Thoughts on economics and liberty

Category: People

Good books I’ve come across in the past few years

I'm listing here some of the good books I've come across in the last two to three years, including those I've re-read recently. I'm providing hyperlinks to those that I've reviewed or otherwise commented on. The list is in no particular order within the relevant category. (And I might update this in due course or create an entirely new list if time permits.)

[Note: This list is not restricted only to recently published books. I've excluded perhaps a hundred others that I've bought and/or read in the past 2-3 years but which don't qualify for the 'good book' category. I'm also excluding books I bought or read more than two to three years ago unless they were so good that I pulled them out of the bookshelf and re-read them recently.] 

Books by FTI Speakers Panelists

Pavan Choudary: When You Are Sinking Become a Submarine (and Success Sutras for the 21st century: A Trilogy of Wisdom)
 
On India
Nandan Nilekani: Imagining  India
(I shouldn't forget to list my own book! Breaking Free of Nehru –  the clearest step-by-step book on reforms needed in India that I've come across)
 
Economics and Politics
F.A. Hayek: The Constitution of Liberty and Law, Legislation and Liberty and The Fatal Conceit
Isaiah Berlin: Freedom and its betrayal: six enemies of human liberty
Jim Powell: The Triumph of Liberty
Ayn Rand: Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal
Milton Friedman: Capitalism and Freedom
Ian Adams and R.W. Dyson: Fifty major political thinkers
Tim Hartford: The Undercover Economist  (and The Logic of Life)
Malcolm Gladwell: Tipping Point  (andOutliers)
Jason Zweig: Your Money and Your Brain
Steven Levitt: Freakonomics (and Superfreakonomics)
Steven Pinker: How the Mind Works
Steven Landsburg: More Sex is Safer Sex
Gerd Gigerenzer: Gut Feelings
Terence Kealey: Sex, Science and Profits
Robert H.Frank: The Economic Naturalist (andReturn of the Economic Naturalist
Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Black Swan (and Fooled by Randomness)

Physics and the pure sciences
Lee Smolin: The Trouble With Physics
Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time
Ian Plimer:  Heaven and Earth
John D. Barrow: The Anthropic Cosmological Principle
 
Leadership, strategy, and team building
Jim Collins: From Good to Great
Charles Pellerin: How NASA Builds Teams
James Kouses and Barry Posner: Leadership Challenge
Ashok Garde: Chanakya on Management 
Saul Alinsky: Rules for Radicals  
Rangarajan: Arthasastra


How to write better
William Strunk and E.B. White: The Elements of Style
 
Self analysis
Paul Tieger and Barbara Barro-Tieger: Do What You Are

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Introduction to Steven Landsburg

For reasons I can't fathom I was not aware of the works of Steven Landsburg so far (including The Armchair Economist of which I vaguely recall seeing the title somewhere many years ago). Accidental browsing last week led to my buying his 2007 book, More Sex is Safer Sex which is an astoundingly well written and clear headed book. I'm half-way through this book at the moment, just as I'm half way through 15 odd half-open books that surround my bed. 

I checked out his work at Wikipedia (here). I am convinced he is one of the finest proponents of critical thinking around. I've just ordered the Armchair Economist and The Big Questions from the Book Depository and will have something to say about his books in the coming weeks.

But to start the ball rolling,  I'm posting a few links to his works. I encourage you to investigate his work (if you are not already familiar with his work). You'll end up being enlightened, or at least delighted. I guarantee that. 

LINKS TO LANDSBURG'S WORK

Steven Landsburg's home page (with links to useful articles)

All  Steven Landsburg's articles on Slate, here  (sort by date if you wish)

Subscribe to his blog.

CLOSING NOTES FOR THIS BLOG POST (AFTER FINISHING THE BOOK)

Finished Steven's book a couple of days ago. It lived up to expectations till the very end. It ended with a vigorous pitch for the use of cost-benefit analyses in policy making. Quite similar in that to Robert Frank's advocacy of cost-benefit analyses. Also an excellent section on obesity policy that I'll talk about separately. Despite a few policy differences between Steven Landsburg and Robert Frank, I think both of them provide valuable insights into micro-economic and social policy. I'll talk more about Steven Landsburg when I've gone through his other two books that I've ordered.

