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Wake-up call, part II: revenge of the snooze button?

May 11th, 2011 10 comments

A while ago I wrote a post responding to a Lowy Institute blurb for a new book by Michael Wesley, called There goes the Neighborhood and described as ‘A loud and clear wake-up call to Australians’. In response, I said that ‘At the global level it’s hard to think of a time when we have been less threatened, at least within living memory’, and concluded ‘unless commenters can point to something I’ve missed, I’m going back to sleep’.

Michael Wesley has now responded, and sent me a copy of the book, which I hadn’t read when I responded to the blurb. It turns out that he agrees with me that most of the threats that worried us in the past have dissipated. Also, as I surmised, his main concern is about the way in which the rise of India and China changes our strategic environment. He concludes

In short, we’re entering a world not of threats but of agonising choices that will come at us constantly. My bet is that we’ll look back on the vanished threats that Quiggin talks about with nostalgia for a world that all seemed so simple.

I agree with Wesley that the rise of India and China makes life more complicated in important ways. In the past, our foreign policy consisted, in essence, of the US alliance. That alliance gave us some protection against our local fears, most notably with respect to Indonesia, while also exposing us to some big costs (the need to join faraway wars in which we had no say) and an increased risk of nuclear annihilation, which faded away along with the Cold War, though it hasn’t disappeared.

In the new world, Wesley correctly argues, an uncritical adherence to the US alliance would be a disaster, particularly in the event of a major dispute between the US and China. I agree, and I think most serious foreign policy types already know this. Kevin Rudd’s recent visit to Washington seemed to be devoted, in large measure, to hosing down any expectation that Australia would line up with the US against China in any future dispute (a much more sophisticated line than the updated “All the way with LBJ” line, typically repeated by visiting PMs, up to and including Gillard). Even under the Howard government, generally gung-ho about the US, our diplomats sent the same kind of message from time to time.

Wesley also wants the Australian public to be more engaged and informed, pointing to the deplorable ignorance and anti-Indonesian prejudice surrounding the Schapelle Corby case. Actually, I think this was a good learning experience – most people eventually worked out that, while she cut a sympathetic figure in prison dress, Corby was given a fair trial, (if fact, the Indonesian courts had bent over backwards to give her justice, admitting evidence that would never be allowed in Australia)[1]. Australians are gradually adjusting to the idea of Indonesia as a friendly neighbor rather than a foreign threat. Even so, I think they are well justified in leaving to the experts the kind of diplomacy involved in telling three great powers what they want to hear, while committing ourselves to none of them.

 

fn1. While I’m on this, I’ll welcome the news that the death sentence imposed on Scott Rush has been commuted. This case was a far worse travesty of justice than anything in Corby’s case, but those most to blame were the Australian Federal Police, who sent Rush to possible death in Indonesia, rather than warning him off (as his parents begged them to do) or arresting him on arrival in Australia (which would have reduced their chances of convicting the ringleaders).

US Radio Interview

May 6th, 2011 1 comment

Ian Masters, who’s the US representative of the well-known Australian clan (Chris, Roy, Sue and Olga are all prominent figures here) has interviewed me for this radio program Background Briefing, broadcast and podcast on KPFK-LM, in LA, about my book Zombie Economics. Interview should go to air about noon Sunday Pacific time, and the podcast will be available almost immediately, and also, a bit later at Ian’s own site.

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I Pencil: A product of the mixed economy

April 16th, 2011 107 comments

I’m thinking about doing another book, which would be a reply to Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson a tract published in 1946, and available online, but still in the Amazon top 1000. It’s largely (as Hazlitt himself says) a rehash of Bastiat.

I’ll try to put up a prospectus soon, but I thought I’d start with something simpler, a response to Leonard Read’s 1958 I, Pencil. This essay is a description of the incredibly complex “family tree” of a simple pencil, making the point that the production of a pencil draws on the work of millions of people, not one of whom could actually make a pencil from scratch, and most of whom don’t know or care that their work contributes to the production of pencils. So far, so good. Read goes on to say that

There is a fact still more astounding: the absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find the Invisible Hand at work.

