Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Joshua Gans

Joshua Gans is an economics professor at the Melbourne Business School, University of Melbourne, and the author of several economics textbooks and the 2007 recipient of Australia's Young Economist award.

His new book is Parentonomics: An Economist Dad Looks at Parenting.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His response:
1. Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky is a professor at NYU and writes about the impact of the internet on society and the economy. I picked up this book because of a current interest that I have in what is to become of the newspapers. Clay Shirky's simple answer is that we are in one of those times where there is transformational change and that it may take a decade or more for the shackles of the past to be dropped and some new stability to emerge. In the meantime, that change will be tough on many people. As an example, Shirky points to the the profession of scribe as the printing press diffused. Even when it was inevitable that the whole profession would die, for years there were movements to protect scribes as the supposed learned part of society. The great thing about this book is that it uses many current examples and anecdotes to help us come to terms with what the Internet is doing; something that is mostly for the good.

2. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

I actually read this book under its Australian title, The Two Pearls of Wisdom. Alison Goodman (like me) hails from Melbourne. The book is an interesting tale about a mythical Chinese empire set when there was a Chinese empire. I was drawn to it by this Orson Scott Card review (and you need only read that to be sold on the whole thing):

Australian writer Alison Goodman has written an absolutely stunning fantasy novel that deserves a wide readership, among both adults and children.

Ironically, he criticises the title, which in the US is, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn. Suffice it to say that made it difficult for me to locate here even though after reading the book the US title seemed more apt than the Australian one and certainly conveys the idea that there are more books to come in the trilogy. Regardless of the title, if you like speculative fiction, it is worth a look.

3. Economic Gangsters by Ray Fisman and Ted Miguel

The book covers their research on the micro-impediments to economic development. In many respects it is more of a tease than a treatise. Rather than explain comprehensively, the causes of mass poverty it provides chapters — each framed around their own research — that shed light on the problem. So there is a chapter on whether corruption is rampant throughout Indonesia and another one the parking infractions of UN diplomats. There is a chapter about the impact of bombing in Vietnam and another on smuggling into China.

For each you get the distinct impression of their importance. And it is hard to disagree with the general theme that getting the variables right for economic development is hard and it would be good if we could give peace a chance. But the value of the book is similar to Freakonomics: how do you scientifically work out what is the best approach? Which are the tighter constraints? What policies might stand a chance of success? This is a challenge that Fisman and Miguel have taken up in their own lives and the book is a journal of how far they have come. It is an excellent read; especially for those interested in policy evaluation, even if it does not leave you fully satisfied — but that is the fault of the world and not of the authors.

4. The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket

I've been reading A Series of Unfortunate Events to the children. We are at book 10 so I can't put them down as books I have just read quite yet although, all of them would fill my list here. They are simply wonderful.

But just last week I picked up Lemony Snicket's latest children's book. It is hard to find words when you have just read a (literally) classic children's book. But The Composer is Dead is just that. The problem is that I don't want to describe any part of this book to you. It is a rare instance that, I, as parent and reader-out-loud did not know how the book was going to end as I read it. I did not know that it would strike so many chords. I did not know it would be so amusing. And I did not know it would be so dramatic. The next time you find yourself in a bookstore with a child, seek this book out and force your child to listen to you read it. I can't vouch for whether they will like it. You will and it still counts for any book-related parenting points you might wish to earn.

To end, I want to point out what I am about to read.

The first is Ken Robinson's The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. Robinson has been railing at current educational practices for years and argues how it destroys creativity. (Here is his TED talk.). I'm looking forward to this recent release.

The second is My Little Red Book by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff. Rachell is the daughter of economist Barry Nalebuff and her book is full of stories by women of their first period. I'm told that it is a great read regardless of gender and I blogged about it here.
See the Table of Contents and sample chapters from Parentonomics, and visit the Parentonomics website.

Learn more about Joshua Gans' work and research at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue