What I've Been Reading Lately
1. Orson Scott Card, Xenocide and Children of the Mind. According to the introductory essay for Xenocide and the postscript to Children of the Mind, these were originally supposed to be one book. They comprise a very interesting end to the Ender quartet, though I agree with others that the first two books in the series–Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead–are better. Via Twitter, Liberty Fund’s Sarah Skwire directed me to this “review” of Ender’s Game titled “Orson Scott Card’s unconscionable defense of genocide” and subtitled “‘Ender’s Game’ essentially argues that mass killing can be not just good, but almost holy.” Perhaps I’m thick, but I didn’t read Ender’s Game as a veiled apologetic for genocide, and I would be hard-pressed to credibly shoehorn the whole quartet into that interpretation.
2. Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Race. These are spun off of Sowell’s larger project published a few years ago, Intellectuals and Society. People who are already familiar with Sowell’s work probably won’t find much that’s very new or very surprising here, but reading Sowell is still an exercise in hard-headed thinking about economics, culture, race, and social science very generally.
3. Jay Richards, Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem. It’s a Christian apologetic for free markets that, I think, will be useful for laypeople interested in actually helping poor people rather than, to borrow a phrase from Sowell, showing that they are on the side of the angels.
4. Pauline Dixon, International Aid and Private Schools for the Poor: Smiles, Miracles and Markets. One of the lessons I take from Dixon’s work is that enthusiasm for government-provided schooling arises from an ideological conviction as much as or more than carefully-assembled and analyzed evidence. Plus, the stories are pretty inspiring. It made me think of a number of conversations I had with a colleague at Rhodes College about how we treat the poor not as autonomous and dignified actors but as people merely to be acted upon. Here’s her TED Talk.
5. Tyler Cowen, Average is Over. Technology is changing the way we do things, to no one’s surprise, and there are a lot of tasks for which machines will replace humans. One possible implication: a widening gap between those who Can in the increasingly-digital 21st century and those who Cannot–with more redistribution in the offing. My fear is that this will lend itself to misinterpretation by Luddites. Cowen notes that outsourcing is partly to blame for sluggish American incomes and job growth; I suspect xenophobes will overlook this passage:
Immigration is vital to the future economic vitality of the United States. If that immigration is Latino, as indeed it often is in the United States, the longer-run effect is to build up entrepreneurship and democratic values in the other countries in this hemisphere.
6. This post on the “paradox of choice” (HT: Jason Kuznicki via Justin Wolfers). Best paragraph (links removed):
The choice overload hypothesis is perfect for a Malcolm-Gladwell-narrated world. It’s counterintuitive enough to be interesting. It’s complicated enough to show up approvingly in the news outlets catering to readers eager to think themselves smart*, but simple enough for them to narrate later at a cocktail party.
* This is not a put-down of these sources, all of which I personally read. I am merely stating what I believe to be a fact about their audiences. (I have no evidence for this fact, but I suspect it is true.)