Hold on a moment!

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Zombie Doppelganger

April 10th, 2011 11 comments

I got an email the other day, trying to set up an interview about Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us. Shortly afterwards there was a cancellation – they actually wanted the author of Zombie Economics: A Guide to Personal Finance, due to be released in May.

I’m well aware that there’s no copyright in book titles (Zombie Econ was originally going to be called “Dead Ideas from New Economists, and back in the 90s I wrote one which the publisher insisted on calling Great Expectations), but I can’t help wondering about the implications for sales. At least for the moment they don’t look too bad. According to Amazon, 12 per cent of people who viewed the doppelganger ultimately bought my book, while the proportion going the other way is zero (although some zombie fans go for Chris Harman’s Zombie Capitalism). But I imagine that’s the result of bad search results among people looking for mine, rather than a spillover from those looking for the doppelganger. If so, I imagine the flow will reverse when the new one is released.

Are there other interesting examples of book title recycling, or interesting ideas for new takes on classic titles?

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Zombie Economics – the movie

January 18th, 2011 35 comments

When I signed the contract with Princeton UP for Zombie Economics, I read the section covering movie rights, and had fun chatting about which of my friends would be best suited to play Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium, Trickle Down (yes, yes, I know!) and so on. Then I found out that Freakonomics actually has been made into a movie, and of course, I wanted the same. But, even in the century of the mashup, it doesn’t seem likely that a polemical economics text could be made watchable just by adding zombies (though I thought the mash worked pretty well in print).

Instead, how about starting with a comic-horror zombie movie, then making the apocalyptic zombie-generating event a financial-economic crisis? That seemed much more promising, and I starting working out the treatment in my head. All was going well until I realized that I was stealing all my best ideas from Charlie Stross. I emailed Charlie, and he said to go right ahead, so I thought at least it would be fun for a blog post.

Over the fold some of the scenes I’ve sketched so far – feel free to make suggestions which I will then feel free to steal in the unlikely event that this goes any further.

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Zombies and T-shirts and Posters

December 15th, 2010 10 comments

Get your Zombie-Econ t-shirts and posters from Zazzle!

Apparently, a reader wrote in to Princeton University Press asking for a poster of the cover, which isn’t standard issue for university press books. But thanks to the Internet, all things are possible these days, and within hours, they have been made available.

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State of Innovation

December 10th, 2010 13 comments

In discussions about markets and innovation, I’ve repeatedly made the point that the biggest single innovation of recent decades, the Internet, was not produced by markets at all. It started in the university sector (aided by a little seed money from the US Defense Department) and was developed by amateurs and volunteers for a couple of decades before it was handed over to the dotcommers, who proceeded to waste a trillion dollars or so on silly get-rich-quick schemes.

I’ve never had the time to go much beyond that, but a recent book, State of Innovation, edited by Fred Block and Matthew Keller takes a close look at the process of innovation in the US and the role of government funding. The key conclusion

over the last four decades, government programs and policies have quietly become ever more central to the American economy. From “basic research” to commercialization, the fingerprints of government can be found in virtually every major industrial success story of the late 20th and early 21st century.

At least in part, this reflects the disappearance of big corporate R&D outfits like Bell Labs, and the conversion of General Electric into a finance company. But there are lots more interesting details about the relationship between startups, venture capital and public funding. Well worth reading.

LSE blogpost

November 26th, 2010 5 comments

Slightly anachronistically, here’s what I wrote for the LSE blog in advance of my lecture last night. The blog as a whole is well worth reading.

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Zombies in London

November 25th, 2010 9 comments

I’m speaking at the London School of Economics tonight, basically recapping my Zombie Economics book. It’s a bit late notice, but in case any London-based readers are interested, I thought I would give the event a plug here.