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The Vikram Buddhi case

I have been made aware of Vikram Buddhi's case over the past few months (please search Google for details if you haven't heard of it yet). But I was hesitant to comment publicly on this matter, for upon a (relatively cursory) examination of public documents available in this case, I found it too complex for me to form a judicious view one way or the other. However, in my recent trip to India I met Somnath Bharti who explained this case to me, and I'm now ready to write about it.

Somnath is an IIT-Delhi engineer who later took a degree in law and now works as a lawyer in the Indian Supreme Court. A few months ago, this case somehow came to Somnath’s notice. He did not know Vikram or his family before taking up this case, but after examining the facts of the matter he was convinced that Vikram has been denied justice in the USA. He therefore took up Vikram’s case on a pro-bono basis.

After my detailed discussion with Somanth I am now convinced that Vikram is innocent, noting that my conclusion is not based on first hand examination of all the facts personally, but on the explanation of key issues provided by Somnath. Hence this blog post that seeks to inform the public of India (and USA) about the injustice meted to Vikram Buddhi.

VIKRAM DID NOT WRITE THE EMAILS 'THREATENING' THE US PRESIDENT

Somnath being an ex-IITian possesses certain expertise in technical matters. He has formed a view after examining the facts of the case that the US investigators did not offer a fool-proof case to prove that Vikram wrote the alleged threatening emails. The case was built primarily on suspicion by certain persons in the University for reasons which are totally unrelated to the case against Vikram.

The facts of authorship of the emails are extremely weak. Many others could have very well written this email. THERE IS NO DIRECT LINK TO VIKRAM. Vikram almost certainly didn’t write them, leave alone remotely threaten the US President in any form or manner (even assuming that the emails were considered a direct threat – which is a matter I believe irrelevant to the case against Vikram if he did not even write the emails in the first place).

To convict someone of a crime there must be a direct proof (that excludes others entirely) linking the facts of the crime to the person who is alleged to have committed the crime. NO SUCH PROOF EXISTS. To thereafter convict Vikram based on such a flawed basis is a travesty of justice. I am now convinced by the explanations provided by Somnath that on the balance of probabilities, Vikram has been unjustly treated by the law in USA.

GOVERNMENT LAWYERS PROVIDED WEAK DEFENCE

Vikram's defence lawyers provided by the US Government (Somnath was yet to even hear about this case) chose to provide a very weak defence which did not seek to dismiss the case on the grounds that the basic allegation – that Vikram had drafted these emails – had not been conclusively proved. They argued second order and essentially irrelevant issues, such as where was a threat implied by the emails. Why they did not argue that the case be thrown out entirely because of a lack of direct link of emails to Vikram is not known. Possibly incompetence.

APPELLATE CASE

By the time Somnath got to the Vikram Buddhi case, it had been mangled to an extent that made it extremely difficult to fix it. The main obstacle now is that an appeal cannot introduce new evidence (if such evidence were allowed, Somnath should be readily able to demonstrate that Vikram did not draft the emails). 

Somnath is now constructing a much weaker (technical) appeal the chances of success of which are significantly lesser than would have been the case had a competent lawyer argued the initial defence, or the initial judge been more inquisitive about the facts. It is also possible that in order to avoid publichumiliation of its justice system and damage to its human rights record, the US could well compound the mistakes already made in this case during the appellate process.

One can only hope that the US system will uphold ITS HIGHEST CONCEPTIONS OF LIBERTY AND JUSTICE for the defence of which the US came into existence. I suggest that the US Government deploy its best experts to study the case carefully and seek to confirm for itselfbeyond doubt that Vikram did indeed author the emails he is being convicted for given that it is almost certain that he did not.

LET THE TRUTH ABOUT THE CASE SEE PUBLIC LIGHT

Even if the position of the US Government does not change during the appellate process and the original (wrong) conviction against Vikram is upheld, I do hope that Vikram will, upon his release which is set for 6 May 2011, write a book that tells the world of the misjustice against him and the consequent loss of liberties he suffered in USA, the alleged greatest free nation on earth. One only hopes he does not harbour any personal bitterness against the USA or any individual during this process.

