Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reviews of some books on big questions

I am suspiocious of books about big questions and read only one of the books mentioned below.
 Mike Beggs' reviews of Debt by David Graeber A sample passage:
"The mint can print any numbers on its bills and coins, but cannot decide what those numbers refer to. That is determined by countless price-setting decisions by mainly private firms, reacting strategically to the structure of costs and demand they face, in competition with other firms. Graeber interprets Aristotle as saying that all money is merely “a social convention,” like “worthless bronze coins that we agree to treat as if they were worth a certain amount.” Money is, of course, a social phenomenon. What else would it be? But to call its value a social convention seems to misrepresent the processes by which this value is established in an economy like ours – not by general agreement or political will, but as the outcome of countless interlocking strategies in a vast, decentralized, competitive system."

There is more discussion of the review at Crooked Timber

Gulzar Natarajan discusses "Why Nations Fail" "The search for that magic pill which can explain economic development and national economic growth has a long history of failures."

An overview in Nature of Peter Turchin Human Cycles: History as Science via a post of Razib Khan. Razib Khan has reviewed earlier some of Peter Turchin's books.Razib Khan's readable review of "War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires" is here. Of the three cycles (abasiya cycles, secular cycles, fathers-and-sons cycles) discussed by Turchin , Razib says "The other two dynamics are much simpler to understand. For secular cycles Turchin presents some simple phenomenon which occur in many societies

1) Elites overproduce and become top-heavy during times of plenty
2) Inequality in material wealth lead to resentment and social discord

The metastable situation will generally shift at some point and switch to rebellion and civil war. This tends to kill off much of the elite, and naturally redistribute wealth with the collapse of law and order. Obviously there's much more, but that's the gist of it. "
From The Nature article "the fathers-and-sons cycle: the father responds violently to a perceived social injustice; the son lives with the miserable legacy of the resulting conflict and abstains; the third generation begins again. Turchin likens this cycle to a forest fire that ignites and burns out, until a sufficient amount of underbrush accumulates and the cycle recommences."
Apparently, Turchin predicts "He has analysed historical records on economic activity, demographic trends and outbursts of violence in the United States, and has come to the conclusion that a new wave of internal strife is already on its way1. The peak should occur in about 2020, he says, and will probably be at least as high as the one in around 1970. “I hope it won't be as bad as 1870,” he adds."

Somewhat different from the above theories. Hartosh Singh Bal on "Arundhati Roy's Magic Realism"

No comments: