What I’ve been reading (relatively) recently
Here’s short list of what I've been reading over break, with some comments:
"Central Banks as Sources of Financial Instability"; George Selgin. This is a very light rehash of the argument for free banking, along with an overview of central banking.
"Self-Governance in San Pedro Prison"; David Skarbeck. This study, if accurate, is even more amazing than Peter Leeson's study of pirate societies. According to Skarbeck, the prison in question spontaneously turned, thanks to the benign neglect of corrupt guards, into a flourishing, self-contained society. Not only does it have the equivalent of homeowners' associations and restaurants, children and wives of the criminals often live there, and prefer it to their home communities. This article really is a must read, although it does not address possible effects of culture on this story of emergent order.
"From "Porous" to "Ruthless" Conscription, 1776-1917"; David Henderson. A light, somewhat polemical retelling of how the conscription of the civil war, combined with the ideology of progressivism, led to a people willing to accept mass, inescapable conscription during WWI, and an intellectual elite who favored this policy.
"An Analysis of the Concordance Among 13 U.S. Wine Competitions"; Robert Hodgson. According to this study, winning a gold medal at a wine competition is solely the result of chance. They try to make the case by arguing that winning a medal at a completion is statistically independent of winning one at another competition. However, I'm not entirely convinced. The correlation coefficients between the competitions are all positive, which I think might signify some sort of correlation, although they don't provide confidence intervals.
"The 'Justice' That Overrules the Rules of Justice"; Anthony de Jasay. This is part of a festschrift for a philosopher I had never heard of before: Hartmut Kliemt. It was a rather bland, if well-written commentary social justice, although it did include a nice anecdote from James Buchanan.
"The Effect of Prayer on God's Attitude Toward Mankind"; James Heckman. The fun part of this paper is discovering the logical flaw in Heckman's reasoning (of which I assume he is aware). From what I understand, there are two problems: the random variables are not from the same population, and he assumes a distribution for the conditional expectation that we are expected to take "on faith." In addition, since he assumes he is using normalized data, his data do not fit the proposed model.
I am also working through some of "Mr. Sraffa on Joint Production and Other Essays," by Bertram Schefold. This is a comprehensive look at joint production in the Sraffian system. I have found that it also functions well as a textbook in the approach, since the first few chapters take the time to lay out definitions and methodically formalize them. I recommend this work to anyone who wants to get better acquainted with the neo-Ricardian approach, since the more difficult middle section, which contains the author's dissertation on joint production, can easily be skipped. I had previously read somewhat extensively in the methodological underpinnings of the Sraffian system, but had not grappled with formalizations of this system. Most of the math is rather basic matrix algebra, so I have had little trouble with it other than learning the many layers of notation.