Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Saturday, January 31, 2009


Posted by Simon Halliday | Saturday, January 31, 2009 | Category: , | 4 comments

I am currently reading Ryszard Kapscinki's collection of essays on living in and and reporting from Africa called The Shadow of the Sun. As many of you know, I am intrigued by parochialism and in-group and out-group preferences. Kapuscinski (2001, 188-89) captures the idea perfectly in his essay 'The Black Crystals of the Night,'

Our contemporary suspicion of and antipathy for the Other, the Stranger, goes back to the fear our tribal ancestors felt towards the Outsider, seeing him as the carrier of evil, the source of misfortune. Pain, fire, disease, drought, and hunger did not come from nowhere. Someone must have brought them, inflicted them, disseminated them. But who? Not my people, not those closest to me - they are good. Life is possible only among good people, and I am alive, after all. The guilty are therefore ther Others, the Strangers. That is why, seeking retribution for our injuries and setbacks, we quarrel with them, enter into conflicts, conduct wars. In a word, if unhappiness has befallen us, its source is not within us, but elsewhere, outside, beyond us and our community, far away, in Others.
Does this not capture the notions well? Parochialism, war, altruism towards our in-group, distrust of the out-group all of these ideas are illustrated. Reading is such a pleasure.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Posted by Simon Halliday | Friday, January 30, 2009 | Category: | 2 comments

As it was the festive season I took time off to ignore my google reader, get research done and then take a couple of days off with my wife over our anniversary (shock horror no internet access crazy!), I also went to Plett with my family before returning to Italy. As my South African sojourn ended there were flights and waits in airports (someone should write 'Doha: An Ode'). Consequently, I managed to read some books, mostly works of fiction, but there are a few non-fiction works sticking there hands up in the air awaiting a mention.

Fiction tooka little time to read my ever-companionable and enjoyable Galactic Milieu series by Julian May. In combination with the May's Saga of Pliocene Exile it is basically a tale of felix culpa for one of the main characters, Marc Remillard. I love this series for no obvious reason, it involves 'higher mind powers', aliens intervening in Earth Civilization in the early 21st century and odd Catholic theology, but I still love the main characters and the storyline. A human who takes a singular leap forward in evolution and basically becomes a disembodied brain sustained by his mindpowers! I can't really fathom why I appreciate this series so much, I think it appeals to the fantasist in me.

After May's series, I read Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited which I had been intending to read for ages. My wife has a fantastic hard cover Everyman's library version. Although somewhat strange to get into at first (I don't seem to have much sympathy for Oxfordian life), I enjoyed the second half of the book greatly. The reflections on cultural degeneration, the issue of reconciling religion and death, of what it means to be married in pre-WWII England and what lovelessness within marriage entails was both disturbing and enlivening (enlivening because I sympathise, I suppose, with the problems with reconciling areligiosity and death). I recommend this book strongly.
Following this, I read Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. Wow! I love it. It is a phenomenal book. It is an alternative history that considers what might have happened in the US if, instead of FD Roosevelt winning the 1940 US Election, Charles Lindbergh had run as the Republican candidate and beaten FDR. It is told mainly from the perspective of 8-year-old Philip Roth. Roth has a total command of his conceptualisation of this alternative history and writes the details of it well, focusing on the experiences of a working class Jewish family in Newark, New Jersey. Although potentially difficult for some because of its weighty factual nature in certain sections, the writing pulls you through, and brings you to a better understanding of the United States. This is high quality social commentary from Roth.

Next up was another work of fiction, John Updike's Terrorist. Updike follows a few characters in this book, the two main characters are a young Islamic man, Ahmad, who was abandoned by his Muslim father and lives at home with his American liberal, nurse's assistant cum artist mother. The second main character is Jack, a Jewish teacher and counselor at Ahmad's high school who becomes invested in the idea of Ahmad going to university rather than becoming a truck driver. Reading the two reviews on Amazon that gave the book one star, I can't help but think they gave the book an odd reading. The one complains that it gives a unidimensional account of Muslims, it doesn't, in fact the whole purpose of the book is to portray the kind of Islam that a devout, almost obsessive teenager constructs in order to satisfy his own preferences. It also does not portray this Islam as the Islam practised by other Muslims, in fact Updike goes to great lengths to show the different shades of Muslims once could potentially find in the world setting Ahmad in opposition to his boss Mr. Chehab. Anyway, the book does not have the grace that I have experienced reading some of Updike's earlier work, but it is definitely a worthwhile read. I'd give it four stars, not one, because he portrays the character of Ahmad well, I believe, even if he doesn't deal with the religion in as nuanced a way as some might like. If I was comparing it only to Updike's own work, rather than the work of the rest of the world, I'd give it three stars. Here is an interview with Updike about the book. Here's another (video) interview.

E.M. Forster's Maurice was next up on my shelf. Amy had been recommending this to me for ages, we had previously found a copy in that fantastic bookshop on Kloof Street (the name of which I forget), Book Lover's Paradise I think. It had sat on the shelf, unread, while I was here in Italy (Amy had read it previously for a course at uni). The book is a beautifully written, and fantastically witty, depiction of the adolescent and young adult life of Maurice, a young man from an upper class, but not noble, British family. Maurice is homosexual. Forster protrays the struggles that Maurice goes through with forcible and graceful language, portraying both Maurice's limitations to his partners, his fall, his classism (which Maurice fails to realise is as bad as homophobia) and, finally, a sexual and mental awakening to the ways in which his homosexuality will affect his life. The book is highly meaningful as one of the first pieces of genuine 21st century 'gay' literature, as Forster completed the work in 1914 but it was only published posthumously. Forster's reflections on the laws in the UK, which he wrote as part of an afterword during the 1960s, also shows how worried and anxious he was about the state of the law in the UK and how he felt that homosexuality would never be granted the status that it now has. This book is beautiful, easy to read and the timbre of Forster's writing voice is well worth listening to.

Finally, completing the fiction, I bought Terry Brooks's The Gypsy Morph in the Exclusive Books of Cape Town International Airport and finished it by the time I arrived in London (having sat in Doha for five hours twiddling my eyeballs). So yes, I had time to finish that. This book was the finale in Brooks's 'The Genesis of Shannara' trilogy. I am an old fantasy and sci-fi hack and I took pleasure in reading this book. This is good journeyman fantasy, decent battles, magic, elves, etc with a final resolution that ties together the world of a post-apocalyptic 'Earth' and that of Shannara. It was like a decent action movie: enough battles and thrilling events to keep the story moving, tied in with a worthwhile, if somewhat simple, plot. Perfect for hours in Doha waiting for my Qatar airways flight.

Non-fiction Fadiman's Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader is a collection of essays on bibliophiles and their behaviour, which is often profoundly strange, yet simultaneously entertaining and endearing. I am a bibliophile (hopelessly misunderstood by my parents in that respect - I love books and had to get rid of almost two bookshelves worth when I left the country to start my PhD - the horror, the horror (don't worry I didn't get rid of my Conrads), let it be known, though, that my parents allowed me to keep two bookshelves full of books in my old room). Anyway, Fadiman's book is fantastic, she ruminates on being a sesquipedalianist, she assesses the myriad ways we treat our books (I am a scribbler and write in both fiction and non-fiction books), she meditates on whether his'er would work as a substitute for his in the phrase to each his own (she concludes, emphatically, thankfully, that it would not). Fadiman's essay are witty and insightful. The book was a pleasure to read. My wife, who is possibly as bibliomaniacal (in the metaphorical rather than diagnostic sense) as I am, gave this to me as part of an anniversary gift. We truly are kindred spirits.

