Sorry guys but I did make an unannounced break. This does not mean that I haven’t been keeping track in what has been going on in the blogosphere, especially when the ones I tend to view as personal favorites. And also this of course does not mean that I took a break on economics or political science.
I finished reading His Excellency: George Washington (2004) by Joseph Ellis, The Age of Turbulence (2007) by Alan Greenspan, and book 1 of the Wealth of Nations (2003 ) by Adam Smith a couple of weeks ago.
Ellis’ book on Washington was a decent read for me. I actually did not know much of Washington, so his book was decent for me because it was a quick and easy read. But I did get the feeling that it was too quick of a read, and thus, left a lot out of what one would expect in a standard biography. I think I will have to read Ron Chernow’s book for a more detailed account of the life of Washington.
Greenspan’s book is an autobiography in where he discusses mostly his work life. I’ll be quite frank, I picked up Greenspan’s book thinking he is a “know-it-all” and ended up thinking the same thing. It is hard to find Greenspan admitting to error. Though, if one can ignore his ego, this book has some interesting things. He discusses his conflict with Bush Sr. regarding inflation (2007: 113), his admiration towards Nixon and Clinton, calling them the smartest presidents so far (2007: 58; 144), and his theory of economics, which is generally covered from chapter 12 to 25, highly appealing to the view of markets as self correcting and regarding Ayn Rand (2007: 40-1), Adam Smith (2007: 260-6), and Joseph Schumpeter (2007: 48) as main influences.
A quick note on Smith book 1. Just because he introduces the concept of the division of labor and from there shows how the market determines prices and wages without mentioning government’s role does not mean that he considers government irrelevant in economic concerns. He is clearly trying to introduce concepts from an elementary level and working his way to a more complicated level as the read goes on. Book 1 basically goes over a detailed account of the division of labor, since the division of labor is highly stressed in economics, there is not much to learn from book 1 if one is already familiar to the concept.
There are three books which I am currently reading: The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) by Thorstein Veblen, Alexander Hamilton (2004) by Ron Chernow, and The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.
While I am sure that I can benefit from Veblen’s book, I am somewhat skeptical of its thesis, which revolves around the study that individuals tend to purchase items not necessarily for the need of an item but to one’s self look higher up in society. So, for example, instead of buying a set of X, many tend to buy a more expensive set of X even though the ‘utility’ would remain the same. People tend to buy expensive items to ‘show off’ to society of their class. Thus, we have grown to a society that does not necessarily produce items for need and thus increase utility but instead produce items simply to show off and thus ignore the adding on of utility in the face of looking nice.
I do not really see a problem with this, why does Veblen call it conspicuous consumption, I do not know, though please note that I only have read one chapter of the book. But does Veblen vision a society where people wear the same clothes, have houses that look the same and have the same appliances, have the exact same cars, etc? It almost seems like Veblen is criticizing the creative part of capitalism, which I can only see as an advantage to society. Also Veblen criticizes specific activities as a disadvantage since there is some activity that we perform that does not seem to go towards earning a living, he calls this conspicuous leisure. It seems to Veblen to be a problem that a carpenter to learn philosophy, since the subject would probably not contribute to his job as a carpenter. So not only does Veblen theory seems to vision a society with similar goods, but also visions a society that limits one to study liberal arts such as fine arts or philosophy. So this, so far, only seems to me that Veblen sees a problem with the creative aspect of society, what that problem is, I do not know, since I have not read too much of his book.
Chernow’s book on Hamilton is a grand book so far. I am currently on page 320 and I can not seem to put it down. If I was to describe his reason to write such a book it would be to show that Hamilton is a great man AND a great American, contra to what Woodrow Wilson claimed* (Chernow 2004: 3). In fact, it is shown that Hamilton did everything in his power in trying to become both. He was a supporter of the Boston Tea Party protest, a fierce early Revolutionary writer that made some harsh criticisms towards Britain, a Revolutionary soldier, captain, then favorite aide to Washington (which then he was promoted to Lt. Colonel), a supporter of the Constitution (he wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers, which were papers to convince people to support the Constitution). The only problem I seem to have in this book is that Chernow often claims that Hamilton is fighting for a democratic state, or has a democratic appeal. I think Chernow’s book refutes Chernow in this claim. Hamilton was clearly one who was skeptical of having all people vote, since there are many who do not have the political knowledge to make such an opinion. Obviously, Hamilton visioned a Republic in which only a selected crowd was put to vote and influence important changes in government. In Hamilton’s view, the selected crowd would be those who have the knowledge of affairs, not necessarily those who have a certain amount of wealth. Generally, Hamilton is seen as an aristocrat from his critics, but Chernow shows that this seems like a strange label to put on Hamilton, since he was born poor, criticized the British aristocracy, and was against slavery (and activity promoted abolition). I can only imagine that Chernow would conclude the book by saying that Hamilton seems to be the founding father who set in stone the environment in which made capitalism possible.
* Wilson claimed that Hamilton was “a very great man, but not a great American.”
I’ll update my References later, since I do not have all of my books on me
Chernow, Ron. 2004. Alexander Hamilton. New York:The Penguin Press.
Ellis, Joseph J. 2004. His Excellency: George Washington. New York: Knopf.
Greenspan, Alan. 2007. The Age of Turbulence. New York: Penguin Group.
Hamilton, Alexander, John Jay, and James Madison.  The Federalist Papers. New York: The Modern Library
Smith, Adam. 2003 . The Wealth of Nations. New York: Bantam Dell.
Veblen, Thorstein. 1934 . The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: The Modern Library.