Monday, May 31, 2021

Review of Wealth, Poverty and Politics by Thomas Sowell

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Economics, History


Short Description

Quotes
“It is especially painful when policies to help the poor misfire and leave the poor worse off, since they have less margin with which to absorb the consequences of other people’s errors.” – Thomas Sowell, Preface, Page 6

“Facts do not speak for themselves.  They speak for or against competing beliefs or competing theories.  If the study of facts cannot always be definitive, it can at least be clarifying.  And there are few issues more in need of clarification than issues involving wealth, poverty and politics.” – Thomas Sowell, Preface, Page 10

“There is nothing automatic about prosperity.” – Thomas Sowell, Issues, Page 11
Quotes with permission from publisher
Elaborate Description

Economic inequalities are common in the history of people.  What changed are the patterns of the inequalities.  Prosperity requires time and work.  Wealth needs to be produced rather than just come into existence.  Economic incentives change production capacities.  Rather than make counterproductive social policies to escape responsibility, people have to learn to shape their society with habits and values that enable them to become productive and produce wealth.  Success requires many prerequisites factors, while not having just a single factor can lead to failure.  Interactions between the various factors influences the outcomes, each is not deterministic.  Learning from different peoples allows access to skills and knowledge which leads to overcoming many limitations.  Isolated peoples are deprived of alternative ways to handle limitations.   

Output creates the standard of living rather than the money, for it was money then government would print money to create the standard of living.  Economic disparities are caused by either how a people produce wealth, or by transfers.  Confusing production and transfer carries consequences for the future of nations.  When policy makers design policies that impact the poor, it is tragic when they do not help because the poor bear the cost of the policies, and it is the poor who have less ability to overcome the consequences created by other people’s error.  Understanding what influences on prosperity and poverty can help identity what is needed to create prosperity, and what leads to poverty.  Peoples who rose from impoverished backgrounds to prosperity are not privileged, they have made an achievement. 

Geography does not determine what people can do, but it certainly influences the options available by either limiting them, or expanding them.  Location can allow people to develop their own mental capacities, and specialties.  Resources, geography, and climate are different in various regions.  Each has its own advantages and disadvantages to humans.  Each creates different opportunities for human development.  What matters is how geography interacts with non-geography factors such as culture, politics, and various other influences.  Due to the variety of different interactions, they can produce vastly different economic outcomes.  There are regions with little natural resources that are wealthy, and regions with lots of natural resources but are poor.  Geographic use changes over time as human knowledge and technologies advance.  Transportation, and other technological advances, can mitigate or remove various geographic impediments.  Even altering geographic features.

Isolation, whether physical or socially imposed, limits growth and usually regress a society.  Knowledge and technology are not isolated to a particular people.  Including diverse groups brings with it their knowledge and skills, while isolating a people reduces their ability to come up with alternative solutions to their limitations.  Discoveries and inventions can come from every society, with no society being the sole source of all discoveries and inventions.  By having contact with peoples of different societies, discoveries and inventions transfer via people.  Knowing how other people handle limitations informs others how to change, rather than be depended on the same actions.  An isolated culture contains a disadvantage in which it cannot access those different knowledge and technology to impact their limitations.  

Culture influences how a peoples create wealth.  Cultures that develop human capital are able to generate wealth where ever they go, but cultures that rely on others to generate wealth become poor when they cannot access the others.  Conquers plundering wealth are wealthy as long as there is military glory to be held, but the military culture is an impediment when military glory is not possible.  There were people who were forced to exile while leaving their wealth behind, but rose to prosperity.  Genetic determinism cannot explain the extreme reversals of wealth and poverty of nations.  Cultural values that prioritize acquisition of skills have generally become prosperous.  People needed to develop human capital to deal with circumstances.  In other circumstances, people did not need to develop human capital.  

Cultural aspects have been borrowed from other cultures for their own benefit.  While some cultures are receptive to foreign ideas and products, other cultures are antagonistic to alternatives.  Exiling certain groups from a nation tended to impoverish the nation while increasing the wealth of the nations that welcomed the exiles.   Those who did not compete before did not develop human skills needed when different cultures became prominent.  Rather than developing the skills needed to generate wealth, many groups have claimed that they were being exploited because they could not compete with harder working peoples.   

