Gig Jobs Benefit Workers by “Cutting Out Corporate Bosses and Rent-Seeking Middlemen”

(p. C4) An astounding 94 percent of American jobs created between 2005 and 2015 were for “alternative work.” Slow and steady growth used to be a cardinal virtue for the big American corporation. Now leanness and flexibility are prized, and nobody is spared. “In the end,” Hyman writes, “even white men were not protected from this new reality.”

Hyman, a labor historian at Cornell, argues that the common explanation for what happened — mainly, that our current dispensation was foisted on us by technological and economic change — is self-serving and inadequate. He says that human choice, including a palpable shift in values, played an essential role. “Temp” traces how, for corporations and government policymakers alike, “the risk-taking entrepreneur supplanted the risk-averse, but loyal, company man as the capitalist ideal.”

. . .

His ending, about the gig economy, is weirdly upbeat. He believes that it’s still possible for work to be rewarding — maybe even more possible, now that apps and online platforms offer the promise of (leaving in place a few rent-seeking technocapitalist billionaires, of course). Individuals can sell their labor directly to one another.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Gig Jobs Replace Gray Flannel Suits.” The New York Times (Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 22, 2018, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; How the ‘Temp’ Economy Became the New Normal.”)

The book under review, is:

Hyman, Louis. Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary. New York: Viking, 2018.

“Results Are Often Suspiciously Consistent with the Political Dispositions of the Modeler”

(p. 14) For scholars and popular writers alike, the Great Depression has long been a kind of economic Rorschach test. Free marketers look at the economic disaster and blame the Smoot-Hawley tariff, which inaugurated a global trade war; monetarists attack the Federal Reserve for its tight-money policies; Keynesians berate Herbert Hoover for his attempts to balance the budget as the crisis worsened.

. . .

Generally, . . . , Morris is remarkably evenhanded, giving both sides of scholarly debates in deep detail. This is particularly the case in his coverage of the New Deal, where he weighs the practical effects of the dizzying array of policies begun by Roosevelt, from his devaluation of the dollar to the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps. And Morris explains in accessible prose how economists have used modeling to study the New Deal (he wryly notes that this “is still a work in progress — if only because results are often suspiciously consistent with the political dispositions of the modeler”).

Continue reading ““Results Are Often Suspiciously Consistent with the Political Dispositions of the Modeler””

Aloysius Siow Offers Advance Praise for Openness to Creative Destruction

Art revives the lost art of business history in the tradition of Alfred Chandler to write a definitive history of American entrepreneurship. He uses economic theories to organize his encyclopedic knowledge of entrepreneurial success stories. Unlike books by successful entrepreneurs which recount why they personally succeeded, Art looks for themes which are common to these success stories. He provides modest policy suggestions to improve the environment for these entrepreneurs to thrive.

Aloysius Siow, Professor of Economics, University of Toronto.

Siow’s advance praise is for:
Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2019.

Bezos Richer than Rockefeller in Real Wealth

(p. A2) With a fortune exceeding $150 billion, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was recently declared the richest person in modern history.
But is he?
The answer depends on how you account for the wealth of past contenders for the title.
There are at least five ways to do that, and each provides a different result, according to Samuel H. Williamson, an economist and president of the website Measuring Worth.
Real wealth, the most familiar yardstick, accounts for the relative purchasing power of a particular sum by adjusting it for inflation based on the Consumer Price Index.
Using that measure, the fortune of John D. Rockefeller, America’s first billionaire and Mr. Bezos’ stiffest competition among latter day aristocrats, would equal only $24 billion today.
Working in reverse, Mr. Bezos’ fortune would amount to about $6.5 billion in 1916, when Rockefeller’s riches first hit the $1 billion mark.

For the full commentary, see:
Jo Craven McGinty. “THE NUMBERS; Bezos vs. Rockefeller, a Rich History Lesson.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018): A2.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 10, 2018, and has the title “THE NUMBERS; Is Jeff Bezos Really the Richest of Them All?”)

Communism Is “the Greatest Catastrophe in Human History”

(p. A17) Armed Bolsheviks seized the Winter Palace in Petrograd–now St. Petersburg–100 years ago this week and arrested ministers of Russia’s provisional government. They set in motion a chain of events that would kill millions and inflict a near-fatal wound on Western civilization.
. . .
The victims include 200,000 killed during the Red Terror (1918-22); 11 million dead from famine and dekulakization; 700,000 executed during the Great Terror (1937-38); 400,000 more executed between 1929 and 1953; 1.6 million dead during forced population transfers; and a minimum 2.7 million dead in the Gulag, labor colonies and special settlements.
To this list should be added nearly a million Gulag prisoners released during World War II into Red Army penal battalions, where they faced almost certain death; the partisans and civilians killed in the postwar revolts against Soviet rule in Ukraine and the Baltics; and dying Gulag inmates freed so that their deaths would not count in official statistics.
If we add to this list the deaths caused by communist regimes that the Soviet Union created and supported–including those in Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia–the total number of victims is closer to 100 million. That makes communism the greatest catastrophe in human history.

