Best Economics/Business/Public Policy Books of 2016

In this spirit of “end of the year lists,” here is a list of the best Economics/Business/Public Policy related books that I read this past year:

 

Turn Neither to the Right Nor to the Left: A Thinking Christian’s Guide to Politics and Public Policy by D. Eric Schansberg

Having studied under Dr. Schansberg this past semester I was especially eager to read this book. And after reading it I can honestly say that I don’t know of another book that attempts and succeeds at describing how Christians ought to think about Public Policy from a Biblical perspective. Schansberg maintains a unique level of consistency and subordination to the doctrines of scripture. While you may or may not agree with every single argument, I believe this book brings up issues that are very necessary for believers to consider.

 

Specialization and Trade: A Re-Introduction to Economics by Arnold S. Kling

Dr. Kling uniquely describes Economics as a focus on how specialization and trade impact decisions and outcomes. This book is refreshing in how it states that Economics is not a magic formula that can give correct results based on proper data. Rather, it is a process of looking at historical outcomes and realizing patterns and similarities that might continue into the future. Overall, a unique and interesting take on the study of Economics as a whole.

 

The Law by Frederic Bastiat

This book does a fantastic job of diving into the issue of the purpose of law and how law is often perverted from its proper goal. While dealing with philosophical issues at times, it also looks at a handful of real life examples of government successes and failures. I highly recommend this book for anybody interested in the issue of liberty and the role of government.

 

Financial Shenanigans: How to Detect Accounting Gimmicks & Fraud in Financial Reports by Howard Schilit

While the study of Accounting can be quite dull at times, this book is probably the most interesting and non-boring Accounting-related text that I’ve come across. It deal with common fraud schemes that individuals have used over the years and gives its readers advice on how to detect businesses that are being deceitful. This book is definitely geared towards those who are interested in Accounting or investing and it does a phenomenal job of pointing out which areas of the financial statements individuals should pay attention to.

 

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt

Written in the form of a novel, this book describes Goldratt’s well-known concept of the Theory of Constraints. For those interested in Operations Management or just Business in general, this book presents the Theory of Constraints in a very interesting manner, which is informative but also easy and exciting to read.

 

All Marketers are Liars: The Underground Classic That Explains How Marketing Really Works–and Why Authenticity Is the Best Marketing of All by Seth Godin

Marketing is a fascinating topic to me and this book does a good job of outlining Marketing principles in the context of story-telling. It describes marketing as telling stories that people want to hear and believe, but that do not take advantage of people. There is still a lot that I’d love to learn in this field of study, but this book was a really good start.

 

The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life by Steven E. Landsberg

This is certainly a good book to read whether or not one has formally studied Economics at all. Each chapter deals with a different real-world issue and shows how the issue at hand relates to the study of Economics. Definitely a riveting read but also very informative and beneficial.

 

Business for the Glory of God: The Bible’s Teaching on the Moral Goodness of Business by Wayne Grudem

While not really ground-breaking in the ideas it presents, this book deals with common myths and misconceptions about Business as it relates to Christianity. Using Biblical evidence it shows that Business goals can often be in accord with the goal of glorifying God. This is a helpful book if you are struggle with reconciling Scriptural evidence with the way businesses operate or if you are engaging with someone who is wrestling with these issues.

 

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As always I’d love to hear what you think about this post and/or these books. If you read other books this year, I’d love to hear about those as well. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. Thanks for reading!

 

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Book Review: “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman

(Note: the following post is a paper that I wrote for my Digital Culture class in Summer 2015. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman is one of my favorite books and has had an enormous amount of influence on me. Hence, you will likely see a handful of posts related to Postman’s book on here in the future. Hopefully, this post will entice you to read the book yourself; Postman expresses these ideas far better than I do.)

Neil Postman’s argument in Amusing Ourselves to Death is very systematic and intentional, starting with some basic premises about the television, moving to the history of communication in our culture, and ending with how the television affects different arenas of discourse. He clearly states his main arguments in the first chapter, which revolve around the idea that the changes from typography to television have “dramatically and irreversibly shifted the content and meaning of public discourse” (Postman 8). Because of this shift and because of the natural constraints of television as a medium, “all public discourse increasingly takes the form of entertainment” (Postman 3). As a culture we are robbing ourselves of the ability to talk seriously about social issues.