CONCLUSION

I would like to wish Somnath (and Vikram) success in the appellate process, and trust that Vikram is finally given justice and not only his reputation reinstated, but due compensation awarded by the US Government for the many years of wrongful imprisonment he has undergone (and will still undergo for the next 14 months).

I would also like to urge you, dear reader, to explore the case carefully and provide comments on this blog. I’ll seek Somnath's comment on issues that I am unable to address.

My comment added on 13 April 2010, being an extract from my draft manuscript, The Discovery of Freedom: "The USA became the first nation to comply with the rule of law, with the USA constitution insisting on the ‘due process of law’. It is a moot question whether the USA actually delivers the rule of law today."

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Is Ian Plimer on the right track?

My  review ofIan Plimer's book, 'Heaven + Earth: Global Warming: the Missing Science'.

The areas of knowledge covered by climate science are enormous, with an almost endless number of questions to be asked. Addressing these questions then requires an excellent understanding of many disciplines of science as well as of statistics, since extremely complex multivariate analyses and models are necessary to identify various marginal effects. Therefore it is very hard for a lay person with limited time to form an informed opinion on this subject. Most of us tend to, therefore, become 'believers' in this area, not thinkers. We either accept man-made climate change or we don't. Neutral, inquiring positions are becoming harder to find.

But truth has never given up its secrets to groups. No major advance in history ever emerged from group think. Individual analysis and independent opinion is mandatory for science to advance. Most advances in science take years if not centuries to be fully understood and internalised. For instance, the theory of evolution was proposed by a single individual, not by a committee, and has taken 150 years to be confirmed as a plausible representation of reality. Doing so has been relatively easy since of the millions of observations made, not one contradicted the theory. But one cannot say the same of climate science which is not only tens of times more difficult than evolution but has been marked by contradictory observations and data (or claims of such contradictions). The fact that no major Australian publisher was willing to publish Plimer’s book indicates the increasing dominance of group think in this area, and is surely a matter of concern.

Excellent compendium of issues
The book brings together a vast number of seemingly unrelated streams of science and shows that there are literally hundreds of diverse factors at work on the earth's climate, not simply greenhouse gases. It thus provides a wide range of information and educates the layman in the many complexities of climate science. Irrespective of how valid Plimer's conclusions are, his wide coverage of issues is good enough reason to have this book as part of one's personal library.

Polemical style
The book is somewhat repetitive and could have done with a couple of more revisions. However, having myself published a book (http://bfn.sabhlokcity.com/), with another on the way, I am sympathetic towards people who write books over and above their day time job. But the polemical style followed by Plimer almost becomes aggressive in places. Plimer could have achieved a more persuasive result through understatement (advice easier given than followed: I must make a note to follow this in my own writings as well!). But if you can ignore his rhetorical approach, you'll find considerable value in this book.

Does his story come together?
My preliminary research through the internet has convinced me that CO2 is a potential threat to mankind, but probably not as much as is hyped to be. However, I'm not an expert in this area and have no time to explore this issue further. Plimer's book assists by rapidly increasing one's knowledge of the vast number of issues involved in this area. Consider this: “The measurement of CO2 in the atmosphere is fraught with difficulty… [F]or much of the 19th century … the atmosphere CO2 was higher than at present and varied considerably” (p.416). That’s surely a shock ‘discovery’. The greater shock is the fact that current CO2 levels are close to the lowest ever in the Earth’s history. How true is this? Well, read for yourself.

While CO2 and its effects are an areas on which the jury is still out, I do know a fair bit about mathematical modeling. I therefore have strong reservations against mathematical models of 'everything', which is what climate models essentially are. Only God can know the precise model that runs the world. Therefore even imagining that we will be able to predict climate 200 years hence through computer modeling is a delusion. There are almost no linearities found in this world, and with hundreds of variables involved with complex non-linearities, uncertainties, feedback loops, interactions, automatic stabilisers and adjustments, the very idea that we can predict climate 200 years out is fantasy. Plimer raises similar concerns in his book, which lends it considerable credibility, at least from my perspective. Today, climate science can barely predict the weather three days out, so perhaps we shouldn’t get bowled over by computer models.