As promised previously, a comment on Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers warrants some space. There has been a fair amount of commentary on this book (which I don't feel like linking to, sorry). Gladwell brings together a host of case studies and various research to bring together his ideas about success. He argues that success is basically composed of luck and hard work. However, you also have to be lucky enough to realise that hard work is necessary for success, so that is also part of the luck component. Underpinning both of these, though, are institutional structures (my terminology), such as the cutoff dates at school, the transaction costs of changing from one school to another (low during the 50s and 60s, high now), the mobility between areas, and the recognition given to one group rather than another (i.e. to what extent race disadvantages you because of the institutional structures reinforcing your position). The book is interesting, but I didn't get anything substantially 'new' from it except for some case studies. The studies link the argument together well, but they don't really do anything to tell us about how to change the system, or how to change people's thinking about success, except to show them the evidence against them. Historically, this has not worked: many libertarians still seem to believe in absolute freedom of choice and that institutional constraints don't exist. The book is worthwhile because it brings academic debates to hoi polloi and will hopefully strengthen the understanding that individuals are constrained by history and luck and that 'ability' doesn't always just shine on through.

Lastly, Alex Perry's Falling off the Edge is possibly one of the worst edited books of non-fiction I have read in a long time. This doesn't detract too much from his arguments about globalization, inequality and the dangers inherent in these, but seriously: repeated sentences, misspelled words, incorrect concord. Ahhh!!! I kept track until I lost the bookmark on which I was keeping track of the errors. The book is still worthwhile and I learned a hell of a lot about China, India and several other Asian countries, as well as some things that I didn't know about South Africa. I disagreed with some of Perry's more dire conclusions, such as the potential for a left-wing revolution to overthrow Asia's largest governments (China, India). Maybe I just hoped that these conclusions are wrong. I don't know enough about the countries he discusses to tell whether his arguments hold water or not. Anyway, give it a read, it's written in a reportage style (Perry being Time Magazine's African correspondent), with image plates thrown in to iron off the rougher edges. It falls into my 'racy' non-fiction category.

Next time
Graham Greene's The Quiet American, Ryszard Kapuscinski's The Shadow of the Sun and hopefully Roberto Bolano's 2666 once my order from Amazon arrives.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Levitt (chanelling Venkatesh) for Ted

Posted by Simon Halliday | Thursday, January 29, 2009 | Category: | 0 comments

I just watched the TED talk below by Steve Levitt. In it he highlights some of his work with Sudhir Venkatesh (who regularly posts on the Freakonomics blog) about gang membership and the extent to which economic theory and the performance of crack-cocaine selling gangs coincides. Very interesting. HT: Mind Hacks.

Two points that brought it home for me, as a crack-selling foot soldier you have a greater chance of dying than someone on death row. Second, any black teenager living in the area (in their research inner city Chicago) has approximately double the probability of dying that a US soldier in Iraq has.

These statistics make me shudder when thinking what the equivalent probabilities must be for teenagers living on the Cape Flats.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Carnival of the Africans #6

Posted by Simon Halliday | Wednesday, January 28, 2009 | Category: , | 0 comments

The 6th Carnival of the Africans is being hosted by Angela who runs 'Skeptic Detective'. Here are my picks from the carnival.

Ivan, of a subtle shift in emphasis, tells the tale of his journey to atheism. He recounts the struggles of really understanding and relating to Christianity after seeing stark depictions of Jesus's torture and crucifixion in the Zeffirelli depiction thereof (in Jesus of Nazareth) and how this vivid experience was followed by catechism, mathematical and science education and more. Have a read, it's worthwhile.

Dr Spurt of Effortless Incitement relates some of the nuances of human tastes and how these relate to the symbolic experiences of what is being tasted (Pepsi vs. Generic cola say). Very interesting.

Mike Meadon reminds us that confusing hypnogogia for actual experiences is alive and well in personal tales of life and religion.

Two of my own posts, one on love and neuroscience and a recent one on the transitive brains of rhesus monkeys featured in the carnival.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Transitive Brains

Posted by Simon Halliday | Tuesday, January 27, 2009 | Category: , | 2 comments A recent paper by Camillo Padoa-Schioppa and John Assad investigates the encoding of value in the brain for rhesus monkeys, a renewal of efforts to understand how and whether the assumption of transitivity, so crucial to the behavioral sciences, is in fact an accurate description of how individuals act when making choices. It builds on a previous paper (2006) of theirs in Nature, 'Neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex encode economic value.' The novelty in their (2008) research is that they provide evidence for value-encoding of juice consumption as menu-invariant, i.e. invariant to changes in the goods that are rank-preferred by the monkeys. I'm going to give you a brief summary and then make some points on where I'd be interested in seeing future research go.

