Bryan Caplan  

The Books I Wish My Colleagues Would Write

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My New Year's resolution for Robin Hanson got me thinking about the book projects I wish my other colleagues would pursue.  Digest version:

1. Tyler Cowen should write that I call a "book of answers" with the working title Social Intelligence: What I Know About People That You Don't.  The key point of departure: The goal of the book is not to "get readers to ask themselves questions," but to convey definite answers that Tyler defends without irony.  If you think this goes against his nature, I've seen him do this many times first-hand - just not in print.

2. John Nye should write a book called Asian Liberalism.  It would weave together a thoughtful history of modern Asian economic policy with a blueprint for turning your basketcase country into a Tiger.  This would also be Nye's big chance to defend the social value of Victorian values and Victorian hypocrisy.

3. Garett Jones should write a book called Hive Mind: Why Your Country's Intelligence Matters So Much More Than Your Own.  But the project's already underway, so I'll say no more.

4. Alex Tabarrok should write a book reconciling his Randian youth with his current views.  The book would begin by convincing social scientists that Ayn Rand's views are at least plausible.  Then he would explain which arguments he's rejected, which ones he still believes, and why.  Working title (there's got to be a better one): Yes, I Still Like Ayn Rand.

5. Russ Roberts should write a book of interviews to give Arnold and Nick a run for their money.  Who should he interview?  I'm not sure, but I'm thinking: Thoughtful social scientists outside of economics, starting with political scientists and psychologists.  What's their real beef with economics?  How much stems from misunderstanding us - and how much stems from understanding us too well?

6. Don Boudreaux should write a public choice history of antitrust.  He made a great start in his chapter in The Causes and Consequences of Antitrust: The Public-Choice Perspective.  But the world really needs a whole book that uses 120 years of history to rip apart textbook mythology.  In practice, antitrust laws don't protect "the public interest."  Instead, they're a wasteful red herring that distracts us from the fact that governments habitually create monopoly on purpose.  Don's job: Make his case so convincing to skeptics that textbook authors feel embarrassed by their orthodox monopoly chapters.

7. Pete Boettke should write a book called Enlightening Anecdotes.  I've learned a lot from Pete, but mostly from his amazing inventory of truthy first-hand stories.   I think he should share this oral tradition with the world.  Think of it as Boettke's answer to Fischer Black's Exploring General Equilibrium - a hundred wise paragraphs on a hundred topics, written in Pete's natural voice.

Anyone got any better ideas - or ways to improve mine?

P.S. Turnaround's fair play.  If you think you know how I should be spending my time, I welcome your constructive criticism.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (20 to date)
Pietro Poggi-Corradini writes:

Arnold Kling's "Unchecked and Umbalanced" is great as it is, but the first section of the book is an analysis of the 2008 financial meltdown and, it seems to me, a third section explaining Arnold's views on how to make the financial system "less stable, but easier to fix" would be great. Also he might consider issuing a second updated edition of "crisis of abundance", in view of the current reform.

kzndr writes:

Can we infer from this that you don't think your co-bloggers should be writing books?

Sohaib writes:

Professor Caplan,

I think you should write an expanded version of Myth of the Rational Voter titled "Jesus Christ people are DUMB"

The book should be semi-satirical. Your writing reminds me of an economics focused, more politically correct George Carlin.

Aside: I would love to watch you and Professor Cowen debate something in an informal setting. I have a feeling it would be hilarious and enlightening at the same time.

agnostic writes:

Nye: I'd like to see a more explicit incorporation of North, Wallis, & Weingast's framework of limited access "natural states" vs. open access social orders. I don't read econ blogs extensively, but aside from Arnold Kling, he's the only person I've seen use this framework (for an article at Mercatus about how fragile our trust in markets is; also in his EconTalk interview on the same topic).

All the historical analysis in the NWW book is about Europe. Japan somehow escaped from being a limited access order, and South Korea is making the transition. China doesn't look so far behind. What has been different and the same compared to the rise of open access orders in Europe?

In particular, how have they consolidated the means of violence into a police and army, away from the diffuse "local strongman" model of natural states. That's the transitional step that NWW admit they have the least compelling story about.

Or something more feasible short-term: see what the Japanese reaction was to whatever their own version of WWI was (not a history buff). Some horrific event that shook their fragile acceptance of markets and commercial values. Again, what was the same and different compared to the inwardness of Western Europe between WWI and WWII?

No matter which author we're talking about, I'd like to see more work on the pre-industrial period or the transition to industrialization. From what I can tell, aside from econ historians, most economists -- and therefore their readers -- are pretty ignorant of how things were. (That also shows up in their so-far foolish and confident suggestions of how the pre-industrial countries of today can make the transition.)

Adam Ozimek writes:

I'd like to see you write your own Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.

Josh writes:

Professor Caplan,

I'd like to see you write a book on HTML.

Ted Craig writes:

You could write a book about comics and social sciences, e.g. the politics of V For Vendetta.

mk writes:

You should write a companion book to the myth of the rational voter, called "No One's Going to Save Us: Our Impossible Expectations for Government and Why They Will Never Be Fulfilled".

It should entirely avoid all libertarian dogma. Instead it should focus on the sheer difficulty of the task of the bureaucrat, or the President, or mayor.