Plimer has thus offered a very strong and well-researched book that will take quite some serious refutation. If nothing else, this book demonstrates that climate science is far from settled.

Having said that, while Plimer makes a strong case against man-made global warming, I'm not ready to 'believe' one way or the other since I believe that the truth often takes its own sweet time to emerge – over the course of centuries. There is therefore perhaps no need to rush to judgement. Of course, if CO2 is (ever) unequivocally proven to be a major pollutant (which is perhaps not the case today), then various economic models could be used to enforce accountability and internalise the externalities involved.

In the end, strongly recommended weekend reading.

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ARTICLE BY IAN PLIMER

Here's an article published in The Australian today by Ian Plimer which summarises his arguments very well.I'm copying the entire article here for my reference in case the URL of the above link changes in the future.

Vitriolic climate in academic hothouse
Ian Plimer | May 29, 2009
Article from: The Australian

IT is well known that many university staff list to port and try to engineer a brave new world. The cash cow climate institutes now seem to be drowning in their own self-importance.

In a wonderful gesture of public spiritedness, seven academics who include three lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and a former director of the World Climate Research Program wrote to Australian power generating companies on April 29 instructing them to cease and desist creating electricity from coal.

In their final paragraph, they state with breathtaking arrogance: "The unfortunate reality is that genuine action on climate change will require the existing coal-fired power stations to cease operating in the near future.

"We feel it is vital that you understand this and we are happy to work with you and with governments to begin planning for this transition immediately.

"The warming of the atmosphere, driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases, is already causing unacceptable damage and suffering around the world."

No evidence is provided for this statement and no signatory to this letter has published anything to support this claim.

These university staff are unctuously understanding about the plight of those who face employment extinction in the smokestack towns of Australia.

They write: "We understand that this will require significant social and economic transition that will need to be managed carefully
to care for coal sector workers and coal-dependent communities.". This love for fellow workers brings tears to the eyes.

The electricity generating companies should reply by cutting off the power to academics' homes and host institutions, forcing our ideologues to lead by example.

Some 80 per cent of Australia's electricity derives from coal, large volumes of cheap electricity underpin employment and our self-appointed concerned citizens offer no suggestion for alternative unsubsidised base-load power sources to employ Australians.

The Emissions Trading Scheme legislation poises Australia to make the biggest economic decision in its history, yet there has been no scientific due diligence.

There has never been a climate change debate in Australia. Only dogma. To demonise element number six in the periodic table is amusing. Why not promethium? Carbon dioxide is an odourless, colourless, harmless natural gas. It is plant food. Without carbon, there would be no life on Earth.

The original source of atmospheric CO2 is volcanoes. The Earth's early atmosphere had a thousand times the CO2 of today's atmosphere. This CO2 was recycled through rocks, life and the oceans.

Through time, this CO2 has been sequestered into plants, coal, petroleum, minerals and carbonate rocks, resulting in a decrease in atmosphericCO2.

The atmosphere now contains 800billion tonnes of carbon as CO2. Soils and plants contain 2000 billion tonnes, oceans 39,000 billion tonnes and limestone 65,000,000 billion tonnes. The atmosphere contains only 0.001 per cent of the total carbon in the top few kilometres of the Earth.

Deeper in Earth, there are huge volumes of CO2 yet to be leaked into the atmosphere. So depleted is the atmosphere in CO2, that horticulturalists pump warm CO2 into glasshouses to accelerate plant growth.

The first 50 parts per million of CO2 operates as a powerful greenhouse gas. After that, CO2 has done its job, which is why there has been no runaway greenhouse in the past when CO2 was far higher.

During previous times of high CO2, there were climate cycles driven by galactic forces, the sun, Earth's orbit, tides and random events such as volcanoes. These forces still operate. Why should such forces disappear just because we humans live on Earth?

