Posts Tagged ‘economics’

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “The End of Men, And The Rise of Women” by Hanna Rosin.

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Back in the deep, dark eighties, I read The Great Cosmic Mother, which was basically an early attempt to redress the exclusion of women’s contributions to human history.  I had just recently lost my (monotheistic) religion, and what I was after was a good accounting of our pre-Christian history.  “The Great Cosmic Mother” held the promise of giving me some useful data on the ways my ancestors lived and believed before Jesus came along.

It was a huge book, filled with page after page of Goddess propaganda and sweeping assertions, wrapped around some tantalizing data (roughly one-third “good stuff”, and two thirds “fluff”).  By the time I was done with it, I came to a conclusion:  “Some day”, I thought, “this field of research will mature, and someone will write a really good book on this subject”.  “The End of Men” is that book.

Hanna Rosin begins her book in a way that sounds like a rousing cheer for the state of affairs her title hints at: Women are finding themselves rising to the challenge of a shifting economy and workplace, freed to do so by birth control and gains in women’s rights, even as many men appear to be falling by the wayside, cast adrift in a world they are either unable or unwilling to adapt to.  The “macho man” is dying out, and the “super woman” is ascending.

But then the true nature of this book begins to appear.  This is not political broadside delighting in the demise of men (and tradition male culture), neither is it a “wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing” book that is actually criticizing women for becoming “bitches” in the workplace.  “The End of Men” is the serious, thoughtful, mature examination of women and culture that I hoped “The Great Cosmic Mother” would have been.

The two books deal in very different realms, true, but they are motivated by the same love of (and concern for) women and their issues.  But “The End of Men” is serious reportage.  The further I read the more I noticed how many of the author’s statements were arising out of reputable research papers, or from her own original interviews with women around the world.  This is not a feminist firebrand at work, but a serious reporter.

The title is dramatic and attention-grabbing, but it is not inaccurate.  For a lot of men (in industrialized economies, at least), a mode of being has passed into history.  Manufacturing jobs that once allowed men with low education to nevertheless work and support families (and thereby support their notion of themselves as the “head” of their families) are nearly gone.  And women have (one could argue) “had to” step up to feed their families and see to their own needs.

And so this is in many ways an economic story, and, as such, it has relevance not just to women, but very much to the men who are being “left behind” by history.

As a man who has grown up with the feminist movement as a constant companion, I welcome this kind of quality writing on a subject that impacts so many people’s most basic ideas of happiness and fulfillment.  I can’t think of anyone who would not benefit from reading it.  The author is nonjudgmental in her view point, but insightful and critical enough to dig beneath the surfaces of the lives her reporting brings her into contact with.

It remains to be seen how the hard-charging, eighty-hour-a-week professional working woman will fare when she finally breaks out into the very top tiers of corporate and political America (something that is becoming inevitable at this point).  In some ways she has become the template and signal for when the struggle for women’s equality is over.

Of course, this is not the whole story for women (any more than that small percentage of men at the top is the whole story for my own gender).  And women are also facing adaptive challenges as they lose their grip on their own familiar (if restrictive) social identities while rising up to outnumber men (as they now do) in many professional and academic fields.

For women, like any army claiming new territory, the ultimate challenge may be knowing when to declare “victory”.  Letting up too soon could allow gains to slip backwards.  Fighting too long prolongs needless suffering.  It’s something we’re all going to have to figure out eventually.

I highly recommend this book to men and women alike.  It tells us a great deal about the social and economic history that is happening to us right now.

t.n.s.r. bob

The rev gives it four Dimetrodons out of four!

 

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “The Economics of Enough: How to Run the Economy as if the Future Matters” by Diane Coyle

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

This is a practical meditation on the nature of economies, what we’ve learned about them, and their current level of complexity.  It is also a manifesto of what could — or should — be the economy we are headed for: one where the current generation lives as if they are not the last ones in line at the store.

I’ve never studied economics.  I read a great deal of non-fiction science, which — in our culture and political climate — often has political or social implications.  But now and again I am hungry for a different dish, and it is at such times that I will reach for a book on a subject I feel particularly ignorant about.  That is how I picked this book off the “new arrivals” shelf at the local library.  It was a good choice.

