Category “Development + Economic Globalization”

Carbon Democracy

Timothy Mitchell (2011)

TimothyMitchell_CarbonDemocracy Buried amongst sometimes somewhat haughty paragraphs of Mitchell’s book are two fairly radical propositions. The first is that ‘[d]emocratisation has generally depended on engineering […] forms of vulnerability’, and this vulnerability arises because particular manufacturing processes ‘can render the technical processes of producing concentrations of wealth dependent on the well-being of large numbers of people’. What Mitchell means to say is that certain vital processes – to do with energy, as it happens – become vulnerable due to structural bottlenecks, and that leveraging these vulnerabilities has enabled the process of ‘democratisation’. The two examples he covers are those of coal and oil. Coal mines tended to be distal from urban centres and susceptible to strikes by coal miners, which would spread downstream along the supply chain to railways, etc. This allowed coal workers to press for democratic concessions.

The story to do with the structural vulnerabilities around oil is more complicated, and I am not convinced Mitchell’s story is entirely self-consistent. Here we find the – to me – second radical proposition: that oil companies throughout history have been far more concerned with constricting the supply of oil, rather than expanding it.

The net result is that most of Mitchell’s book reads like a whirlwind tour of the 20th Century oil-bearing regions, with Western oil companies and their government cronies in a constant tussle with governments desperately looking for ways to get their national fossil fuel endowment to market.

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Climate Economics

Richard Tol (2014)

RichardTol_ClimateEconomics One of the first attempts at a textbook on Climate Economics. Probably the best overview of neoclassical climate economics in a single volume. For a critical non-neoclassical review, read  Chalmers & Shackley’s (2014) review of the book.

One point: as a neo-classicist, Tol has a deeply instilled ‘equilbrium view’ and brings this epistemic perspective to his view of how the ‘natural world’ works.  His is a view of climate change as a continuous secular process that amounts (‘merely’) to a x-degreeC-per-year change in temperature. What ‘equilibrium thinkers’ need to understand is that the Earth system is currently not in equilibrium; most of the mounting costs aren’t to do with the (more predictable) secular changes in average temperatures and precipitation: they are to do, rather, with the increased variability and (associated) decreased predictability of ‘weather’.  Note that I am not speaking here about the uncertainty to do with future (average) temperature trends.

I think this is important, because people trained in economics (and more especially finance) should at least have an strong intuition for the costs (‘premium’) associated with decreased predictability / increased variability – although to date little work has been done in tying this into climate change economics.

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Capital Vol. 1

Karl Marx (1867)

KarlMarx_Kapital Oh, yeah! Let neither friend nor foe quip, ‘but thou hasnae even read …’.

Leaves surprisingly much unanswered. That is, I was expecting a more complete system. So value is determined through socially necessary labour time, through a straightforward quantitative relation. Fine. But what’s so special about labour that makes it the locus of surplus value creation? Formally, what’s to stop individual units of labour being treated as entrepreneurs, and generating their own ‘internal’ surplus value within the production process? Well, maybe answers are to be found in Vols. 2 & 3 …

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A Perfect Moral Storm

Stephen Gardiner (2011)

StephenGardiner_APerfectMoralStorm An opening salvo towards an ‘Ethics of Climate Change’.

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This Changes Everything

Naomi Klein (2014)

NaomiKlein_ThisChangesEverything _

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The Origins of Political Order

Francis Fukuyama (2013)

FrancisFukuyama_OriginsOfPoliticalOrder We should probably forgive the odd lapse in detail when it comes to grande, sweeping narratives. And The Origins of Political Order is definitely that. The book is the first in Francis Fukuyama’s two-volume attempt at an account and explanation of the evolution of political institutions. The work is peppered with statements like, “There does not seem to be any evidence that a true matriarchal society has ever existed”. Either Fukuyama is unaware of the hotly contested question and literature around paleolithic matriarchy, or he decided to gloss over it. Oversights such as these detracted from my enjoyment, in large part because they dented my confidence that Fukuyama had done his homework as thoroughly as most of the reviewers are saying he did.

But enough cheap criticism, what about content? One of the main things Origins has led me to ponder is what the institutional repercussions of  zero-growth (a.k.a. the ‘steady-state economy’) would look like. Fukuyama thinks that there are basically three ways a society can grow economically. The first is through the acquisition of uninhabited lands and unused resources. Extensive growth. The second is through predation of other societies: the infamous zero-sum game. And lastly, there’s intensive growth through increasing productivity of society by means of technological- and other ‘internal’ advancement. » Continue reading “The Origins of Political Order”

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Economics: The User’s Guide

Ha-Joon Chang (2014)

 Ha-JoonChang_EconomicsTheUsersGuide Great introduction to Economics, make all your students read it!

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Debunking Economics

Steve Keen (2011)

SteveKeen_DebunkingEconomics Thought-provoking but at times ranting review of arguments – many of them original – against the theoretical edifice of neo-classical economics.

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Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Thomas Piketty (2014)

PikettyCapital Capital in the Twenty-First Century has rapidly become famous, not least through sparking controversial responses from the likes of The Financial Times and The Economist (the latter, believe it or not, actually in response to the FT’s attack on Piketty’s book). » Continue reading “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”

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Peeking at Peak Oil

Kjell Aleklett (2012)

KjellAleklett-PeekingAtPeakOilDespite trying hard not to, I really really like this book.  Wonderfully illustrated, and written in a clear and unpretentious style, I have no choice but to go on record saying: great book, Kjell.  If you read only one book on Peak Oil, this is the one.  Read about some of Kjell’s forecasts here.

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