There are three basic characteristics that they define. First, offer value responses which encode quantity or value of one or two offered juices (products). Second, chosen value responses which encode the value of the chosen juice (product) independent of the juice (product) type. Third, taste responses which are binary responses reflecting which one of two juices (products) are chosen independent of the amount of the juice (product). I have highlighted the notion of juice as product to foreground the idea of parallels between monkey juice consumption and the consumption of products by humans. Padoa-Schioppa and Assad assert that the second response, the chosen value response, is the most interesting because it is subjective and it ``represents a common unit for qualitatively different goods.'' (95) Their experimental methods are, thus, engaged with unearthing and isolating this chosen value effect. It is on this basis that we must assess their experimental methods and design.

The Experiment
The authors ran experiments with two (a male and a female) rhesus monkeys, measuring the neuronal output in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). The monkeys were prepared for the experiments using normal surgical procedures in preparation for neuronal recording. Juice was delivered to the monkeys in specifically measured quanta. The instructions, as such, that the monkeys were given were consistent with previous literature on the subject, with the monkeys selecting from a set of coloured squares indicating type and quantity of juice. The monkeys had an initial fixation point, after which a `go' signal was given: the introduction of two saccade targets adjacent to the coloured squares. Once the monkey had maintained fixation on the saccade target that they chose, juice would be delivered to them. Trials were aborted if the monkey broke fixation before the `go' signal. This procedure is highly detailed and thus easily replicable with appropriate resources.

The theory was that there are three potential neuronal responses: o ffer value, chosen value and taste responses. The argument was that the Orbitofrontal Cortex (OFC) neurons have previously responded to delivery of a given juice depending on the context (Tremblay & Schultz
1999). However, that study did not assess whether these encoded responses were invariant to changes in menu. They designed an experiment in which they could isolate whether preference encoding is independent of menu choice and thus whether any (A,B,C) triple selected for an experimental session would allow for valid encoding of value in the OFC, value which would be consistent across menus. The crucial underlying distinction though is that the set of juices given fits the ranking A > B > C, with any one juice falling into a class A, B or C. This brings us to the question of how the juice rankings are derived, for which we do not have the data. Nevertheless, the final result was that 1 unit of an A class juice was equivalent to 1.3 units of a B class juice and one unit of a class B juice was approximately equivalent to 3 units of a class C juice. Finally, they showed that 1 unit of a class A juice was roughly equivalent to 4 units of a class C juice. Hence you have approximate value indifference (1 unit A = 1.3 x 3 ~= 4).

Thus the authors cover a broad base of theory related to preference transitivity and show that with distinct and well-defined preferences, values are encoded and the structure of these values reflects the mathematical conditions of value transitivity and indiff erence transitivity. This is very interesting and definitely warrants further research in other monkeys and for a larger sample of individuals, rather than it being some quirk of the two monkeys in the experiment.

Random Reflection
Would it not be cool, ladies and gentlemen, if instead of using disjoint sets of ranked goods they doing something that attempted to replicate what Simonson and Tversky (1992) (and most recently reinvigorated in Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational) discussed in house choice - seeing two potential consumption goods and then introducing what would be called an 'irrelevant alternative' in economic theory and seeing how the type of 'irrelevant alternative' (or the degree of similarity of the irrelevant alternative to one of the actual choices) affected value encoding. To me, this would bridge the gap from what would be a traditionally 'behavioral economics' assertion (for which we require, I believe, more evidence) and that of a good neurocellular economics discussion. A question for further research I suppose.

