Reading, Not Recommended
By Arnold Kling
I received review copies of:
1. Economic Lives, a collection of previously published papers by economic sociologist Viviana A. Zelizer. It is so repetitive that one is tempted to give it less credit than it deserves. She talks about the world of the market and the world of personal relations. One of the points that she repeats is that we should not think of these as “hostile worlds.” In the hostile-worlds view, monetary transactions ruin personal relations and personal relations distort market transactions. In Zelizer’s view, market transactions and personal relations often shade into one another, without creating ruinous results. Order comes from cultural norms and expectations, not just prices on the one hand or altruism on the other.
2. Overhaul, by Steven Rattner, the guy who was the “car czar.” He uses “Larry” and “Tim” to refer National Economic Council Chairman Summers and Treasury Secretary Geithner, respectively. If that titillates you, then go for it. I skimmed the book, without profit. On page 308 and 309 he says, without irony,
Advocates mistakenly assumed that experts and policymakers had the sagacity to spot winners and losers among businesses and to allocate government support accordingly…
the Wall Street Journal quoted one expert, Menahem Anderman of Total Battery Consulting, as estimating that the capacity to produce batteries for electric cars from stimulus-funded U.S. plants will be three times greater than demand by 2014.
As I recall, there is also considerable global excess capacity in automobile manufacturing. Yet the whole point of Rattner’s book is to tell us what a great job he did keeping GM and Chrysler going.
My takeaway is that even though the bailout mostly served to try to keep unsustainable union contracts going for a few more years, it was good public policy because Rattner got to work with Tim and Larry.