Putting Land and Power Back into Economics

Rethinking the Economics of Land and Housing, by three British economists, puts land and power back into economics, by recognizing–as did the classical economists–that ownership natural resources conveys wealth and political power. It also provides an enlightening history of British postwar housing policy, which has gone from building inexpensive rental housing for the working class, to pumping up property values for the ownership class. . . . → Read More: Putting Land and Power Back into Economics

The Democrats Confront Monopoly

At a June 2016 event organized by Barry Lynn of the Open Markets Institute, Elizabeth Warren delivered a stunning speech on the damage of monopoly and the importance of reviving antitrust. Shortly afterwards, I attended a New York presentation by Alan Blinder, Hillary Clinton’s economic policy advisor. He focused on Hillary’s positions on issues vis-à-vis Trump’s and those of the median voter, complete with graphs. He suggested that Bernie had pulled her away from that median voter—a bad idea. One issue Blinder didn’t have on the list was antitrust, so I raised my hand and asked. “Oh,” Blinder said, “that’s not a priority at present, but maybe after her first two years…” . . . → Read More: The Democrats Confront Monopoly

Part II Beauty, Cooperation, and the Hadza Hunter-Gatherers

In The Evolution of Beauty, Yale ornithologist Richard Prum focuses on how female choice affects natural selection. Among the brightly-colored neotropical manakins, the females do all the work of raising chicks, while the males contribute only sperm. That gives the females the pick of the males. The males respond by dancing and singing on a common ground called a lek. Some males even dance in cooperative groups; the females mate with the alpha male of the group they pick. Prum says this cooperativeness happens because that’s what females prefer. Among the hunter-gatherer Hadza tribe in Tanzania, as reported by Nicholas Blurton-Jones in Demography and Evolutionary Ecology of Hadza Hunter-Gatherers (2016), the women produce 90% of the food. Hadza men and women are extremely cooperative and non-violent. Could this be due to female choice? . . . → Read More: Part II Beauty, Cooperation, and the Hadza Hunter-Gatherers

Beauty and Profit: The Evolution of Beauty (2017) by Richard O. Prum

In 1860 Charles Darwin wrote to a colleague: “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail…makes me sick!” What was Darwin’s problem? He had just published On the Origin of Species, laying out his theory of evolution by natural selection. Yet he worried about seemingly maladaptive features of living organisms–like the peacock’s beautiful but cumbersome tail. In a later book, Darwin would argue that sexual selection also plays a major role in evolution. Yet to this day, as Richard Prum complains in his magnificent new book, The Evolution of Beauty, evolutionary biologists dismiss the possibility of anything besides natural selection. Likewise, mainstream economists dismiss the possibility that anything besides competition for profits could account for the economic world around us… . . . → Read More: Beauty and Profit: The Evolution of Beauty (2017) by Richard O. Prum

What’s the Matter with Wisconsin?

In 2016 BT (before Trump) Professor Katherine Cramer of U. Wisconsin explored how upstate Wisconsin – which later voted heavily for Trump – passionately hates the downstate cities of Madison and Milwaukee, and government at all levels. Read my review of The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker from Dollars & Sense, March/April 2017. . . . → Read More: What’s the Matter with Wisconsin?

The 7 Secrets of the Prolific

If you’re like me, you always wanted to be a writer—but obligations came first: family, friends, bosses, students, bills, good causes. Recently, I grumbled about my lack of productivity to my editor Chris Sturr at Dollars & Sense magazine. He sent me The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block by Hillary Rettig. . . . → Read More: The 7 Secrets of the Prolific

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

Arlie Hochschild, a retired sociology professor at U.C. Berkeley, has spent five years interviewing and becoming friends with Tea Party supporters in Louisiana. As she puts it, she has been trying to climb over the “empathy wall,” to “turn off the alarm bells”, in order to understand how her friends view the world. Her new book, Strangers in Their Own Land, should be essential reading for Democratic politicians from Hillary on down. . . . → Read More: Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

James Galbraith Tells Us What Everyone Needs to Know About Inequality

Inequality has surged in the U.S. over the last forty years; many observers now blame the deregulation and tax cuts for the rich starting with the presidency of Ronald Reagan in 1980. In his new short book, Inequality: What Everyone Needs to Know, James Galbraith explains how this happened through the change in U.S. industrial structure. He offers a surprising recommendation. . . . → Read More: James Galbraith Tells Us What Everyone Needs to Know About Inequality

David and Goliath, or Why the One Percent Has to Rig the System

Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, David and Goliath, asks how and why the weak win far more often than we expect. What characteristics of the weak can sometimes make them strong? What characteristics of the powerful can often make them vulnerable? For a long-time inequality buff like me, Gladwell provides some new insights. . . . → Read More: David and Goliath, or Why the One Percent Has to Rig the System

John Perkins’ New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

My father retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 1970, shortly before John Perkins began his career as an economic consultant— “economic hit man”— with the engineering firm, MAIN. Perkins traveled to Indonesia, Panama, Colombia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. His job was to convince leaders to undertake wildly overambitious infrastructure projects that would enrich them and big U.S. engineering firms like Bechtel. In most cases, the projects would fail and leave nations beholden to US banks or the World Bank. Saudi Arabia was a special case; the flood of dollars from the new OPEC cartel would purchase both sophisticated infrastructure like desalinization plants and U.S. military protection against insurgents. Leaders who refused to cooperate with such plans would be picked off by CIA-supported “jackals”. Perkins originally published his story in his 2005 bestseller; he now updates the story with examples from developed countries, such as projects that sucker local governments into building public-private toll roads. Looking back, I realize that my dad knew a lot more about such activities than he let on… . . . → Read More: John Perkins’ New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man