Camillo Padoa-Schioppa, John A Assad (2007). The representation of economic value in the orbitofrontal cortex is invariant for changes of menu Nature Neuroscience, 11 (1), 95-102 DOI: 10.1038/nn2020

Monday, January 26, 2009

Aid Watch

Posted by Simon Halliday | Monday, January 26, 2009 | Category: , , | 0 comments

William Easterly, aid sceptic extraordinaire (note aid not AIDS), has started a blog: Aid Watch. I am often in disagreement with Easterly, but he does make decent points in his research about aid, about accountability and about guidelines for policy. He starts of his contribution to the blogosphere by commenting on two recent opeds by Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank. Easterly criticises Zoellick for his personal pet hate: aid for aid's sake, rather than for what the aid will do. Take a look.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lehrer on Decision-Making

Posted by Simon Halliday | Sunday, January 25, 2009 | Category: , | 0 comments

Jonah Lehrer has a recent piece in the WSJ in which he comments on several books on decision-making as a lead up to the release of his upcoming book How We Decide. The problem I wanted to highlight with his article was a reference to the book by Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic and Amos Tversky, Judgment Under Uncertainty. Lehrer comments that, "in experiment after experiment, the psychologists demonstrated that, unlike the hypothetical consumers in economics textbooks, real people don't treat losses and gains equivalently."

This is factually incorrect. They did not run experiments, they administered questionnaires. They asked people how they would react as if they were to face a lottery over gains and as if they were to face a lottery over losses. They did not actually run the experiments to test whether people would act in the ways that they described in their seminal (1979) paper, 'Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Under Risk'. To quote Kahneman and Tversky (1979, 264), "The demonstrations are based on the responses of students and university faculty to hypothetical choice problems." Again, not an experiment.

Subsequently, a number of their theories have been validated in the lab, but for a lot of their most famous results they did not run experiments, unless administering questionnaires has suddenly become experimental. Yes, in later papers they did run experiments, and, yes, for certain other research questions they ran experiments, but for the things that Lehrer comments on this did not, especially not prior to 1982. Even as late as 1992 some of Tversky's work was based only on questionnaires (by my count of the papers of his I know), similarly one of their most famous papers with Richard Thaler (1984) was based on questionnaires.

Note that for this I am not saying that questionnaires are useless, I just wanted to clarify that they are not experiments and thus that the norms for other economic experiments, i.e. actually using the monetary incentives involved, were not held to.

Anyway, the books to which he refers are all good. I have read the Ariely, some of the Thaler and some of the Kahneman, Slovic and Tversky. I just wanted to clarify that one point.


Posted by Simon Halliday | | Category: | 0 comments

Financial Crisis
Robert Shiller - Recession Insurance
Robert Skidelsky - The Business Cycle Myth
Leigh Caldwell - Bounded Rationality and the Credit Environment
Barry Eichengreen - Was the Euro a mistake?
Luigi Zingales - Yes we can, Mr Geithner
Ricardo Caballero - A Global Perspective on the great financial insurance run: Causes, consequences and solutions (Part 1, Part 2)

Economics Generally
Jeff Sachs - A Breakthrough Against Hunger
Eliot Spitzer - America's Fear of Competition

Naom Scheiber - The Audacity of Data (actually on Obama policy, quite old now (March '08)  but still very interesting)
Obama's Race Speech (also last year, but I recently re-read it and thought it worthwhile to reference)
Obama's inauguration speech


Med Headlines - Coffee Today Keeps Dementia Away

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Love and Neuroscience

Posted by Simon Halliday | Saturday, January 10, 2009 | Category: , , , , | 0 comments

Larry Young has a recent article in Nature on the neuroscience of love.  A friend of mine posted a link to the BBC science reporting on the topic (Is Love Just a Chemical Cocktail?) on facebook.  I posted a few comments, and disagreed with the outright agreement of several people with the methods adopted by Young. 

Add Comment - 5 comments - Share

Faaiza Asma at 18:24, on 10 January.
I sad as this is, we are just a walking talking bag of chemicals! Love isn't an otherwordly fantastic emotion inexplained by neuroscience and neurobiolgy. It diminishes as soon as the oxytocin levels and dopamine levels fall! *sadness*

Dennis Chu at 18:36, on 10 January.
yip, lust which we all agree is a product of hormones promotes human reproduction and love is simply another product of our hormones which improves the chances of partners staying together which improves the chances of successfully raising offspring. all in all, its all human nature ensuring the prorogation of our species!

