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Phantom Public | Dissent Magazine
"Today you don’t have to be a card-carrying McLuhanite to believe that forms of media have their own inherent politics. Many academics and pundits have built their reputations arguing that the rise of the internet leads to the decentralization and democratization of communication, and of social life more broadly. While some contemporary critics have challenged this sort of “technological determinism,” the proposition that new media is irrelevant to understanding politics is equally problematic. We need more historically informed analyses of the way power operates in an era of digital networks and electronic media, and more pointed critiques of the ways the powerful purposefully obscure their influence over and through these channels.

The work of Stanford historian Fred Turner is a good place to start. As he explains in his fascinating and illuminating 2013 book The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties, McLuhan’s apparently pioneering thinking on media owes a large and largely forgotten debt to an earlier group of anti-fascist campaigners and well-meaning Cold Warriors. They were the first to articulate a vision of a media-driven democracy that, though never perfectly implemented, has suffused much of today’s popular thinking about the internet and social media."



"Was another world possible? It is clear that part of the reason that Turner wrote The Democratic Surround was to remind us of good ideas that have been abandoned and alternative paths not taken. As he writes in the book’s introduction, “What has disappeared is the deeply democratic vision that animated the turn toward mediated environments in the first place, and that sustained it across the 1950s and into the 1960s.” It is this “radically liberal, diverse, and egalitarian” vision that Turner wishes to recover through his research; he hopes that “with a new generation’s efforts, it might yet live there again.” It sounds desirable enough. Yet for such ideals to be revived we have to better understand the way their absence adversely affects us, and that’s something Turner never clearly articulates.

For Turner a pivotal rift occurred in the 1960s, when the politically oriented New Left and the free-spirited counterculture parted ways. In tracing the roots of the “Be-Ins” and “Happenings” to the democratic surrounds of preceding decades, Turner highlights the shortcomings of the former, making the case that some critical democratic potential got lost. The multimedia experimentation of the period—and the counterculture more broadly, in Turner’s view—promoted the personal psyche as the proper terrain of social change; collective responsibility, effective organization, and direct action got the shaft. No doubt Turner is right that our political ambitions have become contracted and privatized, but placing so much blame at the feet of the counterculture seems both overstated and oversimplified when you consider the larger economic and social forces involved. The countercultural mindset Turner laments was more a symptom of neoliberalism’s ascension than its cause.

Of course the counterculture is hardly the only realm of diminished utopian horizons. In 1946 and 1949 Norbert Wiener wrote two agonized letters on the politics of technology. The first, published in the Atlantic Monthly under the title “A Scientist Rebels,” was a response to an employee of the Boeing Aircraft Company who had requested a copy of an out-of-print article. Though he conducted military research during the Second World War, Wiener refused to share his paper, deploring the “tragic insolence of the military mind” and the “bombing or poisoning of defenseless peoples” to which his scientific ideas might contribute. The second was an unsolicited warning about advances in automation to Walter Reuther of the Union of Automobile Workers, declaring that he had “turned down unconditionally” invitations to consult for corporations. “I do not wish to contribute in any way to selling labor down the river,” he wrote.

Wiener agonized over the role of science in a world warped by power imbalances, particularly economic ones. And he chose sides. In our own age, it is imperative that more people take similar stands. Turner suggests that if enough people do—and if they come together and advocate for their beliefs by building associations and institutions—they may have more of an impact in the long term than they could ever imagine at the outset. But this comes with a warning: their efforts might lead us to a situation they could neither anticipate nor comprehend. “Were the world we dream of attained, members of that new world would be so different from ourselves that they would no longer value it in the same terms in which we now desire it,” Margaret Mead says in an epigraph that begins The Democratic Surround. “We would no longer be at home in such a world.” Those of us who live within the surround and under the managerial mode of control, and who hope to change it, can only welcome the possibility of one day finding ourselves discomfited and cast out from the world we call home."
2016  astrataylor  cybernetics  marshalmcluhan  history  internet  web  online  media  counterculture  norbertweiner  thesaltsummaries  stevenpinker  clayshirky  francisfukuyama  chrisanderson  nassimtaleb  niallferguson  fredturner  theodoradorno  stewartbrand  wholeearthcatalog  well  kenkesey 
january 2016 by robertogreco
Final Boss Form: An Incomplete List of Interesting Books about Economics
"Here are the three most important books in forming my own worldview on economics.

• Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber. Before there was money, there was debt. This makes this book a great place to start. One of my favorite books of the last decade.

• The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Economy of Cities, Cities and the Wealth of Nations, and The Nature of Economies by Jane Jacobs. Jane Jacobs was not a traditional economist but her work in understanding how cities operate made me see economies not as a product of nations but as the result of the activity within cities and regions. ‘Death and Life’ and ‘The Economy of Cities’ are so important to me that I gift them to people like missionaries hand out bibles. Here’s a nice writeup of two of her books.

• Civilization and Capitalism (Vol. 1-3) by Fernand Braudel.The single most important book in getting me to understand the connection between capitalism, markets, and everyday life. It also introduced me to the Annales School which is full of interesting ideas. Note: this one is loooooooooong and it took me years to read all three volumes (ok tbh, I’ve read two and half volumes.)

If I were to start reading from scratch, I would start with one or more of these books as an intro. They’re clever and fun and great texts for getting your bearings.

• Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science by Charles Wheelan. A good introduction to general concepts in economics through fantastic storytelling. Check out socoftw's outline of the book here.

• The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in The Real World by Greg Ip. Nice primer. Some bits are a little too FREE MARKET RULEZ! for me but it was also a really good book for me to read. I recommend it because I was able to leap tall-ish articles in a single read after this book.

• The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford. This is the book that explains why your cup of Starbucks costs what it does (among other things.)

These books are a good place to begin thinking critically about conventional economic theory.

• Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. A clever look at conventional wisdom in economics. Also just a fun read. Also available as an excellent blog, podcast, and twitter feed.

• Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. A summary of three decades of Kahneman’s work in understanding individual behavior in markets. Questions a lot of the “rational behavior” assumptions of neoclassical economics.

• How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff. Statistics are stories told to people as “facts.” Considering how many economic decisions are made based on statistics, it’s important background to know. This book is a classic. (Speaking of facts: I got introduced to this book in high school by none other than George Gallup Jr.)

• The Surprising Design of Market Economies by Alex Marshall. The government builds our markets through property law, taxation, and infrastructure and yet our political conversations purposefully ignore this. This would be lolworthy if not for, you know, people making really bad policy decisions that affect the rest of us.

Okay, now that I’m into this, I want to dive a bit deeper.

• An Engine, Not a Camera by Donald Mackenzie. Finance theory doesn’t exist separate from the economy. By creating a theory of markets, you alter the fate of those markets over and over again.

• Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen. Economic development shouldn’t be seen merely an increase in basic income but as an increase in personal freedom, political freedom, opportunity (including credit), and social security. (Excerpt here.)

• The Work of Nations by Robert Reich. How do you value labor over wealth and reconfigure a workforce for a globalized economy? (I’d also follow his tumblr)

• Capitalism: Its Origins and Evolution as a System of Governance by Bruce R. Scott. A comprehensive look at capitalism and market economies. (Note: this book is sitting on my shelf but I haven’t read it yet.)

These are the books that reflect my current interest in heterodox economics and economic dynamics.

• Capital and Affects: The Politics of the Language Economy by Christian Marazzi. This book was a good introduction to “postfordism” which is a funny word for what comes after an age of industrial, mass market production.

• The Science of Passionate Interests: An Introduction to Gabriel Tarde’s Economic Anthropology by Bruno Latour & Vincent Antonin Lépinay. How do you measure economics not solely in terms of money but as an intensification of passionate interests?

• The Atlas of Economic Complexity by Ricardo Hausmann, CA Hidalgo, et al. Can you predict economic growth based on a measure of “productive” knowledge? Read an overview of the Atlas here. Peep all of the visualizations here and here. (Beware: charts are a highly evolved form of statistics.)

• Complex Economics: Individual and Collective Rationality by Alan Kirman. We make lots of assumptions in our current economic models: rationality, independence, and impersonal interactions. These aren’t based in any mathematical or market truths — they’re just formalisms. So what happens if the purpose of economics wasn’t efficiency but coordination? (Note: this is another book that is sitting on my shelf but I haven’t read it yet.)

Reading Important Old Theorists Is Important Because Everybody Interprets Their Words For Their Own Ends.

• The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. I suggest reading the whole thing but also understand if you can’t — it’s a long ass book written for an audience from 200 years ago. In that case, the Wikipedia article is a decent summary as long as you follow the links.

