June 30, 2010

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, June 2010

Yves Smith, Econned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism
I found this a bit of a frustrating read, actually, but I still recommend it overall. When it comes to the details how financial markets work, and for whom, and how that has changed over the years, it's very good. The criticisms of the economic profession are a mixed bag. On the moral point, that the economists have managed to secure a uniquely influential and privileged position among the social sciences (arguably among all the sciences), and have not risen to this by uniquely valuable and correct advice, or even by taking seriously and learning from their failures, she's correct. On the sheer insanity of a lot of neo-classical economics and its pretensions, especially as applied to finance, she is correct. Her most technical attacks fail, but I think those are not really needed for the arguments she wants to make. (More below.) When she discusses policy and the Obama Administration, there is something about her tone which I do not care for, though I think most of her actual positive suggestions are pretty good ideas. I suspect I would have liked this book more had I read less in the area beforehand.
(Smith complains about the neo-classicists reliance on assumptions of "ergodicity". But when she uses the term, she runs together (i) actual ergodicity, (ii) stationarity, (iii) homogeneity [as of a Markov process], (iv) [lack of] sensitive dependence on initial conditions, (v) the existence of a unique and rapidly attracting static equilibrium, (vi) [lack of] path dependence, (vii) [lack of] state dependence, (viii) [lack of] positive feedbacks, (ix) mixing or decay of correlations and (x) the existence of generating probability distribution, of which the actual historical trajectory of the economy is a realization. Those of us who work in the area have separated these concepts because they are in fact distinct, with complicated inter-relations, and if I take what she says about these matters literally it is a tissue of fallacies and equivocations. But Smith is merely being misled by her authorities, the so-called post-Keynesian political economists, who seem to have originated these errors. To repeat, I think these parts of the book could have been cut without any loss to the important messages.)
Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide
About the tide country of Bengal; being an American innocent abroad; being an ineffectual left-wing Bengali intellectual; being a self-centered member of the modern Indian upper-middle class; being at the mercy of the elements. Also a very well-turned work of scientist-fiction. (I listened to the audio book while exercising; it was read well.)
Shirley Jackson, Novels and Stories
Shirley Jackson now has a Library of America edition, and I am well-pleased. Contents: The Lottery and Other Stories; The Haunting of Hill House; We Have Always Lived in the Castle; and some miscellaneous short stories. Those are almost certainly her two best novels — The Haunting of Hill House is flat-out one of the greatest pieces of fantastic literature ever — but, since I am greedy, I am a bit disappointed that they didn't fit in more of her novels (The Bird's Nest, say, or especially The Sundial). Still: Shirley Jackson now has a Library of America edition, and I am well-pleased.
Colin Martindale, The Clockwork Muse: The Predictability of Artistic Change
No purchase link because this is an anti-recommendation: life is short, ignore this. It's got some of the worst data analysis I have ever seen, and the argument rests entirely on those analyses. And yet people who know even less evidently take it seriously, perhaps because Martindale didn't realize he had no idea what he was doing and so presents his howlers as obviously correct. This book alone seems (if I can trust Google Scholar) to have over 200 citations. Why oh why can't we have a better republic of scholars?
(Thanks, of a sort, to Carlos Yu for finally getting me to read this.)
An elaboration of this snarl of contempt.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; Minds, Brains, and Neurons; The Continuing Crises Writing for Antiquity; The Dismal Science; The Commonwealth of Letters; Learned Folly

Posted at June 30, 2010 23:59 | permanent link

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