Saturday, June 26, 2004

A Little Light Reading

In Borders tonight, sipping a latte and browsing the magazine rack. My date to go see a movie fell through, so I had a fairly quiet evening instead.

Prospect #100 cover

I grabbed the current issue of Prospect, which has a competition to nominate five of Britain's top public intellectuals. Nothing in it grabbed me very much though, even with a CD of the 100 best articles published since they began.

The New Statesman had an article by Gavin on broadband in Norn Irn, which sounded like some very New Labour initiative to co-opt and smother civil society by bringing together charities, state employees and a few big companies with some minister. I haven't read it yet (it does prejudice one so) but I'll comment when I do. Someone is probably putting the finishing touches to at this very moment.

I heard from a friend of mine today that a Labour hack, very much in the Derek Draper mold, whom both of us know, has been given a senior regulatory position in the UK civil service. We ascribed this to flagrant piece of political jobbery.

However, I did find two really fascinating books. I was really startled to see one by Joe Stiglitz called Whither Socialism?, a transcript of a lecture series published in 1994. In it he laid out shortcomings, based on his sophisticated technical work on the economics of information, some of which I adapted for my undergraduate dissertation, of neo-classical theories of general equilibrium, competition and welfare economics and made extended comments on the practicalities of managing transition economies, including China.

I also found a collection of classic papers by another Nobel laureate, Ronald Coase, which includes those on his eponymic theorem in a simple verbal form, namely that in a "Spherical Cow" world, social costs of producton, given perfect competition, no transactions costs and allocation of property rights, social costs of production will be the same as the private costs. I hadn't read anything in this area before, although I've come across invocations of it in my reading on energy and environmental issues, where carbon taxes or permits are justified as an attempt to capture the costs of CO2 emissions to humanity.

Over time, I might be fundamentally changing how I think, and coming to integrate my social and political world-view with the model-building and testing methods I learn from financial economics. Regardless, most of what I write here could be done much better by some of the bloggers on my blogroll above.