 Simon Halliday at 19:39, on 10 January.
I think that some of these comments are a bit over the top. The original Kosfeld et al (2005, Nature) paper on Oxytocin showed higher average and median 'trust'
levels for subjects given oxytocin in the Investment (Trust) Game. Their actions were also statistically different in the face of social interactions, rather than randomly determined choice sets. Kosfeld et al make the point of the relevance of social embeddedness of the decision process. Crockett et al's (2008, Science) paper showed that reductions in 5-HT serotonin increased rejection rates of highly unfair offers in the Ultimatum Game. Going from these very particular statements to 'all love is chemical' is, I believe, far too strong. Humans are not prairie voles.

Faaiza Asma at 20:27, on 10 January.
Working in the same research group as Molly Crockett, author of the Crockett et al paper mentioned, she showed that chemical manipulations of serotonin affect acceptence and rejection rates in the ultimatum game- that is correct. However, extending the same reasoning to the science of love, it is not too far-fetched and has been shown that chemical manipulations and varying levels of neurotransmitters in the brain do have a HUGE effect on 'love', particularly the initial infatuation stage - there are obviously differing reasons why we are initially attracted to someone- personality, appearance, pheromes etc. and these are in a large part attributed to neuroscience anyway BUT as for the continuation of these romantic feelings and the maintenance of them, we do owe alot of that to altering neurochemical levels in the brain, which go hand in hand to how intimately we feel towards that person at the time! but yes, we are a heck more sophisticated than prairie voles!

 Simon Halliday at 22:14, on 10 January.
I was not contesting that Neuroscience & Neurobiology don't provide valid explanations, but rather what worries me is the overstatement of what we know about neurochemistry. I felt Young was overstating what we know from particular research (the Kosfeld stuff in particular), as do many in the popular press (and even academic presses, including some of my academic heroes) when they talk about potential parallels for the fairly narrow theory in the lab. I am not saying that generalizing theory is wrong, simply that we have to be careful.

I also agree that neurotransmitters and brain chemistry do tons (for example the Knoch et al (2006) DLPFC interruption paper - so cool! But I am wary of overgeneralizing and particularly overgeneralizing in the popular press.

By the way, it must have been SO COOL to work with Crockett on that paper. Feel the jealousy!


I will let you know if more comments arise.  I am very sceptical of overgeneralizing.  I am aware of the politics of getting one's name and research published and I often worry about overstatement for aggrandization (à la the recent article in Science (I think) on 'overstatement of 'new' results' (can't remember which issue this was)). I am not saying that Young was doing this, but that it is the case that some people in the area of Neuroscience (Neuroeconomics, etc) overstate the potential parallels of their results.  I refer, particularly, to the use of fMRI scans and interpreting scanning results.

Aside: I'd strongly recommend the recent special issue of the journal Economics and Philosophy late last year for some high quality reviews of the uses of Neuroeconomics. Don Ross (an ex-Professor of mine at UCT) offers some valid insights into the different classes of Neuroeconomics.  Though I don't completely agree with him and his dismissal of most behavioural economics style neuroeconomics research, I am still deeply sceptical of the 'experiments + scanners = results' method.

Books to look out for

Posted by Simon Halliday | | Category: | 0 comments

The Times Online (UK) published its 'Hottest Reads of 2009' on December 31st.  I thought I'd note some of my fiction highlights (i.e. the books that will sit on my wishlist for ages before I actually buy them).  

First, the publication of Raymond Carver's Beginners before his editor (Gordon Lish) ripped up the text. I am a big fan of Raymond Carver, though I only own three of his short story collections (What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Elephant and Cathedral) and I have read several of his poems (though I don't own any collections) I love his work.  It is also interesting to chart the movement of his work and, particularly, the conflict between Carver and Lish over what constituted 'Carveresque' - a 'pared down' (as so many people say in those darn articles, personally I don't like the image of a paring knife too much, I'd rather going for another metaphor if possible).  Anyway, you can read the title story of Beginners (Beginners) at the New Yorker.  The New Yorker also had an insightful (2007) article, 'Rough Crossings: The Cutting of Raymond Carver' on the subject of the Carver-Lish antagonism. Good stuff.

Second, and of course, there is the UK release (finally) of Roberto Bolano's 2666, which has been sitting on my amazon wishlist for ages as I patiently awaited its UK release.  Bolano's book received substantial praise in US book reviews. I hope to purchase this soon after it becomes available and give it some good reading time during my break.  I will obviously provide you with my thoughts on it afterwards.

Kazuo Ishiguro also has a new release of short stories on music entitled Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall. I don't entirely know what to expect of this, but Ishiguro's writing is highly acclaimed.  I have not read any of Ishiguro's short stories and so I shall look forward to this with anticipation. 

Finally, there is Charlotte Roche's Wetlands which is the tale of a highly sexual 18 year old young woman.  Variably described as 'porn', 'erotic literature' or simply 'explicit' the idea of the book titillates me.  First, I am intrigued by explicit descriptions of violence or sex in literature, as exemplified by authors like Bret Easton Ellis and others.  Second, I have an interest in understanding the role that erotica plays in contemporary society, both the writing of it and the reading of it.  Erotica still has a 'dirty taste' for many people, which I believe it should not have.  (Greta Christina regularly writes lucidly and entertainingly on this topic.)  For this book, though, I may just wait for a second-hand copy purchased somewhere online. See this article in The Guardian on the UK battle for publication rights.

Friday, January 09, 2009


Posted by Simon Halliday | Friday, January 09, 2009 | Category: | 0 comments

Several categories of links today as I haven't done this in a while:

Google gives libraries a raw deal with new agreement
Ben Goldacre on Maggiore's Death
10 Lectures on Evolution (I will watch these, I promise, they look quite grand)
The Skepchick - 10 Speptics Who Kicked Ass in 2008
Marketing Geek - Kelele - An African Blogging Conference in 2009
Newsweek - 4 Thinkers Whose Ideas Captured the Moment (including Sunstein & Stiglitz)

Address by Yoweri Museveni to the UN (in September 2008, but I only came across it recently, HT: Chris Blattman)
Mahmood Mamdani - On Zimbabwe
Ban Ki Moon - Taking the Long View

Economics Generally
Duflo et al (Vox) - Can political affirmative action for women reduce gender bias?
Duncan Green - 10 Challenges to Business as Usual for Development Agencies
Duncan Green - Crystal Ball overviews on global security
Antonio Ciccone - Sudden Impoverishment as a Trigger of Civil Conflict

Credit Crisis
Hal Varian - Boost Private Investment to Boost the Economy
Martin Wolf - Keynes offers us the best way to think about the financial crisis
Robert Lucas Jr. - Bernanke is the best stimulus right now
Robert Frank - Should Congress Put a Cap on Executive Pay
Ed Glaeser - Who Should Get the federal funds stimulus?
Brad DeLong - Greenspan Roundtable
John Lippert - Friedman would be roiled as Chicago disciples rue repudiation

Economics and Darwin
Massimo Pigliucci - Economics learns from evolutionary biology
Paul Seabright - Darwin and the terrible games of homo sapiens

Video: Feldstein and Stiglitz on Charlie Rose

Thursday, January 08, 2009

To Potential Co-authors

Posted by Simon Halliday | Thursday, January 08, 2009 | Category: | 2 comments

What do you think of this?
David Laibson knows that when he procrastinates, mere deadlines are not
always enough to get him going. So, when this Harvard economics
professor collaborates on a major project, he'll sometimes promise to
deliver a finished product by a certain date -- or else pay his
co-authors $500.
Article here.  HT: Nudges.

I think this is a fantastic idea.  I think, though, that there should be an escape clause for genuine family emergencies, but otherwise it's a great idea.  Potential co-authors take note.

Aside: How might I pre-commit to committing to this when I write papers? Would this be a good signal for potential co-authors? Interesting DPV and hyperbolic discounting questions here.