For example:
1) The impossibility of ever forcibly making the whole world safe (the problems of failed states in Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, etc. -- the problem is too widespread and COIN takes a bigger army than we have.)

2) The impossibility of having government "solve" the problem of a recession.

3) Anything else you like, where we have unreasonable expectations of government.

The recurring theme is "the math doesn't add up" (the problem is too hard for too few people to solve). Again, it should be entirely free of libertarian dogma -- it should be deeply sympathetic to the aims of the liberal (or for defense matters, conservative) who wishes to solve big problems and wishes to see the government as a vehicle for solving them. It should be impossible to tell that the writer is a libertarian.

As a final chapter you should inspire people to philanthropy, activism and entrepreneurship.

tom writes:

Why not have Robin Hanson and Tyler collaborate on a book about sex, desire and status? Not like Posner's Sex and Reason, more like Geoffrey Miller's Mating Mind. I picture Tiger and President Clinton with a bunch of strippers on the cover to sell copies. The book would say four controversial things about high- and low-status men and women to get morning show interviews and NYT coverage, but they'd be able to source the controversial statements to studies to avoid getting Summersed. The editors would have to cut everything Tyler includes about where high-status men fall on the autistic spectrum and whether they eat kimchi and everything Robin writes about how Craigslist personals are like prediction markets.

Tyler Cowen writes:

I would like to see you write a book on how the world is more efficient than you think. You wouldn't have to agree with the content, I just want to know how the argument would run.

Floccina writes:

Bryan weren't you going to write about education? Are you still working on that?

Bill Mill writes:

I'd much rather that Dr. Roberts wrote a book "what's wrong with economics" where he elaborates on what bugs him about modern economic modeling and macroeconomy.

It consistently comes up in his conversations in EconTalk, is super interesting and different, and yet is usually only something he touches on then moves on.

A book would make him lay out the ideas that have been bouncing around in his head for a couple of years, if EconTalk is any indication.

Matt writes:

Don't you guys get tired of writing? Why not make a movie? Russ Roberts could write the script, Kling could direct it. Everyone else can play the "gang"- a Scooby-Doo type group of economists that solve problems through rationality and sound economic principles.

Have Don Boudreaux play the villian, he seems like he could really get into it. Try to convince Paul Krugman to play the idiotic and corrupt cop who keeps screwing things up and then taking credit for the things the gang fixes (it should be easy to talk him into it because he'll probably think he's playing the hero).

This seems like a natural progression for Russ- economic romance novel, economic rap video, economic action/adventure movie.

Josh Weil writes:

Anyway we could get a discount if we mention this blog post?I would read all those suggested books.

Steve Roth writes:

I actually had this very thought recently. "Bryan should write a book about..."

Things Every High School Graduate Should Know

This thinking first emerged when I was ranting to someone about how no student should graduate high school without having read The Selfish Gene. It expanded when I did an independent study for my daughter and her boyfriend senior year that revolved around:

Game Theory
Evolution and Evolutionary Psychology
Economics/Political Economy

The list should also include basic personal finance: compounding interest, present/future value, diversification, etc. It's particularly insane, it seems to me, that students graduate without knowing anything about this.

Reading list should include:

The Selfish Gene

Morton Davis's Game Theory, a Nontechnical Introduction (this is an excellent book, and available in a dandy little $9 Dover edition).

Selections from Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, Keynes, etc.

The Blank Slate

Selections from Irrational Exuberance and/or Stocks for the Long Run

The Myth of the Rational Voter

Etc. and etc., plus lots and lots of blog posts.

This corpus is about teaching a particular way of thinking, which some might call economic thinking, others might call rational thinking...

This all in keeping with your post a while back about writing books which--if everyone read them--could really change the world. MOTRV's main takeaway, it seems, is that people need to be taught about economics (and etc.) to make rational voting decisions. Here's your chance...

Bryan Caplan writes:
Floccina writes:

Bryan weren't you going to write about education? Are you still working on that?

Yes, it's next in my queue.
Bryan Caplan writes:
Steve Roth writes:

I actually had this very thought recently. "Bryan should write a book about..."

Things Every High School Graduate Should Know

If I wind up homeschooling my sons in junior high, it might write itself.
rw writes:

Re: No. 1 on your list. In a sort-of extension of what Matt says above, I think this is a great idea, but not for a book. It should be an online videocast. A combination of answering questions asked by viewers/fans, and answering questions that nobody asked but somebody should. Each episode would be maybe 10 minutes.

This would be WAY better than a book. And it would likely boost sales of his extant books, and might even make the leap to some broadcast/cable scenario (which of course sells even more books).

Also "Social Intelligence" is an unbelievably boring title. Just take the idea of the subtitle and work with that: "What I Know That You Don't." Now that's an attention-getter. If you ask me. Which, obviously, you didn't.

sourcreamus writes:

Someone, probably Caplan, should write a book called The One Handed Economist about issues where there is consensus among economists. The public thinks economists agree on very little, but one of the overlooked aspects of Caplan's book on voting was that the profession is relatively united on several issues that are quite controversial among the populace at large.

former student writes:

I was always entertained by Boettke's "Rothbard voice" when he conjured up those nuggets. Maybe the book should be published in audio only, with his impressions to match the anecdotes.

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