Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Books of Summer

My last final exam was yesterday. The school year is over, and summer beckons like an endless realm of bright, golden possibilities.

Which means it's time to put together the summer reading list.

It's actually going to be a pretty short list. That's partly due to the voice of experience, and partly because I'm still waiting to see what's on other people's summer reading lists. Tyler Cowen has done a nice one before, and in general lists should be popping up like mushrooms on the Internet pretty quick now. So for the time being, I am limiting myself to the following:

1) Thinking Strategically, by Dixit and Nalebuff.
Game theory. This one actually came from Tyler Cowen's list a year or so ago. I've read just enough to know that I want to finish it.

2) The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama.
I know just enough about Obama to be convinced that he is easily our best choice out of the current crop, and I want to know more so I picked this up. On my first foray, I was initially put off by his tone in the book; there seems to be a pompous quality to his writing. But then in a moment of insight I realized that Obama hears himself speaking when he writes. He writes prose like he writes a speech, and sentence structures that work well in public speaking are often clunkers in print. I understand the error; it's very common and I've done it myself. No harm done now that I understand what's going on.

3) By the Sweat of Thy Brow, by Kranzberg and Gies.
This is a history of "how mankind has conceived of and organized work." It's a traditional, literary-style, history book. There is no economic theory in here that has ever had acquaintance of algebra, let alone calculus, or set theory, or general equilibrium models, or whatever godforsaken, formalist horrors may now lurk in the pages of the The Journal of Economic History. This one is just for fun, and at first glance it reads like it will be just fun. It's also dear to my heart because it's the only one of my three summer books that came from the Santa Cruz Library annual book sale, where used books are offered for $1.50 a pound. Which means that this little volume cost me 98 cents. I can't begin to describe the happiness I'm experiencing from my consumer surplus here.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Obama and Regulation

There is a nice little piece about the endorsement of Obama by Paul Volcker and three former SEC chairmen over on Teagan Goddard's CQ Politics site. As the article mentions, this endorsement was unfortunately overshadowed by the Edwards endorsement, but I think that it gives us more information about what to expect from an Obama Presidency, and the news is good. According to John Cranston, the author of the article, former Fed chairman Paul Volcker has now signed onto the endorsement, which means that three of the four signatories are Republicans, two of them appointed to their posts by Reagan and one by Bush 43 himself.
You might think that this indicates that Obama has an anti-regulatory streak, or has been signalling an intention to pander to Wall Street, but you'd be wrong. According to the article, each of these men "leaned hard against the anti-regulatory wind when they were charged with overseeing U.S. financial markets" and otherwise showed a willingness to act "as guardians of the interests of individuals and the economy generally" against special interests. And hey, really, that's all I'm asking for in a regulator.
I try to be cynical about politicians, and that's not hard to do, but little signs like this make me hopeful about an Obama Presidency. I guess it's time to go give him another $25.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Let's Not Do Anything Rash About Global Warming

I found this photo of Houston in a story on io9. The story, by Annalee Newitz, describes how ozone in the atmosphere, while bad for the atmosphere, does create some beautiful sunsets.

I sense that Ms. Newitz wrote with a certain degree of irony. However, speaking as an economist, I must insist that all efforts to mitigate global warming be immediately placed on hold until we have done further research. We can't be taking rash actions without knowing all the facts, and we won't know all the facts until we know the extent to which utility is being increased due to the ability of pollution to improve sunsets. Blindly stumbling forward without further studies would be irresponsible, and constitute a craven surrender to the enviro-fascist conspiracy. If anyone would like, I could provide a graph with some curves and numbers to prove my point.

Thanks to io9 for the story, and thanks to eschipul for the photo.