Book review: Capital

Here is my book review of Capital in the Twenty-First Century [Review of Capital].  I have tried to avoid other reviews, so that I can give a perspective based on my own reading of the book – the only bits I’ve noted before now are these discussions, this twitter post, these “reviews”, and this interview.  As a result, I have probably covered a lot of ground that has already been covered, just in a less informed fashion – my apologies!

My review is very long (20 pages).  Although it is still written as a blog post there are no hyperlinks or links to other blog posts, I’ve tried to go directly to literature instead.  Here is a pdf version of the review [Review of Capital].  So if, instead of reading this online, you’d prefer to make yourself a coffee, grab some dark chocolate, lie down on a bearskin rug in front of a roaring fire, and fall asleep to something, then this review should do the trick.

I will put down a cut down (and more accessible) version at some point well in the future – it already exists but is promised to other people.  In this post I will just put the “summary” section, if you want to read the full review you will have to click on the pdf version of the review.  My review is not very accessible, and I’m sorry about that.  However, I didn’t feel that I could discuss Piketty’s argument as “one thing” when it is very multifaceted – I hope this is clear from the summary at the start.  Going through the argument in the way I have, and then discussing assumptions involved individually, helped me to understand what is going on – so I may as well still share it 🙂

Note:  In the review there were two things I directly said, but I’m not sure if my language was clear enough – but as I can’t access the file prior to posting I’ll just stay here.  1) In the example, the higher MPL from higher K drives up w and drives down r, that is why I state w/r is higher – my language isn’t quite clear enough in it.  2) when discussing the average as the minimum wage worker, the point is that in reality individuals/households “move between” income deciles a lot, making this an awful benchmark – again my language may not be clear enough.

If you catch logical mistakes in the review, I’d love to hear from you – the reason I wrote this without reading anything else was to ensure that I gave the book an honest appraisal, on the basis of my actual understanding.  I’m more than happy to learn where my understanding is wrong.  Here is the introduction and summary:

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Review: Spirit Level

I have heard a bunch of criticism of the Spirit Level book based on its “sample” and “cheery picking” (Note:  This started life as a typo, but I liked it and used it throughout 😛 ).  I’ve decided to ignore that, and to read the book on the merits it gave in the text.  Given this how did I find it?

Warning, this is an exceptionally long post given that I am putting down brief notes on each chapter (the review is over 4k, the summaries just that again).  I have signposted sections so if there is something you want to swing to (tl;dr, conclusion, general issues) you can swing to that.  Also note that I link to an excessive number of old posts from the blog – essentially many of the ideas noted down over the last few years here will come in useful for reviewing the book.  For that reason, I’ve put a pdf of my blahing here MN Spirit level review.

I have also explicitly avoided reading other people’s reviews – except for the postscript that I have written later.  As a result, I can’t promise I’ve added anything, but I can promise that I’m being honest in my views 🙂

Note:  This review is also a blog post – not some external thing you just read, but something you can interact with.  If I’m wrong on statistics, on logic, on interpreting the authors, or I’m just plain immoral as a person, throw down a comment and tell me.  If you convince me, I add updates onto the review to say you’ve changed my mind – party times!  I am here to steal all your knowledge.

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Book Review: Bits, Bytes, and Balance Sheets

Title: Bits, Bytes, and Balance Sheets (Amazon)

Authour: Walter B. Wriston

Publisher: Hoover Institution Press (*)

Score: 5/10

The book “Bits, Bytes, and Balance Sheets” aims to provide some flavour surrounding technologies role in changing the economic environment, and related institutions (including government) – namely through its impact on information dissemination. However, there is also a strong focus on human capital throughout.

Although the ideas are there, the decision to base each chapter on a different speech or essay gives the book a disjointed feeling. This leads to the strange situation where there is a lot of repetition and an “under justification” of what are actually some contensious points (such as the nature of increasing returns industries).

Furthermore, even though many of the concepts do have official names (such as increasing returns to scale) these names were often left out. Although someone familiar with these concepts would not mind – it does reduce the usefulness of the book to people who are only starting to learn about the role of technology in framing the economic environment.

However, the one big plus with the book is the large set of direct and historical anecdotes made by the author. These sorts of anecdotes really added colour to ideas – and would be useful for anyone trying to teach “increasing returns to scale” or information type courses.

Overall, I enjoyed parts of the book – but the ideas were just too disjointed for me to recommend it. I get the feeling that the speech that the book was based on would have been excellent – but the translation to book form just did not work.