Coordination among people who trust in each other reduces the risk of engagement which facilitates faster economic decision making.  An economy that has a lot of corruption reduces the ability to form bonds between people which make it hard peruse ventures such as business and investment.  Coordination requires communication, and communication depends on language, whose value increases as more people speak it.

Government is like any institution that has limitation and its own interests.  In a democracy, to get into positions of power requires them to compete using visions for what to do with that power.  The cost of this competition is that reality gets punished if it deviates from popular beliefs, as such, politicians tend to tell voters what the voters want to hear.  It is through manipulating reality that politicians get hired.  Politicians try to protect the egos of the majority than utilize the skills and knowledge available in the economy.  

The writing is eloquent and provides a lot of depth to the range of topics.  The problem is that Sowell sometimes dismisses certain views too quickly.  Although providing an understanding of alternatives views, by dismissing some popular ones, it becomes difficult to understand the reasons.  Although Sowell makes the point that each factor influences rather than determines outcomes, there are examples used to describe different groups as if the particular aspect determines the differences, or at least are more prominent than others.  


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•What is wealth?  How is wealth obtained? 
•Can a particular factor determine the fate of human development? 
•Why have there been inequalities between peoples?
•What factors influence economic outcomes?  Does each factor matter?  What happens when they interact? 
•What influence does geography have on the people?
•What does isolation do to a people?
•What influence does culture have on the people? 
•How do different culture interact within a nation? 
•Why are exile a people?  What happens to the nation that exiled them and to the nations that welcomed them? 
•What are social factors? 
•How does politics impact people? 
•What are the roles of government? 
•Who do people vote for? 

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9780465096770
Pages to read:   389
Publication:     2016
1st Edition:      2015
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5

Friday, May 21, 2021

Review of Globalization and Progressive Economic Policy edited by Dean Baker, Gerald A. Epstein, Robert Pollin

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Economics

Short Description

Quotes
“Smith’s famous book was criticizing the position of the mercantilists on the causes of national wealth and, in particular, their view that export-promoting economic policies could make a nation wealthier by making its trading partners poorer.” – Dean Baker, Gerald Epstein, and Robert Pollin, Introduction, Page 1

“The simple fact is that states, I particular nation-states, represent the single most important alternative to market forces in determining economic outcomes.” – Dean Baker, Gerald Epstein, and Robert Pollin, Introduction, Page 4

“It entails an accelerating rate and/or a higher level of economic interaction between people of different countries, leading to a qualitative shift in the relationship between nation-states and national economies.” – Dean Baker, Gerald Epstein, and Robert Pollin, Introduction, Page 5

Quotes with permission from publisher (Cambridge University Press)

Elaborate Description

Globalization involves increased interactions between people in different countries which changes relationships between nation-states and economies.  These interactions does not mean that trade partners will become poorer, but the way in which the interactions happen can cause problems.  Markets can focus on short-term metrics, do not utilize full human capacity, increase inequality which can increase inefficiency, and shift political power to influence decisions.  The authors recognize that governments might not fulfill their designated tasks, but that states are an alternative determination to economic outcomes.  As economies become globalized, their financial systems converge on monetary policies, which is a way that nations seem to lose control over their own economic policies.  

To understand this book requires a lot of background information on what the authors are discussing.  There are a lot of misperceptions that the authors have which cannot be reconciled such as claiming to want states to take charge over their economic policies, while taking away decisions from the people they are responsible for.  The authors usually blame neoliberalism for various world economic maladies but they reference policies in which neoliberalism was the heterodox view rather than mainstream.  What makes this ironic is that some authors do point out that the policies under observation come from a Keynesian era.  By trying to deflect blame and problems to another economic perspective, the authors miss the problems created by their own perspectives.  


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•What is globalization?
•What does the State do?
•What are some problems with markets?
•What changes does globalization impose on nations?

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9780521643764
Pages to read:   464
Publication:     2004
1st Edition:      1998
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    2
Content          2
Overall           2

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Review of Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Decision Making
Intriguing Connections = The Forge Called Habits
 

Short Description

Elaborate Description

Doing a little consistently adds up to being a lot over time.  Habits are the little things that we do without giving it much thought, mostly automatically.  A heuristic learned from experience.  Depending on what habits are forged, they can be liberating or debilitating.  Habits can be helpful, by facilitating growth in what is valued.  Habits can be terrible, by making it hard to do the desired activities.  Formed habits are lasting and automatic.  This is a practical guide in how to create good habits, and overcome bad ones.  Four principles of habit formation are to 1) make it obvious, 2) make it attractive, 3) make it easy, and 4) make it satisfying.  Removing habits requires an inversion of the principles.  By fostering or removing the very small actions that are habits, the actions will aggregate into a huge difference. 