Details here

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Zombies on Econtalk

November 2nd, 2010 12 comments

I’ve done a podcast discussion with Russ Roberts for EconTalk. There’s also a transcript of the highlights, great for people who lack the time/ to listen to a long podcast.

Although we are pretty much at opposite ends of the spectrum as conventionally viewed (Roberts is a George Mason prof and Chicago PhD and EconTalk is published at the EconLib site) we found quite a few areas of agreement, and had a constructive discussion on the points of disagreement.[1] That’s partly because Russ is a good host, but also because, as Matt Yglesias noted in a tweet not so long ago, my critique of ideas like the EMH is very similar to that of Austrian-inclined critics like Amar Bhide[2]. I plan to have more to say about this.

fn1. I also got a review from Arnold Kling on the same site, which began “I agree with some of it, which might be considered a rave review.”
fn2. I’ve retweeted this, but I don’t know how to hyperlink to it

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Book launch tonight

October 29th, 2010 8 comments

Zombie Economics gets its official Halloween launch at the Irish Club, 6:30 tonight, courtesy of Birsbane Young Economists

Details here

poster

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Zombies+Halloween+Economists@Irish CLub

October 25th, 2010 1 comment

That’s right. It’s the official Halloween launch of Zombie Economics, to be held at the Irish Club on Friday, thanks to Queensland Young Economists.

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My presentation from the Dangerous Ideas Festival

October 5th, 2010 13 comments

I wasn’t quite sure whether I was presenting my own dangerous ideas, or talking about the dangerous ideas of the zombie economists, but either way it was a fun event. I’ve attached the presentation in various formats PPT and PDF (v large) formats, and a font you may need to read it.
DangerousZombiesPDF
bloodyFont
DangerousZombies

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The text and the book

September 25th, 2010 9 comments

I’ve been living with the text of Zombie Economics for a long time and the cover art came out a while back. But now I finally have my hands on a physical copy of the book, and it’s surprising what a difference the real object makes. My immediate reaction was to open it with dread, sure that some terrible error would jump out at me, but that didn’t happen (no doubt the reviewers will find them, but that’s their job).

With that out of the road, I’ve been filled with irrational confidence. “Surely”, I think, “even the most jaded traveller, passing this book on the airport bookstall, will feel impelled to buy it”. No doubt, this optimistic glow won’t survive the arrival of actual sales figures, but I’m enjoying it while it lasts.

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First Bank of the Living Dead

August 25th, 2010 19 comments

That’s the title of Daniel Drezner’s review Zombie Economics along with several other post-crisis books. I’m glad he likes the title, but he offers what seems to me to be a rather unfair representation of my argument. As the author, I’m not exactly unbiased, so see what you think.
Read more…

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Zombies: where to get them

August 11th, 2010 15 comments

Although Zombie Economics isn’t due out until Halloween (end of October), you can pre-order from the Australian distributor (Footprint Books, form attached) or from the main US outlets (Powells, Borders, Amazon).

Read more…

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The author waits anxiously …

August 10th, 2010 14 comments

… for the first book review to come in, and happily, it’s a good one, from Buttonwood, who has long been my favorite columnist/blogger at The Economist.

Get more news as it happens on

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Zombie-Economics-by-John-Quiggin/123348251033799?v=wall&ref=ts

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Back on air

July 17th, 2010 35 comments

The final proofs of Zombie Economics went off to the typesetter this morning, and you’ve all seen this evening’s news. So, I guess it’s time for me to end my hiatus, and make whatever contribution I can to the marvel of democracy. Not to keep anyone in suspense, I’ll be advocating a vote for the Greens.

Categories: Dead Ideas book, Oz Politics Tags:

Which Road to Serfdom?

April 13th, 2010 125 comments

Both here and at Crooked Timber, libertarianism is getting a bit of a run. So, can anyone find me a copy of Hayek’s prescient 1944 book, The Road to Serfdom, which predicted that the policies of the British Labour Party (policies that were implemented after the 1945 election) would result in relatively poor economic performance, and would eventually be modified or abandoned, a claim vindicated by the triumph of Thatcherism in the 1980s? This book, and its predictive success, seem to play an important role in libertarian thinking.

