel for precisely aimed advertisement and sales of related goods.
Chapter 18: The Oprah Model
This chapter is analysis of a subset of celebrity culture when celebrity is becoming daily visitor to your house discussing issues that she makes look like relevant to you, even if they, quite obviously, are not.
Chapter 19: The Panopticon
This is about simultaneously developed attention grubbers based on TV from MTV boom to reality shows: all designed to allow people to jump out of their real live into much more interesting virtual world, the process that was always basis of art, but now dramatically more powerful due to technical ability to make the story as real, if not more real, than actual reality.
Part V: Won’t Be Fooled Again
The final part is about much more matured Internet of 2000s and that opened attention market place to practically everybody, shifting not only consumption, but also production of information to wide-open world.
Chapter 20: The Kingdom of Content: This Is How You Do It
This chapter is about process of division of proceeds from selling attention between actual producers of content and Internet platforms that support delivery. That’s how Google and Facebook become such a huge recipients of ad dollars with limited success in producing content.
Chapter 21: Here Comes Everyone
This is about population producing their own content bloggers, YouTube producers and such.
Chapter 22: The Rise of Clickbait
This is about specific technic to attract attention, clicks, and consequently revenues via planting some outrages that makes people to get involved in mass.
Chapter 23: The Place to Be
This is the story of Facebook, which provided widely used platform for communication between people and presentation to the world of trivialities of everybody’s live.
Chapter 24: The Importance of Being Microfamous
This is a funny piece about getting micro fame by accumulating “friends” and fans on social media.
Chapter 25: The Fourth Screen and the Mirror of Narcissus
Another new invention that attracts lots of attention came with smart telephones, in other word handheld communication computers that allowed people maintain constant communication with each other via texting, voice, and lately video. It also allow immediate catching of events to electronic media and distributing these images to the whole world.
Chapter 26: The Web Hits Bottom
The next step is from mass broadcasting to personalized tracking and advertising based on computerized analysis of individual behavior on the web.
Chapter 27: A Retreat and a Revolt
This is about development during period after 2010 when paid content providers like Netflix moved decisively to develop their own content, taking attention away from free advertisement based media.
Chapter 28: Who’s Boss Here?
The final chapter is about the latest development that potentially could remove even possibility of traditional advertisement as it existed so far – implementation of ad blocking. It would make for switch from indirect payment for entertainment when people were getting it for free and paid later when buying advertised goods and services to direct payment when people would just pay for entertainment they want.
The epilogue is about the future, which is obviously unclear. Whether the new (oldest) form of direct purchasing of entertainment or old (last 3 centuries at most) form if indirect purchasing of entertainment will be dominant is unknown. Most probably both forms will coexist for a while into the future. The final word is that live experience amounts to whatever we pay attention to, and the fight for getting this attention will never subdue.
MY TAKE ON IT:
It is an interesting angle to the story of mass communication and entertainment. It could easily be extended back to Roman times with their “bread and circuses” motto. I think that the most interesting part here is ability of mass communicators to attract attention to their product and methods they used to get it done. It is not only advertisement for goods and services, but also political action in democracy or any system for that matter that are critical for condition of society. Depending on who and how can get attention of the active majority and direct it into carefully selected points of reality or false reality, the society could implement effective methods of achieving well being for population as it happened in market based democracies of early America and period of British industrial revolution or it could implement ineffective methods that lead to hugely tragic economic mismanagement and loss of live as it happened in communal, market denying societies of Russia, China, or Nazi Germany in XX century.
20170304 The Shock of the Old
The main idea of this book is to provide unusual view of technology development and its use. Unlike typical approach, that is heavily stressing innovations, this book is much more about use of existing technologies and reasons why it was implemented when it was, not when it was invented, which sometimes constitute gap of thousands of years. Even more important is analysis of cultural impact of technology on everything that is society.
This is bout use-centered account of the history of technology with stress what author calls “creole” technological mixes. It also provides critic of innovation- centered history demonstrating its deficiencies and mistakes. It is also about interplay between technology and culture.
This is a review of relative importance of different technologies, which is based on an interesting observation that quite often small and simple technologies have much higher impact than expensive, complex, and spectacular. Very good example is condom technology that definitely had much higher impact on fate of humanity than moon landing, but had never been considered something newsworthy or spectacular. Author also looks at technology spin offs and overall methods of assessing technologies.
This is a look at timeline of development and implementation of different technologies, which is quite different from traditional. For example steam power technology was actually developed long before its massive use in XVIII and XIX centuries, probably thousands years before. Author looks here at several technologies that were highly time dependent in their implementation.
This is about impact of technology on overall production, especially on productivity. For example typical discussion is about decline of agriculture and expansion of manufacturing with industrializations. Author however stresses that it is mistaking analysis because agriculture did not decline, but rather grew dramatically. The point is it grew via productivity improvement with fast decline in number of people involved and decrease in overall share of GDP. Consequently the image of decline is misleading because the total ability to produce more food increased dramatically so humanity now can easily produce more food than could possibly be consumed.
This is about another underappreciated part of the technological process, the part often forgotten and/or taken for granted. In reality maintenance takes as much if not more efforts than creation of construction or technology. Author looks at multiple examples of high importance of maintenance in various industries with stress on upgrade when some parts of technology drastically changed despite retaining it outlook and frame. Good example is B-52, which is flying for 60 years, while multiple upgrades of its avionics, communication gear, and weaponry made it probably hundred times more effective bomber than it was originally. At the end of chapter this logic extended from technology all the way to maintenance of society.
This is about relationship between technology and nations, which depends in their development on creation or imitation of the new technology in order to maintain themselves as independent entities and provide goods and services for population. Author discusses positives of globalization and negatives of autarky, the last one by using example of Soviet Union – ultimate autarky of “socialism in one country”, which in reality was highly dependent on American technological transfers. Similar stories provided for other countries where nationalism and racism led to quite idiotic technological decision making.
Here is quite typical look at war as engine of technological progress. The main point is that despite all these technologies, the most part of fighting and killing was done with old tools – many more people killed in XX century with artillery and small arms than with nuclear and all other air delivered bombs. However victory is nevertheless going to possessor of better technology, in short – war rewards successful innovation in technology more than anything else. Author also discusses “unusable” weapons such as nuclear weapons and the latest military events.
This chapter is about killing of living creatures that humans do for various reasons: pesticides, slaughterhouses, fishing, and even other humans in various genocides. Obviously technology improved dramatically, making it highly efficient process.
The final chapter addresses process of invention itself and is looking at academic science and business R&D, demonstrating that this formal processes of invention become a significant part of human activities, not necessarily producing constantly increasing returns.
This is a restatement of key point of this book: old technologies are as important as the new ones if not more so and that typical overblow of everything new. Consequently we would be better off by selecting technologies based on their functionality, rather than their novelty.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think this book is a good collection of technological examples, but it is somewhat redundant if looked at recommendation for action in market economy. A business owner seldom would change technology for change sake because it is his own money and increased cost. Not so for all kind of government driven technological change when cost is practically not part of consideration. In short, my opinion is that similarly to any other area only free market with responsibility fully allocated to decision makers technological progress could be sensible and effective. The top down government driven development it guaranteed to be producer of various boondoggles like Concord and many others. Consequently no book and no logic would convince government bureaucrats to look at old simple and cheap technology for any purpose whatsoever when expensive, poorly designed, and immature technology that provides well for bureaucrats would do at leas half decent job at it.