For the full commentary, see:
David Satter. “100 Years of Communism–and 100 Million Dead; The Bolshevik plague that began in Russia was the greatest catastrophe in human history.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017): A17.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 6, 2017.)

Culture Percolated Over Coffee

(p. A15) Shachar M. Pinsker, a Hebrew scholar at the University of Michigan, believes that cafés in six cities created modern Jewish culture. It’s the kind of claim that sounds as if it might be a game-changer, and there are enough grounds and gossip in “A Rich Brew” to keep this customer engrossed from cup to cup, . . .
Mr. Pinsker gets percolating at Signor Fanconi’s establishment in Odessa, an Italian café where women were unwelcome and Jews periodically excluded. The young Sholem Aleichem, arriving penniless from Kiev in 1891, found a marble table in the corner and started writing short stories that become the bedrock of Yiddish literature. What else went on in a Black Sea café? They “talk politics day and night . . . read newspapers from all over the world . . . and speculate on currencies and stocks,” writes Mr. Pinsker, drawing on letters of the cafe’s habitués. Isaac Babel found Fanconi’s “packed like a synagogue on Yom Kippur.” It got shut down by Lenin’s commissars.

For the full review, see:
Norman Lebrecht. “BOOKSHELF; A Remarkable Cultural Infusion; Sholem Aleichem found a table and wrote stories while all around him customers drank coffee, read newspapers and talked politics.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 29, 2018): A15.
(Note: ellipsis at end of paragraph, added; ellipses internal to paragraph, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review was last updated June 28, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘A Rich Brew’ Review: A Remarkable Cultural Infusion; Sholem Aleichem found a table and wrote stories while all around him customers drank coffee, read newspapers and talked politics.”)

The book mentioned above, is:
Pinsker, Shachar M. A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture. New York: NYU Press, 2018.

“Books Were Systematically Burned”

(p. 12) Vandalizing the Parthenon temple in Athens has been a tenacious tradition. Most famously, Lord Elgin appropriated the “Elgin marbles” in 1801-5. But that was hardly the first example. In the Byzantine era, when the temple had been turned into a church, two bishops — Marinos and Theodosios — carved their names on its monumental columns. The Ottomans used the Parthenon as a gunpowder magazine, hence its pockmarked masonry — the result of an attack by Venetian forces in the 17th century. Now Catherine Nixey, a classics teacher turned writer and journalist, takes us back to earlier desecrations, the destruction of the premier artworks of antiquity by Christian zealots (from the Greek zelos — ardor, eager rivalry) in what she calls “The Darkening Age.”
. . .
Debate — philosophically and physiologically — makes us human, whereas dogma cauterizes our potential as a species. Through the sharing of new ideas the ancients identified the atom, measured the circumference of the earth, grasped the environmental benefits of vegetarianism.
To be sure, Christians would not have a monopoly on orthodoxy, or indeed on suppression: The history of the ancient world typically makes for stomach-churning reading. Pagan philosophers too who flew in the face of religious consensus risked persecution; Socrates, we must not forget, was condemned to death on a religious charge.
But Christians did fetishize dogma. In A.D. 386 a law was passed declaring that those “who contend about religion … shall pay with their lives and blood.” Books were systematically burned.
. . .
. . . she opens her book with a potent description of black-robed zealots from 16 centuries ago taking iron bars to the beautiful statue of Athena in the sanctuary of Palmyra, located in modern-day Syria. Intellectuals in Antioch (in ancient Syria) were tortured and beheaded, as were the statues around them.
. . .
Nixey closes her book with the description of another Athena, in the city of her name, being decapitated around A.D. 529, her defiled body used as a steppingstone into what was once a world-renowned school of philosophy. Athena was the deity of wisdom. The words “wisdom” and “historian” have a common ancestor, a proto-Indo-European word meaning to see things clearly. Nixey delivers this ballista-bolt of a book with her eyes wide open and in an attempt to bring light as well as heat to the sad story of intellectual monoculture and religious intolerance. Her sympathy, corruscatingly, compellingly, is with the Roman orator Symmachus: “We see the same stars, the sky is shared by all, the same world surrounds us. What does it matter what wisdom a person uses to seek for the truth?”

For the full review, see:
Bettany Hughes. “‘How the Ancient World Was Destroyed.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 10, 2018): 12.
(Note: ellipses between, and at the start of, paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to paragraph, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 8, 2018, and has the title “How Christians Destroyed the Ancient World.”)

The book under review, is:
Nixey, Catherine. The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.