A tiny change is usually unnoticeable.  This change is frustrating because improvements are not noticeable, not significant.  But it is very meaningful over time.  These small actions, these habits, are what Clear considers to be the compound interest of self-improvement.  Alternatively, repeating tiny poor decisions leads to toxic behavior over time.  Individuals can choose which habits to cultivate, which result in vastly different outcomes.  Progress is not linear and outcomes are delayed.  Success usually seems quick, like a dramatic event, but it was all the small events that proceeded that made it happen. 

Habit formation takes on four steps which are cue, craving, response, and reward.  The cue is what triggers the behavior in anticipation of reward.  Cravings are the motivations to behavior, the desire to act to obtain a change.  For cues to be turned into cravings, they need to be interpreted by thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  The response is the thought or action that is performed to a given craving.  Reward is the sought after desired result which either teaches or satisfies.  

Creating habits requires the use of the four steps to form habits, while removing bad habits requires the inverse of the process that creates habits.  To set a cue, it needs to be obvious.  To create a craving, it has to be attractive.  To get a response, it was to be easy to do.  To want the reward, it has to be satisfying.  To remove a bad habit would require making the cue invisible, making the craving unattractive, making the response difficult, and making the reward unsatisfying.  Making a plan, bundling habits, and designing an environment that promotes the desired results are part of the system that enables habit creation (or its inverse).   Culture is a major influence on individual behaviors, which means joining a culture consistent of the desired behavior makes it easy to change to it.  

Failing to change habits is not a problem with the individual, it is a problem with the system being used.  To change a habit is difficult when it is the wrong thing being changed or changing it the wrong away.  Changing a habit means becoming a different person, a different way of viewing oneself.  Not changing the identity causes many to go back to their previous habits because that is what they consider as their identity.  This is because there is pressure to maintain the self-image and avoid contradictions.  Changing habits requires unlearning, and editing beliefs.  

The science background into motivation looks at dopamine, which is a brain chemical that facilitates desire to act.  It is not the reward itself that produces actions, but the anticipation of reward. Actions that get rewarded are going to be repeated.  Alternatively, actions that get punished are going to be avoided.  Bad habits are a vicious cycle in which they create the feelings that they try to numb. 

This book is a very practical and useful guide to change behavior, but it should come with caveats.  Not necessarily problems, but limitations.  1) Having a lot of science to back up the research allows a greater understanding of the topic, but in and of itself does not make this a scientist book.  The author creates a system where the benefits of the system are represented, but if the individual should fail, it’s the system they were using.  Science requires the hypothesis to be subject to a falsifiability test, which this book does not have because it is the system that needs to change.  2) Lack of falsifiability also leads to a survivorship bias.  Even though the author did discuss survivorship bias in the book under a different context, there is no account of people who used the systems appropriately and still failed to improve.  There are different ways to fail to change a habit, but each different way comes with its own set of problems which can shape the outcomes.  3) Part of the book discusses lying about one’s identity to foster the identity that is claimed.  Faking it until the habit forms and becomes the identity.  Besides being an example that has a host of problems that are not discussed, it also contradicts another part of the book that discusses the need to be open and honest about what behavior needs to change.  4) In combination, it reads like a system that is a panacea to all behavioral problems.  That there is no limit to what people can do should they follow the steps to create a system that facilitates their desired behavior, which is ironic given that the author does discuss limitation in another context.   


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•What are habits?
•Why make atomic actions? 
•What are the habit formation principles? 
•Why do people quit good habits?
•Why are bad habits so persistent?
•How to form good habits?
•What roles does identity have on habits? 
•Why do we care about the habits of highly effective people? 
•How to track habits? 
•What is an accountability partner? 

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9780735211308
Pages to read:   204
Publication:     2018
1st Edition:      2018
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           4

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Review of The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan

This review is written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = History

Short Description

Elaborate Description

History is usually seen from the perspective of winners of the recent history which are part of the West.  But there are alterative perspectives.  This book looks at history from the perspective of the East.  Rather than being on the periphery to the rise of Western prominence, the East was instrumental to its rise.  History has many kingdoms and empires of the West which did not look West for wealth as there was not much there.  They looked East, for that was where the wealth and many novel ideas were.  Ideas and practices which were shared via migration and commerce.  It was on these trade roads that connections were made.  It is these connections which add to an understanding of historical events.  Meanwhile inspiring readers to further study the nations which impact the shape of the global political structure.

