Art Carden  

Recent Reading

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1. Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game. I've misplaced my copy of Foundation and Empire, so I decided to pick up the Ender Quartet. I found Ender's Game difficult to put down at times. The use of children in war presents a series of complex ethical dilemmas. I'm sure Bryan has read this one; I'd be very interested in his take. They're making a movie version. Here's the trailer.

2. Fred McChesney, Money for Nothing: Politicians, Rent Extraction, and Political Extortion. Basically, politicians extract rents (contributions, speaking invitations with juicy honoraria, etc) from firms in exchange for withholding or withdrawing legislation that would damage them. It's a story I don't want to believe because it just sounds too audacious, and yet there's a lingo to describe it: milker bills, juice bills, fetcher bills. The most interesting part I've read so far concerns politicians' threats to regulate an industry in such a way as to destroy income accruing to firm-specific assets that the firms have worked hard to establish. The value of your brand name, for example, falls if the government "offers" (read: threatens) to regulate the entire industry. It's a special-interest story about politics enabled by voters who believe the public interest theory of the state.

3. Jeffrey Tucker, A Beautiful Anarchy. G.K. Chesterton once said that "we are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders." Indeed, that's what starts off the "I, Pencil" Movie. Tucker goes through a series of essays discussing how the state is superfluous while the undesigned order of the market is a fountain of riches. My major takeaway: be an earlier adopter of technology.

4. Arnold Kling, The Three Languages of Politics. Kling argues that people of different political persuasions view the world along fundamentally different axes. It's thought-provoking, to be sure. Progressives view the world as a struggle between oppressors and the oppressed, conservatives view the world as a struggle between civilization and barbarism, and libertarians view the world as a struggle between liberty and coercion. I'll be very interested in empirical follow-ups. Perhaps we'll see more libertarian arguments couched in terms of the progressive and conservative axes. Kling discusses his new book in this recent EconTalk podcast.

5. Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto. Here's my two-sentence summary:

1. Simple checklists can and do prevent errors in fields like surgery, and they allow us to "outsource" routine processes to lists.
2. Think about contexts in which a checklist might be appropriate ( church set-up, getting ready to leave for work, planning a party, etc) and make a checklist to avoid errors and unnecessary stress.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Glen S. McGhee writes:

Ender's Game is a good example of the use of technology to create and produce what Bauman/Elias call moral indifference, which is socially produced. The social production of moral indifference.

Modern organizational life is ruled by division of labor that minimizes discretion -- moral and individual -- as a pervasive control process strategy.

Just think what school would be like it we let the janitors do the teaching, or what an army would be like if everyone ran it.

This is why hierarchical decision making displaces moral responsibility upward, along the pyramid of power. Moral displacement is another aspect of the Bauman/Elias approach to modern ethics.

John Hall writes:

I also read the Ender's Quartet recently. Speaker of the Dead is ridiculously good.

Fran Prather writes:

My 11-year-old son finished reading Ender's Game yesterday. I have long used it in high school honors courses, but felt that he was ready for it. Reading along with him gave me new insights into the novel and my own beliefs about the world - to answer his questions I had to figure out how to explain moral ambiguity, why governments do what they do in the name of protecting their interests and the interests of the human race (which we hope are the same), sacrificing the few for the greatest good, etc. He, of course, reacted to the death of children at each other's hands - was that justified? Should they have manipulated Ender the way they did? He felt the smart child's frustration at not being taken seriously by the adult world (or, at least, not having his ideas and views considered by the adult world). Each time I read the novel, I find something new to ponder. We live in a time where people demand black and white moral certainty, but the world is far more ambiguous - everyone should read it.

triclops41 writes:

[Comment removed for rudeness.--Econlib Ed.]

Hazel Meade writes:

Dear God, man. You never let anyone know you liked Ender's Game in polite company. It's almost as bad as bringing up Atlas Shrugged.

Art Carden writes:

@John: I'm about 100 pages to the end of "Speaker for the Dead." I'm enjoying it a lot, too. I have the "Author's Definitive Editions," which feature introductory essays by Card that I've found quite useful. It's interesting to see how Ender's actions from the first book are remembered by the societies of the second.

ThomasH writes:

This trichotomy leaves out "liberals" who view the world as throwing up new challenges/opportunities ultimately driven by technology that can be dealt with through a combination of market and non-market ways. I guess that could be thought of as a sub-specie of "conservative" as the goal is to constantly expand the realm of civilization but there is also an affinity to progressives as liberals tend to see opposition to the "new ways" as coming from those who want to hold on to rents accruing from the status quo and to libertarians as the new challenges are generally seen as expanding the ambit of liberty.

Cimon Alexander writes:

re: the three languages of politics - I recently read a blog post that explains the difficulty in communication between normal people and academic Marxists (feminists, anti-racists, etc.) as the divide between modern discourse and post-modern discourse:

http://arts.uwaterloo.ca/~kwesthue/regiftedxmas12.html

The two groups can't communicate because their fundamental values are so different. For example, modernist discourse values personal detachment from the argument, whereas post-modernist discourse views the speakers identity as inextricably linked to their argument (the person's race, sex, sexual preference, etc.).

Ken P writes:

I'm currently reading Kling's book.

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