Monday, 8 October 2007

2 books

Sorry for the long silence - was travelling and then getting stuck into induction and the start of reading lists, lectures etc.

Just a quick note to bring your attention to 2 books which are well worth reading:

1) "The Rise and Decline of Nations" by Mancur Olson. The title may sound grandiose, but I've actually omitted the rest of the title which talks about social rigidities. This is an absolutely phenomenal book - I found it eye-popping. He starts with the concept of rational ignorance to examine the difficulties and rationales around the formation of collective action (for example, why do the poorest people - who are also the most voluminous - have such poor representation, even by themselves). And then he builds up the implications of it. And then he shows the consequences of these implications in different ways through history. Essentially the book looks at the formation of special-interest groups or distributional coalitions - how and why they might arise, and have arisen in the past, and the ways in which these have the consequences on whether societies develop or stagnate. And if you're thinking this is only for developing countries, think again. It's based on fundamental human behaviour and is stunningly insightful for the most developed nations as well - and should give people pause for thought about whether some of the incentive structures in our societies are going to be good for us or not. Well worth reading.

2) "Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance" by Douglass North. This is a slightly drier and more social sciencey book, but still very valuable. The author examines "institutions" as in the "rules of the game" in society - the different (formal and informal) forms, how and why they might change, and where this analysis then leads (particularly around path dependence). Again, I would recommend reading it for sure.

Anyway, will stop here - will try and get some time to post something on a "livelihoods workshop" I went to recently where there were stunning case studies from around the world by the actual field-workers at the coalface.