Part of the reason why non-West histories have been relegated was due them being seen as oriental.  Negative view and presupposing inferiority, which meant that there was no value in undertaking the research.  This is in contrast to the shape of events.  Alexander of Macedon did not look to Europe for rewards, but to the East, to Persia.  In Persia came the opportunities, ideas, and threats.  Rome also looked to Persia for wealth, and danger.  During a time when knowledge had no value to the Cristian world, Muslims took delight in innovation.  Many texts survived because they were translated to Arabic in Baghdad which increased dissemination of knowledge.  Knowledge that Europe would later take and influence its rise.  Influence worked in various directions such as Buddhists needing to create new practices in response to religions from the West.  

Trade routes required building and maintaining an administrative system which incorporated different peoples.  Recording payments and validating quality and quantities.  A willingness to adapt to new ideas and practices.  Times of tension saw economic infrastructure decline, while stability ensued tolerance and a rise to economic prosperity.  Learning and trading from different people increased specialization.  Nomadic tribes and sedentary cultures increased their fortunes by being near each other, by trading with each other for resources that each needed.  Unfortunately, ideas and products were not the only things to passed from peoples to peoples, diseases passed on the trade roads as well.  Diseases devastated large portions of the populations.   

This book gives prominence to the East but this stems from an idea that the West only learns about the West.  Although education and history do need to do more about creating a holistic understanding of history, there have been plenty of research on non-West nations.  The author makes it feel that he is part of a small group seeking to understand East.  Although that is not the case, what this book does do is peak interest in Eastern cultures.  But that brings up another problem, as there was not much per culture.  Important connections are being made in this book by incorporating the perspective of the East, but to understand any given culture and event will require more research.  There seems to be a poor transition between the cultures, with many events being in isolation, as in without an appropriate background history.  Transitioning between cultures before an understanding can be reached.  As historians need to pick which parts of history to narrate, this is sometimes done well in this book, sometimes not at all.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•Why was the orient relegated from history? 
•Why the prominence on trade routes? 
•Which country started the Silk Roads?  Why? 
•How and why did Buddhists change their practices?
•How did the views on religion change?
•What is the history of slavery?  Which regions used slaves?  From which regions were slaves taken? 
•What was Persia like?
•What was the empires of Islam like?
•What was the Mongol Empire like?
•What were the Vikings like?
•What was Portugal like?
•What was the Mughal empire like?
•What kind of military strategies were used? 
•Why have a Crusade? 

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9781101946336
Pages to read:   613
Publication:     2016
1st Edition:      2015
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          3
Overall           3

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Review of Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Decision Making


Short Description
Elaborate Description

There are ways to manipulate the media, which in turn manipulates readers.  This is a guide from a media manipulator on how to avoid being manipulated, or can be used to become a manipulator.  The focus is on blogs, short for all online publishing which includes social media and major newspapers.  They are all subject to the same incentives, and fight for attention.  Bloggers are paid per pageviews which causes them to write as many blogs as possible that catch readers attention.  If there are no stories to write about, they will invent a story.  Delegating the investigation of the truth of a story to the readers.  A vital part of news which readers are not paid for.  Manipulating what bloggers write about is easy, leading to a situation where the reader is no longer informed by the news.

Conversations, ideas, and actions are sparked by what appears in blogs, making blogs important sources of spreading news.  As blogs govern public opinion, understanding what governs blogs becomes vital for digital infrastructure.  Traffic is power in the blog world.  The more traffic, the more pageviews, the more profits being made.  Pageviews depend on content, leading the blogs to post as many posts as possible.  Reality is not always interesting or newsworthy, leading to blogs to circumvent reality and invent news.  The headlines and content become more sensational because emotionally triggering news get more pageviews.  All this is good for the blog as the bloggers profit, but at the expense of the public whose attention is misused.

