The Summing Up

January is around the corner, the month named after the Roman god Janus who had two faces — one looking forward to the future and the other backward to the past. He is the god of “beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings” says the wiki.

It was the Roman emperor Julius Caesar (100 BCE – 44 BCE) who decided that the first day of January will mark the start of a new year in 45 BCE. Thus was born the Julian calendar that is almost universally used today (with notable exceptions like in Ethiopia.) How’s that for power and influence?

Time to look back.

For yours truly, it’s been a fun year. Since I don’t have a family of my own, there’s nothing I can note in terms of transitions of family members. I mark the years in terms of what I have learned. The pile of books I’d like to read has increased monotonically, and I have made reasonable progress in my reading by my modest standards.

I traveled a bit. Twice to India, a couple of times to California, and a bunch of road trips — to Washington DE, New York City, Boston, and Chicago. They were fun. I consider myself so fortunate that I have the freedom, the desire and the ability to travel. Together with reading, traveling tops the list of activities that bring joy to me.

What have I learned?

I learned that nature “knows” best. It works from the bottom up; it is individualistic; it doesn’t command and control. It’s the Tao, the way. Because it is not top-down, it is not collectivist. Collectivism fails because it is antithetical to nature.

I learned that it is important to distinguish between things, processes, and outcomes of processes. You can manipulate and control things; you can design processes; you cannot control the outcomes of processes. If you get the process right, the outcome is right. Processes are dynamic and treating them as static entities is a costly mistake.

I learned that luck is a critical element in the outcome, and that the influence of luck is too often not acknowledged.

“Although most philosophers acknowledged the influence of divine providence, the deistic God of nature worked from the bottom up, through the voluntary actions of individuals, not from the top down, through the coercive decrees of emperors and kings.”[1]

***

As I find economics fascinating, I try my best to get others to understand the fundamentals of the discipline. I learned that that is really hard to do. Ask Frank H Knight said, “The serious fact is that the bulk of the really important things that economics has to teach are things that people would see for themselves if they were willing to see. And it is hard to believe in the utility of trying to teach what men refuse to learn or even seriously listen to.”

Am I giving up on that self-selected task of spreading economic literacy? No. Because I learn best when I struggle to teach the unwilling or the unprepared. I do it for my own benefit, and if that leads to social good, that’s just a positive externality (that’s intended.)

***

Looking forward. I have a couple of essays I am working on. The working title of the first is “How the World Works: A beginners guide” and the other “For the Time Being.” I expect to complete them early in 2020.

***

I plan to travel. Circumnavigate the earth on a ship. That’ll take around three months. And a week-long transatlantic crossing between England and New York. I want to take some trains — the Orient Express, the Trans Siberian Express, a train trip in Norway, and one across Canada.

Finally, I want to get started on starting a school for poor children in India. The model I have in mind is what I call “an intergenerational transfer scheme.” I have to get the funding worked out.

Well, that’s about it. Be well, do good work, and keep in touch. Best wishes for a New Year.

{Photo at the top of the post: I took that at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City last week.}

NOTES:

[1] Quote from George H Smith’s book The System of Liberty (2013).



Categories: Uncategorized

10 replies

  1. Economics has been a long time ago. I have forgotten almost all of it, and I wouldn’t mind going through a (really) good book if it’s less than 300 (at most 400 pages). I would like to learn it.

    What’s your opinion on the following two?
    https://mises.org/library/economics-101
    https://www.core-econ.org/
    (I haven’t read them. Just googled a bit on “Economics 101” after reading your post.)
    .
    . … {Extended, irrelevant, rambling bit deleted.}
    .

    Today, I would go through a book (no video/audio course, please!) if it was small enough, clear enough, and not definitively biased towards the mixed economy, and yet had a coverage and structure comparable to the introductory university courses. (Am not looking for pop-sci like books.) What material would you suggest? Could the above two URLs be helpful?

    Please think about it a bit and see if you can suggest anything. Thanks in advance.

    Best,

    –Ajit
    Will keep comment short the next time. (I don’t know why I write such long ones.)

    Like

    • There’s an Americanism that goes, “Good, fast, cheap: choose two.” It’s futile to wish for all three. You want to understand economics well, do it fast and without too much effort. Can’t be done.

      The mises.org links are to Rothbard lectures. They are not meant to be “stand-alone” — they require supplemental texts. They are audio lectures. I would not recommend them for learning economics. Rothbard is a giant in his field — Austrian economics — but I would not recommend him for a start.

      The core-econ.org book rambles a lot but it is more like textbooks used in introductory courses. It appears to cover a lot of stuff, not all of it necessary for an intro to economics.

      There’s a lot of good stuff out there on the web. But nothing that is worth knowing can be known without effort.

      Like

      • Thanks for the feedback. (Pretty good, very fast, and absolutely free! 😉 )

        Yes, I want just an introductory text. To indicate of what kind, I am willing to relax my requirements a bit. It could be 600 or even 800 pages. (I will read selectively.) I also list a few books which I find to be good. This should give an indication of what kind of a book I am looking for:

        Physics: Resnick & Halliday. Applied Mechanics: Beer and Johnston. Materials Science: Callister. Machine Design: Shigley. Engineering Maths: Kreyszig. Data Structures: Kruse. Algorithms: Sedgewick. Quantum Physics: McQuarrie/Atkins (QChem). Given this list,

        Economics: ?

        There are many other books comparable to the ones I listed (e.g., for the first two, Sears & Zemansky, and Timoshenko & Young, respectively). However, naming just one is enough to indicate the kind and the level.

        So I guess the question becomes: When it comes to economics, is there anything comparable at all? If yes, which one(s)?

        Like

        • Wealth of nations from Adam Smith

          Like

          • Thanks, but I was looking for a university text-book. … But Alok’s reply reminds me.

            Atanu and Alok: I had gathered, a long time ago, that “Economics in One Lesson” by Henry Hazlitt is good. Somehow had come to completely forget about it. It struck me only now, and so checked out for it even as I was writing this comment. It’s just 146 pages. Sure I am going to pick it up for reading (but my reading speed is very, very slow—I mean when a subject is new).

            Anyway, a university text-book, intro-level, is what I was looking for. That’s why I gave that list. (You may assume that I have read this one—Hazlitt.)

            Best,

            –Ajit

            Like

          • Attempting to read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nation is a sure-fire way of getting put off by economics. It’s not an intro text. The vast majority of economists have not read that book. They quote it but not read it. I have not read it either. There are dozens of books that explain Adam Smith’s books. Those secondary sources are worth reading.

            Here’s a good one. Book

            Like

  2. Dear Atanu,

    I have been a regular reader of this blog since 2004. It has always been a pleasure to read here. Your writings have played an important role in helping me understand the world better. This is another thought provoking article about the ways of nature. I am eagerly waiting for the essays.

    Thanks for writing and Wish you a Happy New Year 2020 🙂

    Regards,
    Vivek

    Like

  3. I have been an avid reader of your writings since the soc.culture.indian days. Learnt a lot from the internet postings you have done and readings I have. Thank you!

    Just wanted to point out that almost the entire world now uses the Gregorian Calendar. The switch from Julian (Old Style) to Gregorian (New Style) in 1918 in Russia is what makes the October Revolution to be celebrated on November 7th.

    Regards,
    VS

    Like

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