The following are books read this month:
- Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism by Kathleen Stock (2021)
The book focuses on gender and sex and conceptual differences between the two. Stock writes clearly and concisely, and I feel I understand her distinctions well, however as someone who doesn’t know much about this I can’t tell whether she characterizes her opponent’s views fairly.
And for that matter, who is she even writing about? Academic feminists? LGBT+ groups such as Stonewall in the UK? The view of the typical trans person?
Stock is a philosopher and so the book is conceptual in nature, and it’s fine that’s the scope. I would have liked, however, for there to be some review of what empirical evidence we have (although perhaps there just isn’t much). My attempt to, for example, see what evidence there is on how masculine/feminine trans people are compared to cis people is here.
Similar: Crazy Like Us by Ethan Watters (2010)
- The Future of Money by Eswar Prasad (2021)
A (very, very good) book about modern financial technologies, as of 2021. Mostly focuses on CBDCs and crypto; I got a lot out of it and probably even laypeople who know more about this than I did would get a lot out of the book. I especially enjoyed the more global focus, in that while the book is grounded in the USA, many examples are given of other economies.
From the book, two quotes illustrating the new prosperity gospel:
In 2018, an evangelical church in Irkutsk, Russia, lost a court battle to avoid paying higher electricity rates for its cryptocurrency mining activities. According to the local electricity company’s regulations, electricity used for cryptocurrency mining incurred a higher tariff than electricity used for normal activities. The church claimed that the spike in electricity consumption from May through August 2017, when it was hit with the higher rates, reflected heating purposed and the energy needed to print religious material.
[Jesus Coin] was created with the purpose of “decentralizing Jesus on the blockchain.” The white paper behind the project made the case that “for too long, money-grabbing churches have attempted to ‘own’ and ‘sell’ Jesus. It’s time that someone took back Jesus for all of us, and Jesus Coin is our way of bringing back Jesus to the masses… If we can democratize banking, insurance, gaming and more, then together we can decentralize Jesus. Jesus Coin investors can gain from the competitive advantage of being closer to God, all while benefiting from low transaction costs and maximum transparency and security.”
Jesus Coin was introduced in late 2017 but unfortunately has “expired on the cross” as Prasad puts it. I would dearly like to know, however, if there are any churches that took this seriously as a payment method, and if so I’d like to visit.
- Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World by Adam Tooze (2018)
A nice thorough history of the great recession. For my level of economic knowledge I wished it had been more detailed on the economics of the crash and less on seemingly every single thing major European leaders said to each other over the course of a few years, but of course background knowledge will vary between readers.
One sentiment the book did convey effectively was surprise that the global financial system functions at all. A quote to illustrate this:
With China’s trade surplus with the United States surging from $83 billion in 2000 to $227 billion in 2009, to hold the value of the yuan down the Chinese central bank had to continually buy dollars and sell its own currrency. To do so it printed yuan. In the normal course of things this would have unleashed domestic inflation, wiping out any competitive advantage and triggering social unrest. So, to “sterilize” the effects of its on intervention, the People’s Bank of China required all Chinese banks to hold large and growing precautionary reserves, effectively removing the currency from circulation.
I wonder whether economists reading would be alarmed by this? And do those who invent such schemes ever get tried for witchcraft?
Similar: Eurotragedy: A Drama in Nine Acts by Ashoka Mody (2018)
How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built by Stewart Brand (1994)
Less informative and more entertaining than I’d expected, but very entertaining.
“Like people, buildings would have far fewer upkeep problems if they had no orifices.”
The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
Hard to read and yet very enjoyable and well-written. How widely read is this book in the U.S.?
Similar: Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (1953)
- Adapting to Climate Change by Matthew E. Kahn (2021)
The main thrust of the book is that researchers who examine the effects of climate change tend to extrapolate from people’s existing behavior, which contradicts basic assumptions of economics that when the cost-benefit ratio of different actions changes, people will behave differently. An example that Kahn frequently cites is that effects of heat on cognitive function are mitigated using air condition, which may be uneconomical in some places now, but more beneficial in the future as temperatures rise.
Evidence cited is the kind of behavioral economics which may or may not replicate in the future (I can’t tell from reading the book and felt it wouldn’t be worth my time to check.)
The book doesn’t really have more thrusts than this; I think the main point is worthwhile but can be expounded in fewer pages.
Similar: The Wizard and the Prophet by Charles C. Mann (2018)
- The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph A. Tainter (1988)
Tainter is thorough in his examination of what complexity means for a society, as well as different theories for how societies form and collapse before presenting his theory: collapse happens when the marginal cost of higher complexity rises and eventually becomes too expensive. He explains how this theory can explain the collapses of some societies.
Since there are so many facets of complexity in a society, which are the relevant ones to consider? When explaining collapse of for example the Western Roman Empire, Tainter focuses on the factors that were previously drivers of large-scale growth but faced diminishing returns as a tactic later on. How can this be used as a predictive theory, though?
Similar: Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (1997),
Time for Socialism by Thomas Piketty (2021)
Would these essays be convincing to anyone who didn’t already agree with Piketty? And, more importantly, why are essays by this highly renowned economist less good than randos on Substack?
Written in Red by Anne Bishop (2013)
I don’t read much fantasy but wanted something light. Hat tip to a good friend for recommending this one; I enjoyed it.