• Capital, Vol 1-3 by Karl Marx. I’ve only read Volume 1. Friedrich Engels’ synopsis is a great overview of the basics. The WP article is also a good primer.

• Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman. I would suggest reading the Wikipedia article about him.

• The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes. Oh, so this is where macroeconomic theory comes from.

Oh yeah, these books are good too.

• Principles of Economics by Greg Mankiw. This is a good 101 read but it’s also an overpriced textbook so look for a used earlier edition that only costs $20 or so. Also browse Greg Mankiw’s blog here.

• The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson. You can also watch the PBS series based on the book here"
books  booklists  economics  2014  kenyattacheese  capitalism  davidgraeber  janejacobs  fernandbraudel  annalesschool  charleswheelan  gregip  timharford  stevenlevitt  stphendubner  danielkahneman  darrellhuff  statistics  alexmarshall  donaldmackenzie  amartyasen  robertreich  brucescott  christianmarazzi  gabrieltarde  brunolatour  vincentantoninlépinay  ricardohausmann  cahidalgo  alankirman  adamsmith  karlmarx  miltonfriedman  johnmaynardkeynes  gregmankiw  niallferguson 
december 2014 by robertogreco
On Smarm
"It is also no accident that David Eggers is full of shit."

"Smarm should be understood as a type of bullshit, then. It is a kind of moral and ethical misdirection."

"The old systems of prestige are rickety and insecure. Everyone has a publishing platform and no one has a career."

"What carries contemporary American political campaigns along is a thick flow of opaque smarm."

"Romney clambered up to a new higher ground, deploring the divisiveness of dwelling on his divisiveness."

"Through smarm, the "centrists" have cut themselves off from the language of actual dispute. In smarm is power."

"A civilization that speaks in smarm is a civilization that has lost its ability to talk about purposes at all."

"Joe Lieberman! If you would know smarm, look to Joe Lieberman."

"The plutocrats are haunted, as all smarmers are haunted, by a lack of respect. On Twitter, the only answer to "Do you know who I am?" is "One more person with 140 characters to use.""

"To actually say a plain and direct word like "corrupt" is more outlandish, in smarm's outlook, than even swearing."

"Anger is upsetting to smarm. But so is humor and confidence."

"Immense fortunes have bloomed in Silicon Valley on the most ephemeral and stupid windborne seeds of concepts. What's wrong with you, that you didn't get a piece of it?"
criticism  culture  smarm  snark  daveeggers  malcolmgladwell  2013  tomscocca  buzzfeed  heidijulavits  isaacfitzgerald  daviddenby  bambi  arifleischer  lannydavis  leesiegel  cynicism  negativity  tone  politics  writing  critique  mittromney  barackobama  michaelbloomberg  ianfrazier  centrists  power  redistribution  rebeccablank  civilization  dialog  conversation  purpose  jedediahpurdy  irony  joelieberman  marshallsella  billclinton  mainstream  georgewbush  maureendowd  rudeness  meanness  plutocrats  wealth  publishing  media  respect  niallferguson  alexpareene  mariabartiromo  gawker  choiresicha  anger  confidence  humor  spikelee  upworthy  adammordecai  juliachild  success  successfulness  niceness  tompeters  bullshit  morality  ethics  misdirection  insecurity  prestige  audience  dialogue  jedediahbritton-purdy 
december 2013 by robertogreco
Op-Ed Contributors - The Great Wallop - NYTimes.com
"in China’s interest to kick its currency-intervention habit...heavily undervalued renminbi is key financial distortion in world economy today. If it persists for much longer, China risks losing the very foundation of its economic success: an open global trading regime...exactly what Obama can offer in return for a substantial currency revaluation of, say, 20-30% over next 12 months: clear commitment to globalization & free trade & end to nascent Chinese-American tariff war. For as long as People’s Republic has existed, US has been principal upholder of a world economic order based on free movement of goods & more recently, capital...has also picked up the tab for policing the oil-rich but unstable Middle East. No country has benefited more from these arrangements than China, & it should now pay for them through a stronger Chinese currency. Chimerica was always a chimera — an economic monster. Revaluing the renminbi will give this monster the peaceful death it deserves."
china  us  economics  policy  money  finance  capital  niallferguson 
november 2009 by robertogreco

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