Community Read

Tag: Community Read

Competition in High Tech

That’s the topic for the Spring Reading Group, featuring Liebowitz and Margolis’ Winners, Losers, and Microsoft: Competition and Antitrust in High Technology. For those of you who plowed through the book in IO, I am compiling an auxiliary set of readings to complement (and update) the Liebowitz and Margolis book.   

We will meet Thursdays from 11:10 to 12:15 in Briggs 217. The sign-up sheets are posted on the board outside of Professor Gerard and Professor Galambos’ office. 

Spring Econ Reading Group

The Spring Economics Reading Group will feature the astonishing Winners, Losers, and Microsoft: Competition and Antitrust in High Technology by Stan Liebowitz and Steven Margolis.  The book is more about competition in high technology than it is about Microsoft itself, and it was written back when people still used VHS players and Apple was a bit player in the computer market (pun possibly intended).

Oh, how times have changed.

This book is tried-and-true.  Last year students gave it rave reviews as the featured reading for the Economics Senior Experience, and we also read it in my Industrial Organization this past term.

If you happened to have already read it, don’t despair, I am compiling an auxiliary set of readings to complement (and update) the Liebowitz and Margolis book.  Indeed, the group discussion might be the ideal setting for you to augment your knowledge of the knowledge economy.

We will meet Thursdays from 11:10 to 12:15, provisionally in Briggs 217.    


Econ Read — Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty

“It says we need sixty five shoes”

This term’s Economics Department Read features Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty: Industry! Progress! Abundance! Inside the Fifties Soviet Dream.  The book is a hybrid history-fiction that uses many historical events and people to characterize the salad years of the Soviet Union, back when people thought central planning wasn’t a pipe dream.

Well, of course it was a pipe dream, and this book goes a long way to developing an understanding of planned economies and also the Soviet mentality. According to historian Marhall Poe, who has actually done some work on the Soviet Union himself, Red Plenty is the real deal:

[Red Plenty] contains more “truth” about the Soviet project than an entire library of “serious” novels and dry-as-dust histories. If I had to recommend one book on the Soviet Union to someone who wanted to understand it, Red Plenty would be it.

In the interview Poe says that Spufford “is one of those people that took all of that liberal arts crap seriously.”

Hey! Sounds like our kind of guy.

As for the logistics,  it is a one-unit directed study that will meet most Tuesdays during winter term from 11:10-12:15.  You can get sign up sheets and signatures from  Professor Galambos or Professor Gerard.

Link to book at Amazon.

(As long as we’re on the subject, Poe also interviews Appleton-native David Brandenberger about his recent book, Propaganda State in Crisis: Soviet Ideology, Indoctrination, and Terror under Stalin.)

Read Plenty

First Down and Plenty!

Next term’s Economics Department Community Read will feature Francis Spufford’s fascinating Red Plenty: Inudstry! Progress! Abundance! Inside the Fifties Soviet Dream.  It is an idiosyncratic book that draws heavily on historical figures and events to characterize a period in the Soviet Union where central planners thought that central planning would actually work.

Though academics tend to take a dim view of works of historical fiction generally, University of Iowa historian Marshall Poe says this is clearly an exception:

Once in a great while, however, a book [of historical fiction] comes along whose truth is so powerful that even the literary critics and professors take notice. Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty: Industry! Progress! Abundance! Inside the Fifties Soviet Dream is such a book. It contains more “truth” about the Soviet project than an entire library of “serious” novels and dry-as-dust histories. If I had to recommend one book on the Soviet Union to someone who wanted to understand it, Red Plenty would be it. Read it.

The group will meet on most Tuesdays during winter term from 11:10-12:15, and you can sign up with Professor Galambos or Professor Gerard.   The reading should be an ideal complement for those taking Professor Galambos’ comparative economics systems course.

If you have some time in the next 50 days before next term starts, you might even be able to get a head start.

We do this every term, so you could pick up half a course over the course of a year.

The Morality of Markets

Here is our schedule for the term:

October 4th 11:10–12:20       Ethics, Efficiency, and Markets, up to page 103

October 25th 11:10–12:20            What Money Can’t Buy, Chapter 1

November 1st 11:10–12:20      What Money Can’t Buy, Chapter 2

November 8th 11:10–12:20      What Money Can’t Buy, Chapter 3

November 15th 11:10–12:20     What Money Can’t Buy, Chapters 4, 5.