Not only does the author give a thorough and balanced history of economics, the book is recent enough to include an overview of our most recent economic meltdown.  Giving voice to the different views on what represents economic growth, the author also surveys the differing philosophies on the values that guide that growth.  For make no mistake about it, every economic system (even the failed, greedy ones) are working under a shared set of values.

I found two themes in this book that made the largest impression on me:  the documenting of how (particularly American) corporate and social values have shifted in ways that have damaged our economy; and the proposition that there are three vital aspects to capitalism in a democratic society that cannot all be satisfied at once: efficiency, equality and liberty.

I think I disagree with the author’s conclusion that a certain level of economic growth is essential to human happiness.  I think that this places too much emphasis on finance alone, and not a sense of one’s life improving in other ways.  However I was very pleased to read repeated examples of nations (notably Australia) whose economists are trying to find better, more useful ways of measuring economic growth beyond the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  (It has seemed to me that we are all too much held in thrall to the stock market ticker to the exclusion of other measurements of how we are really doing as a nation).

But this is a great book for getting up to speed on just where we are — economically speaking — at this point in history, and what we need to attempt in order to catch up with the technological, economic and social changes that have left our economies struggling to thrive in a sustainable way.

t.n.s.r. bob

The Rev gives is 3.5 out of 4!

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “Obliquity. Why our goals are best achieved indirectly” by John Kay

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

“So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one had a mind to do.” Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1791, reprint, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1964). p. 88

John Kay is a “leading” British economist, and his bold and bare admission of the shortcomings of his profession and the incompleteness of his own knowledge are the bracing beginning to this book.  But he takes this confession a step further, and pulls back a curtain to reveal that most economic models are created to justify decisions that have already been made at a higher corporate (or government) level.

This is not all that surprising a fact (at least not as surprising as the author’s admission of it).  And it is not the lesson of this book.  To me, this preamble performed the task of presenting the author’s credentials for presenting what was to follow: a frank discussion of the reality that economies, societies and, well, life in general, is so monumentally (and unpredictably) complex that we can never really know enough to solve any real-life problem directly.  That, in fact, we can only ever work our way through things one decision at a time, employing judgement and an ability to adapt as steps reveal themselves.

The thrilling aspect of this book is it’s embrace of reality, and a recognition of our status as evolved creatures living in a world of such complexity that it could have only been formed by billions of years of evolution and adaptation.  The lesson of this book is that we humans are ever prone to harboring the mistaken notion that we are intelligent enough to manage these evolved (and evolving, when it comes to human societies, relationships and corporations) systems.  This approach is reflected in the belief that problems are best tackled “directly”, meaning we make decisions based on a thorough understanding of all of the possible solutions, factors and outcomes.  But, of course, we can’t know all of that.  Or even much of that.  Because we must add in the fact that each decision we make re-shuffles the entire deck in ways we cannot completely account for.

So how, then, do we live?  We “muddle through”.  We reach our goals (or get close to them) by acting indirectly with “Obliquity”.

The good news is that most of us do this.  After all, we, too, have evolved to be good at adaptation.  But some of us think we’re so smart we can figure it all out (count me guilty of trying to be that guy).  The worst examples of this are the humans who think they know how to re-engineer society, or create entirely new cities, or start wars in the middle east because they have the “one big idea” that somehow our style of democracy will blossom wherever we forcibly plant it.

I remember a “Tale from Lake Woebegon”, where Garrison Keillor told a tale on himself as a young man laughing about the sad old woman he saw sitting on her porch.  He would not end up like her, he told himself.  But years later, he ends his tale with a realization that “None of us is so clever” as to be able to avoid all of the experiences of living.

And therein lies the beautiful humanity of this book.  There are truths in here that are worth reading, even if it does seem to be, at times, a primer for the over-confident economist or bureaucrat.  It might help some of us relax a bit, and turn down the heat of our calculating brain, and bring a bit of comfort and encouragement to those of us who sort of “muddle through”.

t.n.s.r. bob

The Rev gives is 3.5 out of 4!