News operates under a link economy where a story in a blog gets shared by others.  Blogs influencing blogs.  Blogs which have low traffic compete to get stories, which then newspapers try to confirm, which then pundits spread to even larger audiences.  Articles in a blog become sources for other blogs.  Small blogs legitimize stories for larger blogs.  The income structure of blogs emphasis speed over other factors such as quality, information content, and accuracy.  Established media operate under a different incentive, protecting their reputation.  Those who already have a brand name invest in verifying the sources because they can wait. 

The media system is defined and at mercy by what spreads.  Many people and companies have become casualties of the misinformation that has spread about them.  Along everyone else who has read the misinformation, as they are victims of crimes against truth.  Speculation and sensationalism are the tools used to attack people.  Unlike the scientific community where errors are corrected by the community in which prior research becomes the framework for future research, media community does not actually correct prior errors.  Errors are amplified.  Updating a correction to a blog later on provides the appearance of solving the problem, without actually solving the problem.  Besides lag between the post and when the error corrections appear, they are usually being listed at the end of the article.  Error correction can be used to amplify the error more by the way it is presented, and most people do not read the corrections.  If a correction should be posted, usually after the damage has been done, fewer people see the corrections, and those that do tend to become surer of the information read before the correction. 

News before had their own benefits and disadvantages, with the internet adding their own problems.  The blog regime is defended by the publishers, those who propagate the problem.  They follow what drives attention so claim to want people to like better stuff, as if the publishers did not participate in creating the situation.  They claim that delegating the investigation to readers as a feature of the internet, as if it is not the publishers’ job to factcheck and verify.  As Holiday points out that they pretend to be impartial observers even though it was they who started the process.  Framing news narratives without taking ownership of them.  

The problems discussed with the media were also perpetrated by the author.  The author had fun doing it, but then felt bad about it.  There appears to be a conflict of interest.  The problem with this is that the author thinks this confession is doing justice to the media, while being paid to write about it, while attacking others who found that the manipulations that they do have social consequences.  What appears to be missing from the book is what news should look like.  There is little discussion on investigatory journalism making it appear that there is almost no trusted news.  Holiday does point out that investigations, verification, and accuracy are and should be the responsibility of the bloggers, but it would have been beneficial to provide an understanding of a system of reporting that would be more informative than the one discussed. 


Questions to Consider while Reading the Book
•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•How does the media get manipulated?
•How does the media manipulate the readers?
•Do news matter?
•Are news free?
•How do blogs earn their income? 
•Why do blogs contain misinformation?
•What is the impact of corrections to misinformation on blogs?
•How does the link economy operate?
•What are appropriate and inappropriate sources to news?  What kind of sources do blogs use?
•What is iterative reporting?  What impact does it have on the news?
•Are blog readers informed by what they read? 
•Who benefits from the media system?  Who pays the price? 
•What do publishers think about the problems within the news industry? 

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9781591845539
Pages to read:   236
Publication:     2012
1st Edition:      2012
Format:           Hardcover

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Review of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor by David S. Landes

This review is written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = History

Short Description

Elaborate Description

Sustainable prosperity depends on the well-being of others.  Increasing the wealth of poor countries is important because if their wealth is not increased, they have an incentive to take what they cannot make or to export people.  Part of the solution lies in geography.  The resource endowments, and the people’s ability to be active within the climate.  Geography is not destiny, as people can utilize their skills and knowledge to alter their conditions.  That being another part of the solution, that incentivizing knowledge and skill acquisition leads to prosperity.  Intolerance and persecuting reduces prosperity because persecuted groups usually leave, depriving a nation of knowledge and skills

The author presents many histories of people and regions but not enough details on them throughout.  Missing details that can change the way a reader sees particular people and events.  Selecting the reasons that countries became wealthy or decisions undertaken which improvised them.  A confirmation bias of references are made leading to missing many examples in which the same decisions have been made but lead to different outcomes.  Although histories are presented about once wealthy nations that have become improvised, the reference point to success in the late 20th century.  The reference point causes the book to be read in a deterministic manner.  The author writes about complexity and understands that regions are not determined to either be poor or wealthy based on a set of conditions, but all this is written as if it was deterministic. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?
•Why does prosperity depend on increasing the well-being of others?
•What influence does geography have on the people?
•How to overcome geographical limitations?
•What use are knowledge and skills?
•What happens when a nation persecuted a group?
•What impact does culture have?

Book Details
Edition ISBN:  9780393069815
Pages to read:   575
Publication:     1999
1st Edition:      1998
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          2
Overall           2