The reading for the first meeting  (10/4)  is 100 pages, and for subsequent meetings it is about 50 pages each. The first reading, Ethics, Efficiency, and Markets, is available for purchase as an online book, you can order used copies, or you can download it from this website: The first chapter in that book is a short introduction in which basic notions are established; Chapter 2 will review several arguments that you will be familiar with from your economics classes; and Chapter 3 is the most significant for our discussion. Be prepared to state succinctly the moral arguments for and against the market. You have over two weeks to cover the 100 pages, which should not be too taxing. This first reading should give us some ammunition for our discussions of the second book.

Economics of Innovation in the New “Pamphlet” Era

This week seems to be innovation week for me, as I am reading two short books on the heels of The Great Stagnation. Reading these pieces, I can’t help but get the feeling that the economics profession is hurtling into a blog-soaked, pamphlet-era frenzy.  First up for Econ 100 is Alex Tabarrok’s Launching the Innovation Renaissance  (review here), where Tabarrok makes a case against patents, holds out promise for prizes, and makes a plea for broad educational reform in both primary and secondary education.  For the Reading Group crowd we have Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, and with a subtitle like that, who needs a description?

So for those of you who have read one and need a primer on the other, here you go:

As a warm up to Renaissance, here is Tabarrok giving his TED lecture. Here’s a bit on education. (If you follow all the links at Marginal Revolution, you can pretty much read the whole book).

Here are Brynjolfsson and McAfee summarizing their argument in The Atlantic.  See also Professor Finkler’s recent plug.

I’ve read both and recommend both.  We’ll see what my Econ 100 students think.  Thought provoking all around.

Keynes, Cowen, Brynjolfsson, McAfee & Capitalism

Here’s the update from the reading group.

On the subject of big, fat profits in the financial sector, you might consider visiting some of these pieces. On the subject of big, fat incomes in the financial world, Cowen offers up a simple theory on why so many smart young people go into finance, law, and consulting. Adding fuel to this fire, “Mr. D” sends me this helpful blog post from Ezra Klein, arguing that Ivy Leaguers head to the Street because that’s where they get their “real” education. Do you buy that? And, in a similar vein, “Mr. P” wants to know why Americans don’t elect scientists.

We left off yesterday with the open question of what the best-case scenario is for market economies moving forward.  Where are the big productivity gains going to come from? What type of work is to be done? Is manufacturing dead or alive, or does it even matter? (See Professor Finkler’s previous post).  Has John Stuart Mill’s concern about the inevitable decline in radical breakthrough inventions finally come home to roost?

And, this opens the door for next week’s book, Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy.  There are a couple of secondary sources on this, as well, including pieces from The Economist and The Wall Street Journal.

By all rights, this term’s 391 DS reading group should be titled Keynes, Cowen, Brynjolfsson, Backhouse, Bateman, McAfee, and Capitalism, but that doesn’t quite roll of the tongue, does it?

Nor would it fit on your transcript.

Keynes, Cowen & Capitalism Meets in Steitz 230

We have found a home for Econ 391, and it is in Steitz 230.  We will see you over there at 3:25 on Thursday.

We began with Tyler Cowen’s The Great Stagnation,  and in our first meeting we took a first cut at these questions:

1. What is the thesis of the book?

2.What does “the great stagnation” mean?  What is stagnating? “Great” compared to what?  Is the title a play on another “Great” episode do you suppose?

3. How is “stagnation” measured?  Do you buy this means of measurement?

4. What does Cowen suggest is the cause of the great stagnation?  How does he support his case?  Can you think of alternate explanations?

5. What is Cowen’s remedy for the great stagnation, if any?  Does it suggest a pro-market, get-out-of-the-way response?  A more muscular federal policy response?  New institutions? What?

6. Make a list of Cowen’s arguments that you buy and arguments that you don’t buy.

This week, we take on the “companion piece” from The American Interest,  “The Inequality that Matters.” It’s hard to think about the future of capitalism without thinking a bit about what inequality is and why it is (and isn’t) important.