The fundamental questions remain unanswered. A change of 1 per cent in cloudiness can account for all changes measured during the past 150 years, yet cloud measurements are highly inaccurate. Why is the role of clouds ignored? Why is the main greenhouse gas (water vapour) ignored? The limitation of temperature in hot climates is evaporation yet this ignored in catastrophist models.

Why are balloon and satellite measurements showing cooling ignored yet unreliable thermometer measurements used? Is the increase in atmospheric CO2 really due to human activities?

Ice cores show CO2 increases some 800 years after temperature increase so why can't an increase in CO2 today be due to the medieval warming (900-1300)?

If increased concentrations of CO2 increase temperature, why have there been coolings during the past 150 years?

Some 85 per cent of volcanoes are unseen and unmeasured yet these heat the oceans and add monstrous amounts of CO2 to the oceans. Why have these been ignored? Why have there been five significant ice ages when CO2 was higher than now? Why were warmings in Minoan, Roman and medieval times natural, yet a smaller warming at the end of the 20th century was due to human activities? If climate changed at the end of the Little Ice Age (c.1850), is it unusual for warming to follow?

Computer models using the past 150 years of measurements have been used to predict climate for the next few centuries. Why have these models not been run backwards to validate known climate changes?

I would bet the farm that by running these models backwards, El Nino events and volcanoes such as Krakatoa (1883, 535), Rabaul (536) and Tambora (1815) could not be validated.

In my book, I correctly predicted the response. The science would not be discussed, there would be academic nit-picking and there would be vitriolic ad hominem attacks by pompous academics out of contact with the community.

Comments by critics suggest that few have actually read the book and every time there was a savage public personal attack, book sales rose. A political blog site could not believe that such a book was selling so well and suggested that my publisher, Connor Court, was a front for the mining or pastoral industry.

This book has struck a nerve. Although accidentally timely, there are a large number of punters who object to being treated dismissively as stupid, who do not like being told what to think, who value independence, who resile from personal attacks and have life experiences very different from the urban environmental atheists attempting to impose a new fundamentalist religion.

Green politics have taken the place of failed socialism and Western Christianity and impose fear, guilt, penance and indulgences on to a society with little scientific literacy. We are now reaping the rewards of politicising science and dumbing down the education system. If book sales, public meetings, book launches, email and phone messages are any indication, there is a large body of disenfranchised folk out there who feel helpless. I have shown that the emperor has no clothes. This is why the attacks are so vitriolic.

Ian Plimer is emeritus professor of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne. His book Heaven and Earth is published by Connor Court.

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ADDITIONAL NOTES. I'm going to add a few links that are useful in this area:

A paper that summarises key data: http://www.oism.org/pproject/s33p36.htm

Fielding-Wong debate

Review of Plimer's work in The Spectator8 July 2009.

A summary of 9 peer reviewed papers disproving anthropogenic global warming (AGW)

Australian Govt. issues paper (by Allen Consulting Group)

Scientists opposing AGW arguments.

A speech by Aynsley Kellow

Need to read: Climate of Extremes: Global
Warming Science They Don't Want You to Know by Patrick Michaels

Interview with Pat Michaels

Addendum, 25 October 2009. The book is a best seller!

Addendum Seeing through hoax of the century, by Janet Albrechtsen. The Australian.

Addendum 7 November 2009: Science is in on climate change sea-level rise: 1.7mm, The Australian. [evidence that sea levels have been rising VERY SLOWLY near South Australia]

Addendum 7 November 2009. Freaking Out over Global Warming. Mises Daily.

Addendum 9 December 2009: Climate claims fail science test by Michael Asten. The Australian.

Addendum 8 January 2009. Mr Rudd, your misguided warming policies are killing millions. Full open letter at here (PDF).

Here's something hilarious: Kenneth Davidson in his 8 February 2010 article in The Age (here) said, "Britain's Met Office says the world is on a path towards a potential increase in global temperatures of 4 degrees as early as 2060. If this occurs, only about half a billion people out of about 9 billion will survive, according to Professor Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate change and adviser to the British government". I explored this further and came across this article. I'm amused beyond belief at such atrocious 'science'.

Addendum 12 Feb 2010: Came across this useful summary.

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