Despite a diligent search, the only thing I can find is a book of the same title, also written by an FA von Hayek in 1944. This Road to Serfdom predicts that the policies of the British Labour Party, implemented after the 1945 election, would lead to the emergence of a totalitarian state similar to Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, or at least to a massive reduction in political and personal freedom (as distinct from economic freedom). Obviously this prediction was totally wrong. Democracy survived Labor’s nationalizations, and personal freedom expanded substantially. Even a defensible version of the argument (say, a claim that, Labor’s ultimate program included elements that could not be realised without anti-democratic forms of coercion, and that would have to be dropped if these bad outcomes were to be avoided) could only be regarded as raising a hypothetical, but unrealised, cause for concern.. Presumably, this isn’t the book the libertarians have read, so I assume there must exist another of the same title.

Zombies walking

April 6th, 2010 5 comments

I sent the manuscript of Zombie Economics off to Princeton University Press last night. There’s still plenty of work (figures, index, copyediting, some last-minute changes, galleys) to be done for a planned release at Halloween. But this is the official submission. In writing the preface I checked over the comments I’d received, here and at Crooked Timber. Several thousand in total, from more than a hundred different commenters. Thanks to everyone who took part. It was a huge help and encouragement to me.

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Panic stations

April 1st, 2010 12 comments

My publisher just told me the publication date for my book has been moved forward, and the due date for the manuscript is “…well, now”. Lots needing to be done, and zero time to do it, but I’m sure I’ll manage somehow.

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Bookblogging: The final instalment

March 8th, 2010 12 comments

I’ve finally completed a near-final draft of my book, although some bits, such as the following ‘Reanimation’ section of the chapter on privatisation are still a bit rough.

I’m getting some good comments from readers here, and through more conventional academic channels, which should help me sand down the rough spots a bit. Anyway, thanks to all for the comments I’ve received. It’s made a huge difference to me, and made the production of this book a much less daunting undertaking than laboring alone.

Remember, before pointing out stuff that is missing, that an earlier draft is online here and may be worth reading to see where I’m coming from.

Read more…

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Bookblogging: the reanimation of trickle down

March 5th, 2010 34 comments

The deadline for the manuscript of Zombie Economics (last complete draft here) is only a few weeks away, and the zombies are popping up faster than I can knock them down. I’m adding a section on reanimated zombies to each chapter. Over the fold is the social mobility defense of trickle down economics, as animated by Thomas Sowell. There’s still time for me to benefit from your comments.

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Invulnerable zombies – the EMH

February 27th, 2010 87 comments

My book is due for publication in the US Fall, so work on my added sections on reanimation is starting to feel like one of those games where you have to kill all the zombies to get to the antidote before you fall victim yourself. Here’s another one – more on the way

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Zombie economics gets a mulligan: or, how Obamacare caused the Global Financial Crisis

February 26th, 2010 28 comments

I’m adding a little section to each of the chapters in my Zombie Economics book called “Reanimation”, about the attempts that are already under way to revive economic ideas killed (at least according to the standard rules of hypothesis refutation) by the global crisis. I wasn’t surprised to find plenty of examples for the efficient markets hypothesis (easy to render immune from any kind of refutation by an appropriate formulation) or for policy ideas that yield big benefits to the rich and powerful, such as privatisation and trickle-down economics. But I was surprised a little while ago to see the crisis described as a transitory blip in the continuing Great Moderation. Still that pales into insignificance compared to this piece by Casey Mulligan of Chicago (h/t commenter Daniel ), in which (I swear this is true!) the crisis is the result of financial markets correctly anticipating the adverse labour market impacts of possible legislation under Obama, such as a health plan that might include means tests.

