Saturday, June 11, 2011

Two new books

I was at the library yesterday, and dropped by their book sale. I picked up two:

1. Kenneth Boulding's "Beyond Economics: Essays on Society, Religion, and Ethics". I haven't read much Boulding before, but I read some of the essays in here last night and enjoyed them very much. One of the ones I read was called "An Economist's View on the Manpower Concept" (1954), which was interesting because that's largely what my NBER paper is about - it addresses these concerns from so-called "manpower studies" that suggest we're going to have a great shortage of scientists and engineers. The same chicken-little concerns were there in the fifties, and Boulding refutes them well. Most economists have addressed the concerns well - virtually every study over the last sixty years that I'm aware of has been in agreement on that point. So that's interesting and Boulding is a talented writer - but towards the end he gets into another issue that I've been thinking of but hadn't heard anyone provide my perspective on before: the question of, if we're looking to achieve some social or public objective that requires professional labor - whether we should subsidize supply or demand for that labor. It seems to me that the demand side makes much more sense, and Boulding agrees - but a lot of people focus on labor supply policies here (even people I'm usually positively disposed towards on these issues - like Richard Freeman). In the essay, Boulding compares labor supply policies to the draft, and says of the draft that "it is unquestionably the most disastrous social invention of the past two hundred years, and I find it difficult to forgive the French for inventing it." He also has an essay called "Economic Libertarianism" (1965), which I haven't read in its entirely. I can fully endorse his framing of the argument in the initial paragraph: "I shall try to look at what I call the limits of libertarianism, particularly in regard to the role of exchange in the organization of society. I think freedom is a bit of a red herring here. The really crucial question is the role of exchange as an organizer. This is what the economic liberals, if we can call them that, care about. It is both the successes and the limits of this role of exchange which represent the real issue."

2. I also got a publication by the National Research Council called "Scientists, Engineers, and Track-Two Diplomacy: A Half Century of U.S.-Russian Interagency Cooperation". It's a history of American and Soviet scientific interaction throughout the Cold War, and afterwards. One of hte most interesting looking parts of the book is the appendix - which has lots of documentation of some of the initial treaties which set these exchanges and relations in motion. One of the things they include in it is a list of requests for exchanges - the Russians would say how many Russian scientists they wanted to study certain topics in the U.S., and for how long, and the Americans would request the same. It gives you a sense of the priorities of each regime, and also where they perceived they were at a disadvantage.

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