It seems an opportune time to point to the Financial Times’ recent in-depth debate, Capitalism in Crisis.  There is some excellent material in there, and we will take a look at some of this when we get to the Backhouse and Bateman book.

DS 391 — Keynes, Cowen & Capitalism

The Economics Department once again proudly announces its community read for the term.   The formal title of the course is DS 391 – Keynes, Cowen & Capitalism, and sign up sheets are tacked to my bullitin board.   You can get instructor approval from either Professor Galambos or me (or both!).   We will see about arranging a time.

Here is the reading list:

Roger Backhouse and Brad Bateman’s Capitalist Revolutionary: John Maynard Keynes.

Tyler Cowen The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better .

Tyler Cowen “The Inequality that Matters,” from The American Interest online.

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, Race Against the Machine:  How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy.

The Backhouse and Bateman book is a quick read, and Professor Bateman is tentatively scheduled to visit as part of our Senior Experience.   Backhouse and Bateman have promoted their work with pieces in the the New York Times and more recently in The Guardian.

Tyler Cowen’s little ebook also talks about some of the problems and prospects of American capitalism, and should be interesting to set side-by-side with the Keynesian worldview.   As a bonus, the book has been heavily reviewed, and there is certainly no consensus view on whether he is right or wrong.  There have been a couple of recent reviews juxtaposing Cowen with Brynjolfsson and McAfee.  We should be able to do the same.

One of the key issues of capitalism moving forward seems to be the division of the proverbial pie, and Cowen’s piece in The American Interest is one of the more thoughtful pieces on inequality that I have come across.  I especially like the “betting against the Wizards” example of picking up pennies in front of the steamroller.

Once we have our enrollment, I will coordinate a schedule.

Students (and faculty) are required to read and respond thoughtfully.


The Cartoon Road to Serfdom

Speaking of The Road to Serfdom, here is a handy link to the Mises Institute’s reprint of the “cartoon” guide to the Hayek classic.

Over the past four terms, we have focused on books that focus on the dynamics of the capitalist system.  We started with Schumpeter’s biography and followed that up with Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.  These really gave us a 10,000-foot view of where Schumpeter thought the system might head coming out of World War II.  Schumpter seems sanguine about the “inevitability” of socialism, while Hayek gives us a much different, quite chilling vision of the meshing of politics and the economic system. Certainly, I would attribute part of this to Schumpeter and Hayek’s respective views of the importance of the price system — Schumpeter asserting that it is overplayed, whereas Hayek underscores its importance.

Next term, we will continue to sponsor an economics read, though our focus will likely shift to the future of the system coming out of the current crisis.  I will be posting those books shortly in the event that you want to get a head start over break.

Cheap! Cheap! Cheap!

Cheap is the title of the “community read” that dozens of students and over a dozen faculty members will be discussing weekly during the first half of next term. Here is the semi-official course advertisement:

A 'Cheap' Shot

Registration is open for the 2011 Community Read! This year we’ll be reading Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, by Ellen Ruppel Shell.  It’s a deep look at the environmental, social, political, economic and human costs of consumerism in the US.  There are nine different sections available, each led by two faculty members from different departments.  The sections are listed as Environmental Studies (ENST) 320 – SEM: CHEAP, which is a 1-unit S/U-only course that will meet for the first half of Spring term.  These are discussion sections, so there are no exams or writing assignments – only lively conversation!***

Professor Gerard is partnering with Professor Maryuri Roca (Chemistry) for a section at 2:30 on Thursdays, and I (Galambos) am co-leading a section at 8:30 on Fridays with Professor Beth De Stasio (Biology). We’d love to have you in our sections.

Based on some book reviews (here’s one), I will have a lot to say about this book, but I promise I’ll try to shut up most of the time. I know one chapter beats up on IKEA pretty badly, and I’m just not sure how I will handle that… Let me just say that other than a couple of chairs, perhaps, all our furniture comes from that wonderful, CHEAP, tastefully Northern European design paradise.

***An earlier version of this post said the book would be available at the Gift Shop.   It turns out that this is not true.  We sincerely apologize for the mix-up.