Home > Books and culture > Book plug: Pushing our luck, and more

Book plug: Pushing our luck, and more

September 17th, 2013

I’ll be at Brisbane’s Avid Reader bookshop this evening, helping at the launch of Pushing our luck: ideas for Australian progress, a new book of essays from the Centre for Policy Development. We’ve got a few years to reflect on policy ideas now, so this is a good time to get started.

While I’m at it, I’m going to mention a bunch of books I’ve read, and intended to write about, but haven’t had time

Earthmasters: Playing God with the Climate by Clive Hamilton, is about geo-engineering, often presented as the backstop alternative to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As the title indicates, this book is an argument that reliance on geo-engineering is a recipe for disaster. I agree, though I think it’s clear that sometime this century we are going to have to find a way to achieve, in effect, negative emissions, that is a situation where human and natural processes take more CO2 and methane out of the atmosphere than they put into it. That’s not exactly geoengineering, but it is a conscious intervention to change the atmosphere, or at least return it to an earlier state

Battlers and Billionaires: The Story of Inequality in Australia by Andrew Leigh, economist and MP. A great book on the looming end of the “fair go” in Australia. I’d put more emphasis on the role of policy and less on technology than Andrew does, but that puts me in a minority among economists.

The Infinite Resource by Ramez Naam. This is the book that Bjorn Lomborg ought to have written, instead of the silly and deceptive “Sceptical Environmentalist”. Naam doesn’t pretend that the risk of environmental catastrophe is spurious or that markets will fix the problem by themselves, but nonetheless has an optimistic take on the scope for innovation to allow the human race to not only survive but thrive.

Occupy the Future a volume of short essays arising from the Occupy movement. Lots of useful resources here

Masters of the Universe:Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics by Daniel Stedman Jones. Not a new topic, but a lot of new information and analysis – well worth reading.

The New American Economy:The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward From 2009, interesting in itself and because Bartlett is one of the most notable examples of the intellectual trend of conversion from right to left, evident since the late 1990s, and reversing the pattern of earlier decades.

Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway Another older book, but indispensable now that the merchants of doubt and delusion have gained political power here

Bankers, Bureaucrats, and Central Bank Politics: The Myth of Neutrality by Christopher Adolph. Makes the obvious but vital point that central bankers aren’t neutral bureaucrats. For many, central banking is a step towards, or an interlude in, a career in the financial sector, and the policies they advocate while in the public sector reflect this.

That hasn’t left a lot of time for fiction, but I think I have now read everything by the late and much-missed Iain Banks (including all the SF stuff written as Iain M. Banks).

Categories: Books and culture Tags:
  1. Newtownian
    September 17th, 2013 at 12:10 | #1

    Tks John – what a great list. It could almost be the reading list for a course in “Economics, Environment and Society”. Or maybe better titles ‘The triple bottom line conflict’.

    Seriously it would make a great course – if you could find a University with the guts to host it anymore. The fate of Steve Keen is a useful reminder here on what happens these days to dissidents with a black sense of humour.

  2. Ikonoclast
    September 17th, 2013 at 12:58 | #2

    Hmmm, the “Infinite Resource : The Power of Ideas on a finite planet.”

    I will maintain my policy of being pedantically literal. Outside of art and humour it’s the best policy. The author sounds by the title to be pushing the lame old line that human ingenuity is infinite therefore finite resources don’t matter. This is demonstrably false on two counts.

    1. Humans en masse can have a very large number of ideas and also benefit from the multiplicative effects of group intelligence. However, each individual’s ideas are finite and adding or even multiplying finite numbers, a finite number of times, still gives a finite number.

    2. Ideas are powerless without the physical means and resources to execute them. Therefore finite resources would limit the number of executable ideas even if the number of ideas was very large or infinite.

  3. JamesH
    September 17th, 2013 at 16:36 | #3

    I also asked this on Crooked Timber, but – there are a lot of books about Occupy, but are there any which particularly stand out from the pack?

  4. wilful
    September 17th, 2013 at 16:38 | #4

    John, you may be interested in this short essay by Iain Banks about the Culture.


  5. John Quiggin
    September 17th, 2013 at 16:45 | #5

    I haven’t seen many of these books, so I’d also welcome recommendations

    @wilful Great, thanks!

  6. Donald Oats
    September 18th, 2013 at 08:40 | #6

    One of your books mentions inequality of our society with respect to wealth talking, but perhaps we should also remember one other form of inequality in Australian society, particularly now that we have a new (male-dominated) cabinet to be sworn in. From the ABC web site:

    Senator Abetz says having more women in the Labor ministry did not necessarily lead to good representation in Parliament.

    “You have to make very tough judgment calls as a prime minister as to who is in and who is out of Cabinet, and at the end of the day we, as a Coalition, have always said that these positions should be based on merit rather than on quota,” he said.

    “And if I might say with respect, have a look at the Labor Party and you can see what quotas do.”

    The lack of female appointments overshadowed Mr Abbott’s first formal news conference since he won the election.

    To which I pose one question: just what does Abetze mean by the comment (in bold); is he seriously suggesting that Labor had a cabinet of under-achieving women? Name the under-achievers, Eric, but make sure to do it in front of a mirror.

    Seems that some forms of inequality just don’t want to go away, no matter how ridiculous the rationale might be for them. Sigh.

  7. Tim Macknay
    September 18th, 2013 at 11:55 | #7

    So are your two points art or humour, Ikon?

  8. Tim Macknay
    September 18th, 2013 at 11:58 | #8

    While endorsements ought not to matter to much, I have to admit that I did find the endorsements for The Infinite Resource a little worrisome – Steven Pinker and Ray Kurzweil !?!

  9. John Quiggin
    September 19th, 2013 at 05:07 | #9

    @Tim Macknay
    I admit that was a worry. Pinker and Kurzweil are uncritical techno-optimists, so their endorsement has zero information value: they’d like a bad book on these lines or a good one. But I think this is a good one.

  10. Crispin Bennett
    September 19th, 2013 at 06:59 | #10

    @John: I was a bit nonplussed at the book launch to observe how relatively optimistic the panel appeared. Then I reflect on the crazed Jeff Seeney on last night’s news saying he had ‘no interest’ in Cape York’s world heritage listing, Abbott’s immediate promotion of climate change deniers to head Environment, and Newman’s nagging of the feds to get out of the way so he can go all-out on the Galilee Basin and Abbot Point projects. It seems this crew could do an great deal of irreversible damage even if they only get 1 term.

Comments are closed.