A depressing catalogue
The Enlightened Economist
by Diane Coyle
2d ago
The depressing UK election campaign (albeit far less depressing than some others around the world) sent me back to a book whose subtitle is ‘Half a century of British economic decline’. It’s Russell Jones’s excellent and sobering The Tyranny of Nostalgia. I read it in proof and, as I remembered, it offers a more or less ringside view of economic policymaking (mainly macro) in the UK during the past half century. It takes a couple of chapters to get into its stride, but does so when it gets past an initial chapter about the nature of economics and one about the years before Jones started his ca ..read more
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Books at a workshop
The Enlightened Economist
by Diane Coyle
1w ago
An interdisciplinary workshop about capitalism was always going to generate an eclectic mix of books referred to; I always like to make a note of what crops up. So at The New Institute this week, the focus was Colin Mayer’s important recent book Capitalism and Crises, which centres on his proposal that profit maximisation should continue to be the aim of private companies but profit much be redefined to be net of the cost of any damages inflicted on the rest of society (including workers but not rival businesses in competitive markets). He argues that UK corporate law is already capable of thi ..read more
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The public option
The Enlightened Economist
by Diane Coyle
2w ago
I’m on my way to a workshop at The New Institute in Hamburg, where I will talk about the scope for a public option in (especially) digital markets. As preparation, I’ve read a recent short (and moderately technical) book surveying the literature on ‘mixed oligopoly’ by Joanna Potoygo-Theotoky; these are oligopolistic markets with a mixture of private and public provision, where the public competitor has a broader objective function than profit maximisation – such as social welfare broadly, or ESG motivations, or universal service obligations. The basic idea is that by having a different object ..read more
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Homo Numericus
The Enlightened Economist
by Diane Coyle
2w ago
I’m at the tail end of finalising the draft of my next book, with an end-June deadline, so my reading recently has mainly been fiction, to rest the brain. I enjoyed the international Booker winner Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck, and Annie Ernaux’s The Years, but not so much The Wren, The Wren by Anne Enright, whose characters just didn’t interest me. Aleksandar Hemon’s The World and all it Holds is magnificent. Noreen Masud’s A Flat Place is an amazing memoir. Anyway, my new book will be called The Measure of Progress: How Do We Count What Matters? and will be out from Princeton in 2025. Meanwhile ..read more
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Reading on the go
The Enlightened Economist
by Diane Coyle
1M ago
I’ve been travelling, including a week of holiday, so my reading has leant more towards fiction than usual. (Tokyo – my first trip, highly recommended, loved the TeamLab exhibitions.) Among the non-fiction, though, were two excellent (non-economics) books: Philip Ball’s The Modern Myths (about exactly that – how Frankenstein, Dracula etc gained mythical status) and Christopher Clark’s Revolutionary Spring (about the revolutions across Europe in 1848). Before getting fully back into the swing of economics reading, I just finished my colleague Martin Rees’s If Science is to Save Us. For somebody ..read more
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Who counts?
The Enlightened Economist
by Diane Coyle
2M ago
I had been looking forward to reading The Ordinal Society by Marion Fourcade and Kieran Healy, and it hasn’t disappointed. My copy is covered in sticky notes marking interesting points. What do they mean by the term? It is the world created by Silicon Valley built on the digital traces we all create using its services and that “stratifies individuals through a myriad of differentiated methods of matching, scoring and classification. Those methods have both a practical application and a moral valence. The ordinal society is both a means of social organization and a mode of first person experien ..read more
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Money, money, money
The Enlightened Economist
by Diane Coyle
2M ago
Money has always seemed mysterious to me, and so I’ve always carefully avoided monetary economics as too difficult (which makes it ironic that when I returned from my US PhD programme to a job in the UK Treasury in 1985 I was assigned to the monetary policy unit – this in the days long before Bank of England independence, when the Treasury and Chancellor made the policy decisions). Still, from time to time I dip in, and found Stefan Eich’s The Currency of Politics: The Political Theory of Money from Aristotle to Keynes an interesting read. The book is an intellectual history of how certain key ..read more
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Unaccountable
The Enlightened Economist
by Diane Coyle
2M ago
I read a proof of The Unaccountability Machine by Dan Davies with a view to blurbing it, and was more than happy to recommend it. This is a fascinating book. The subtitle indicates its scope: “Why Big Systems Make Terrible Decisions and How the World Lost Its Mind”. The book asks why mistakes and crises never seem to be anybody’s fault – it’s always ‘the system’. Davies uses the concept of the ‘accountability sink’ – a policy or set of rules that prevent individuals from making or changing decisions and thus being accountable for them. He writes: “For an accountability sink to function, it has ..read more
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AIs as the best of us
The Enlightened Economist
by Diane Coyle
2M ago
Another book of many out on AI is As If Human: Ethics and Artifical Intelligence by Nigel Shadbolt and Roger Hampson. I found this a very accessible book on AI ethics, possibly because neither author is an academic philosopher (sorry, philosophers….). Generally I’m a bit impatient with AI ethics, partly because it has dominated debate about AI at the expense of thinking about incentives and politics, and partly because of my low tolerance for the kind of bizarre thought experiments that seem to characterise the subject. Nevertheless, I found this book clear and pretty persuasive, with the damn ..read more
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Digital design
The Enlightened Economist
by Diane Coyle
2M ago
Over the holiday weekend I read (among other things*) Digital Design: A History by Steven Eskilson. I enjoy reading design books in general – a window into a more glamorous specialism than economics. This one covers a range of aspects, from the design of gadgets (from the IBM Selectric typewriter to Apple’s dominance in this arena) to fonts to web design to data visualisation to architecture. So it’s quite eclectic, and includes using digital tools to design (as in architecture) as well as the design of digital artefacts. But one theme that emerges across all these areas is the lasting influen ..read more
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