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Zombie ideas rise again

February 4th, 2010 39 comments

A glutton for punishment, I’ve decided the Zombie Economics book manuscript I submitted a month ago (mostly online here) is in urgent need of more zombies. I’ve been struck, even in that short space of time by the extent to which, with undeniable “green shoots” now appearing, the zombie ideas I’ve written about are clawing their way through the softening soil and walking among us again. The most amazing example is that of the Great Moderation – surely you would think no one could believe in this anymore, but they do.

So, I’m planning to add a bit to each chapter, pointing to examples of these ideas being revived. I’d appreciate good examples for the rest: Trickle Down, Micro-based Macro the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and Privatisation (of course, the Queensland government gives an example v close to home).

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Bookblogging: The end

January 18th, 2010 16 comments

Over the fold, the conclusion of my book, with Release Candidate title “Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us”. I plan a proper post on the whole bookblogging experience, but until then, I’ll thank everyone who’s commented, or just read this exercise with interest and make one (maybe) last request for help. Can anyone recommend a book on Thatcher’s economic reforms that would be a good suggestion for further reading? I’m currently suggesting Anderew Glyn’s Capitalism Unleashed, but I’d like to add something from a centrist or Thatcherite perspective, as long as it’s readable and not too objectionable for words.

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Bookblogging: Privatization (Part 2)

January 15th, 2010 48 comments

I sent off the draft MS of my Zombie Economics book to the publisher last week, but there is still time for improvement. Over the fold is the second, and final part of the privatization chapter.

You can read most of the book (not always the final draft) at my wikidot site.

As always, comments and criticism much appreciated.

Read more…

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Pulped fiction?

January 7th, 2010 44 comments

Talking of books, it’s been nearly a month since it was announced that Volume 3 of Keith Windschuttle’s fabrications would be released “next week”. Such vaporous promises are typical of KW, but I would have thought that if a book was promised for next week it would have already been printed. Could it be that, with his lead story about Rabbit Proof Fence totally demolished, Keith has decided to pulp the book and try again?

Update Commenter Charlie, who obviously has a stronger stomach than I do, visited the Quadrant website, and found an extract and cover art for the book, with publication details as follows: The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume Three, The Stolen Generations 1881–2008, Macleay Press, $59.95, 656 pages, published in December 2009. But MacLeay Press itself has nothing.

Update While I’m on the topic, the latest outpouring from American Enterprise Institute Fellow Charles Murray as he complains about the number of black and brown faces on the streets of Paris has drawn attention to his past as a youthful cross-burner. In between his KKK wannabe youth and his current channelling of Pauline Hanson, Murray wrote a bunch of books, such as The Bell Curve and Losing Ground, which put a scholarly gloss on the same ugly stuff, and were therefore treated with more respect than they deserve.

Since he has already commented in defence of Windschuttle, I expect Jack Strocchi will have something to say here and I’m going to let him. However, that’s the end. From this post on, any comment from Strocchi touching on the issues of race, ethnicity, religion or immigration, directly or indirectly, will be deleted and repetition will be cause for an immediate and permanent ban. No correspondence will be entered into, and any attempt to dispute the policy in comments (here or elsewhere) will trigger the same ban. Strocchi is, however, welcome to continue commenting on other topics.

Further update The book has now appeared (11/1/09). I guess Windy was just trying to put some time between the Rabbit Proof Fence debacle and the release. Interestingly, he’s still promising Vol 2 and Vol 4.

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Book in beta

January 7th, 2010 7 comments

I just sent a draft manuscript of my Zombie Economics book off to the publisher at Princeton UP. It’s pretty much in beta stage now.The aim is to have it come out in the Fall List.

Thanks heaps for all the praise and criticism. The praise has kept me motivated, and the criticism has been at least as valuable.

I’ve got some more sections of the privatisation chapter and the afterword to post here for comments, and I’m now going to circulate the draft in the older version of the same process. I’m also updating the draft at wikidot (lagging a little on this).

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