Sunday, March 11, 2012

Economics of Good and Evil by Tomas Sedlacek

First of all, if you really want to understand some basic economics of why we are in such current problems, see the video below from RSA.

I got this book from my favourite book shop in Toronto. The book shop is Nicholas Hoare. It is at 45 Front Street East. Their web site is here. Whenever I am in the area, I take a look and I always buy a book. That is because there is always a book that I find interesting and I am afraid I would not find it elsewhere in Toronto.

This book is the subtitle of this book is “The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street”. Sedlacek talks about the first business cycle. Egypt’s pharaoh has dream of 7 good years and 7 bad years. He asked Joseph what this means. Joseph said to save gain in good years to use in bad years. Even today we should try to level out the business cycle. Part of the reason we are in such trouble is that we built up debt in good years and we are very overstretched in current bad years.

When you borrow money, you borrow money from your future, not the bank. You borrow from the future via the interest rate charged on a loan. You really borrow energy from the future for today, feeling that you will not need the energy or the money in the future, but that you need it now.

There is a Wikipedia entry for Tomas Sedlacek . There is a great review of this book and Tomas Sedlacek at Czech Centre . According to the blurb on this site “Tomas Sedlacek, leading Czech economist who is considered to be one of the ‘five hot minds in economics’ by the Yale Economic Review”.

Thomas Sedlacek is on Authors@google. He talks about things he mentions in his book. This is a video worthwhile watching. Also he gives a talk about his book at RSA. This is the video to watch to get a good handle on economics for today. This video is just over 20 minutes, but it is all you need to have a greater understanding of what is going on. He makes it very easy to understand.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Sedlacek. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson

This book is a great one to bring you up to date on Ancient Egyptian history. There is a lot to be updated on. First it was not slaves that built the pyramids. Secondly they have found an ancient city beside the pyramids were the workers lived. Most of it is still intact and their graves undisturbed. So they found lots of tools and carvings. They have a much better idea now how the pyramids were built.

One other interesting thing he talks about it that original sin, underworld of dangers and demons, the final judgment before a great god, the promise of resurrection are all Egyptians concepts that later echoed in and shaped Judeo-Christian traditions.

Toby Wilkinson has his own web site. He mentions the Lost City of the Pyramids as a television show. I found this, at least I think I found what he was referring to at Google Video. This is part 1 and it is some 45 minutes long. Another YouTube video of Building the Great Pyramid by BBC starts here. This is the first of 6 parts, all about 10 minutes long.

There is an interview (in print) of Toby Wilkinson by Daisy Banks at the browser. In this interview, Toby recommends 5 books on Egypt. There is also a profile on Toby Wilkinson at Bloomsbury. There is another interview (in print) at Speakeasy.

There is a great review of this book (and a couple of related books) at the Guardian. And another great one at the Washington Post.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Wilkinson. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The full name of the book is The Black Swan, The Impact of the Highly Improbable. How would his ideas affects you personally? Well, he talks about systems and situations being robust or fragile. For example, if you are up to you eyeballs in debt and something happen, it could cause a catastrophe for you.

If you had your finances well managed and you had an emergency fund, your financial state could be robust and if something unexpectedly side swiped you, you could probably handle it and not have a catastrophe on your hands.

If you do not know the origin of the black swan, I will tell you. All Europeans thought swans were always white, because that is all they had seen. When they went to Australia, they found black swans and this was very unexpected.

One tale of unexpected risks comes from a casino example. Casinos spend millions of dollars on gambling risks. However, a casino’s biggest risk can come, not from gambling, but such things as someone wanting to blow up a casino or from a casino not filling the right tax forms.

He also points out that people generally attributes their success from their skills, but attributes their failures to events outside their control or randomness. He also points out that capitalism destroys large companies but socialism does not. Socialist’s governments tend to protect their monster companies and kill off all potential newcomers in the womb.

A nice short video review of this book (less than 2 minutes) is at YouTube. Another short video that discusses both Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan is also on YouTube at Papamedia. There is also a 9 minute video with Taleb at Harvard University talking about social problems . See 40 minute interview by Richard Herring at Wharton.

There is a good review at the Guardian. Giles Foden very much loved the first book Taleb wrote called “Fooled by Randomness, however, he feels this book was rushed and badly written. I must say, I very much enjoyed this book, but then I have not yet read Fooled by Randomness. I probably should.

Another review is by a blogger called Grumpy Old Bookman. This review is quite long, but well worth reading.

I found this a very interesting book and Taleb says many very interesting things. However, he is quite full of himself.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has his own site. This book has an entry on Wikipedia at The Black Swan. There is also an entry for the theory.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Taleb. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Debt by David Graeber

David Graeber, as an anthropologist understood why and how our ancestors stop free riders. As a socialist, he wants more of it today. In what world is a family collecting welfare into the 4th generation is not a free rider? Can we really afford that all these people never contribute to our society? (And ironically now, if you are temporarily destitute now, you get to live on the streets. What sort of progress is this?)

He talks about how we think that virtual money is new. (Virtual money is when you do not pay for things with physical cash, like paying with credit or debit cards.) But this has very long history and was really the original way people dealt with each other in a market place. We had credit systems, kept tabs, even expense accounts before we had cash.

We seem to assume that billion is money, but this idea come and gone through history. History really has switched between periods when money was billion and when money was virtual or an abstraction.. He talks about the vast majority of Mesopotamia’s cuneiform documents were financial in nature. Things were priced in silver, but apparently silver was not in circulation.

Credit goes back a long way. And money is basically an IOU. Money is a measure of trust in other human beings rather than a measure of value.

Another thing he talks about is how markets sprang up around ancient armies. The rise of states and the rise of markets go together. Rather an interesting connection.

Graeber can also go off on tangents. He says that Cortes was murderous because he owed money to banks, and therefore we should blame his actions on capitalism. However, Jinkis Khan was also a murderous bastard with the same sort of followers Cortes had, but it did not do what he did, conquer, rape and pillage because he owed money to banks.

This is rather a long book, but there are all sorts of interesting things Graeber says about early history and anthropology. It is well worth the time to read.

There is a video of David Graeber being interviewed by Charlie Rose. There is also a later one on David Graeber being interviewed because of this book, debt. See Conversations with Great Minds David Graeber on Debt, The 1st 5000 years.

On my website is how to find this book on Amazon if you care to purchase it. See Graeber. Also, this book review and other books I have reviewed are on my website at Book Reviews.