All posts filed under: Political Economy

Hired: Undercover in Low-Wage Britain (James Bloodworth)

James Bloodworth, an English sometime Trotskyite, has written a book which combines the television series Undercover Boss and George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. He took jobs in a variety of low-wage, low-security occupations to get first-hand knowledge about what it is like today to be a member of the largely invisible British working class. Bloodworth’s resulting argument is that a pernicious marriage of portions of the political Left and Right has destroyed the dignity of the British working class, with fatal consequence for that class, and deleterious consequences for all of society. Hired is a powerful book that has key implications for possible political realignment.

A Short History of Man: Progress and Decline (Hans-Hermann Hoppe)

Hans-Hermann Hoppe!, they cried. Hans-Hermann Hoppe! They told me that if I read his books, it would change my life. This is not the first time I have heard that promise; it has been made to me of many books, from Frédéric Bastiat’s The Law to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. The promise has always failed me, but each fresh tomorrow brings the possibility that next time, it will not. Thus, I read this book, which aspires to give the history of man in one hundred and fifty pages, as an introduction to Hoppe’s thought. It was interesting enough, but I have gone away sad, for that looked-for tomorrow is not today.

Cræft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts (Alexander Langlands)

Man’s search for meaning is, in these days of alienation and anomie, always a topic that can generate interest. Meaning at its most concrete is tied to the things of Earth, to the nature of man and the world of nature. Thus, if man becomes wholly dissociated from Earth, bad things result. This, in a nutshell, is the message of not a few modern prophets, and among them is Alexander Langlands, offering a specifically British variation on the theme.

The Myth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of Competition (Jonathan Tepper)

The death of the free market at the hands of monopoly has gotten a lot of recent attention. By far the best book about this problem is Tim Wu’s The Curse of Bigness, which through a “neo-Brandeisian” lens focuses on how monopoly destroys the core frameworks of a free society. This book, The Myth of Capitalism, comes to much the same conclusion from a more visceral starting place—why have wages stagnated even though the labor market is tight and corporate profits are soaring? The answer is corporate concentration, and Jonathan Tepper is, like Wu, offering concrete solutions.

Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline (Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson)

Anybody who has been paying attention has long grasped the truth: underpopulation, not overpopulation, is our problem. This will soon be true on a global scale, it is already true in most of the developed world. Empty Planet explains why this is undeniably so. Unfortunately, the explanation is shrouded in confusion and ideological distortion, so the authors are never able to provide a clear message. Instead, they offer rambling, contradictory bromides combined with dumb “solutions” until the reader throws his hands up in despair, as I did. But then I got a stiff drink, finished the book, and now am ready to tell you about it.

A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market (Wilhelm Röpke)

This classic book, by a long-dead and almost-forgotten German economist, is suddenly relevant again. I have had a copy on my bookshelf for thirty years, never read, and I was startled by how timely A Humane Economy is. Today, elements of Left and Right are ganging up to kick neoliberalism when it’s down, aiming to break the long-dominant alliance between the corporatist Left and Right, and thereby to overturn the instrumentalist view of humans as fodder for an economic machine. We are simply awaiting the next crisis to see what will emerge. Wilhelm Röpke foresaw the problems we face today, because he lived through their early days—though I am not sure his solutions are practical, at least until a lot more chaos first sweeps across the land.

The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America (Oren Cass)

I have often complained that human flourishing cannot consist of increases in GDP that permit us all to buy more cheap Chinese crap every year.  Oren Cass has arrived to say exactly why that is, and what we should focus on instead.  He also adds important related thoughts, including very specific and reality-based policy recommendations.  Thus, in many ways, this book completes my circle of thoughts on political economy, providing the basis for an economic program in opposition to the modern verities of both Left and Right.

Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals (Tyler Cowen)

Finally, the age of sophisters and calculators has fully arrived, and its herald is Tyler Cowen.  He, economist and blogger, is here to tell us the purpose of life.  It is to die with the most toys.  Well, that, plus maximum freedom to do whatever we want with our toys while we are still alive.  Stubborn Attachments is just about the sort of thing you’d expect from a left-libertarian philosopher, namely a clever and partially accurate construct that is internally coherent, but floats free of human reality and ignores any human value other than that found in the box labeled “Approved By John Stuart Mill.”

The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age (Tim Wu)

As the ideological tectonic plates shift in America, many apparently settled matters have become unsettled.  This creates, at the same time, both conflict and strange bedfellows, though I suspect the latter will become used to each other soon enough.  Such once-settled matters include hot-button cultural matters like nationalism, but also dry, technical matters of little apparent general interest that are of profound actual importance.  Among these are the place in our society of concentrations of economic (and therefore political) power, the subject of the excellent Tim Wu’s awesome new book, The Curse of Bigness.  What Wu is hawking is “Neo-Brandeisianism,” and I am buying what he is selling.

Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (Chrystia Freeland)

From the cover, I expected this book to be a lightweight documentary version of Crazy Rich Asians, offering painfully amusing stories about the foibles of the super-rich, accompanied by cautions about the negative effects of such behavior upon the rest of America.  Plus, the picture of private jets in the driveway attracted me as a vision of my hoped-for future, since I am comfortably in the 0.1%, and much of my time is spent struggling to reach yet higher.  Instead, this book is a pretty dense, though rambling, web of analysis, with no funny stories at all.  Still, it’s modestly worthwhile in itself, and it has the additional benefit that it sheds light on today.