In the second chapter Postman articulates that the television is a tool for entertainment and that as we use this medium as a tool for discussing news, religion, politics, and education, we remove the necessary solemnity from these discussions. To be clear, Postman does not oppose the television as a whole. He advocates the television as a source for entertainment but argues that entertainment and somber discourse should be separated. We cannot say that all forms of communication are equal because “the concept of truth is intimately linked to the biases of the forms of expression” (Postman 22). The written word, Postman says, is more appropriate for cultural conversation than the television, because “the epistemology created by the television is not only inferior to print-based epistemology but is dangerous and absurdist” (Postman 27). As he continues in this book, Postman articulates this idea further.

Postman explains America’s historical background of typographical communication in chapters three and four. He claims that, “America was as dominated by the printed word and an oratory based on the printed word as any society we know of,” (Postman 41) which created a “serious and rational public conversation, from we have been so dramatically separated” (Postman 43). Much of Postman’s argument is based on the idea that “words have very little to recommend them except as carriers of meaning” and they are serious by nature “because meaning demands to be understood” (Postman 50). As he continues, Postman clarifies this idea further, but he strongly believes that words provide us a unique ability to communicate in a way that pictures cannot match. This culture based on typography possessed public discourse “characterized by a coherent, orderly arrangement of facts and ideas” (Postman 51).

In chapter five Postman moves to show how the introduction of the telegraph and the photograph changed communication. The creation of the telegraph, he claims, “destroyed the prevailing definition of information, and in doing so gave a new meaning to public discourse” (Postman 65). The telegraph changed communication by flooding the world of communication with “irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence” through “context-free information” (Postman 65). By use of “sensational, fragmented, [and] impersonal” information, the telegraph displayed an ephemeral mode of communication where “facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation” (Postman 70). The introduction of the photograph further damaged our culture’s ability to carry on serious public conversation. Postman holds that language is “the medium we use to challenge, dispute, and cross-examine what comes into view, what is on the surface,” but photography “offers no assertions to refute, so it is not refutable” (Postman 73). The creation of the television built on the problems of the telegraph and the photograph “raising the interplay of image and instancy to an exquisite and dangerous perfection” (Postman 78).

Postman, in the sixth chapter, expands upon this critique of the television. He succinctly states that “television offers viewers a variety of subject matter, requires minimal skills to comprehend, it, and is largely aimed at emotional gratification” (Postman 86). Therefore, everything on television exhibits these biases, in spite of subject matter. In chapters seven through ten Postman goes to great lengths to develop this argument and point out specifically how the television damages our cultural ability to communicate about news, religion, politics, and education.

As I read this book for the first time, I honestly did not like what I read. It felt like an attack my way of living and the way I grew up. But Postman’s arguments are so well laid out that they are difficult to merely discount offhand and must be dealt with. The background information that Postman begins with sets the foundation for the rest of his argument by pointing out how certain mediums have different biases. His most compelling arguments, I would say, revolve around the impact of the television on the way we think, communicate, and view the world. I have witnessed and can affirm the decline of public discourse because of this lack of context, logic, and seriousness. We are more aware of world events, but we also take things a lot less seriously because of this constant immersion in information. We have a hard time putting together extended, complex arguments, because we are used to pieces of information being communicated in a quick, unrelated fashion.

My one critique of this book is that I wish Postman had lived longer and been able to edit it to include a section on the impact of the Internet. In this book I think Postman assumes the television will remain a prevalent form of technology for a long period of time, and fails to account for how technology will continue to change. The Internet is already beginning to displace the television as our primary form of communication and entertainment. I would argue that much of what Postman says about the television can be transcribed to the Internet, but it is not a perfect correlation. I did not grow up with cable TV, so I cannot relate to watching the television for new, politics, and religion. But I can understand going to the Internet as an authority on all of these things. I think the Internet offers more choice and variety than the television, but still suffers from many of the constraints of the visual basis and brief, irrelevant information.

The main piece of application that I would take from Amusing Ourselves to Death is that we need to be aware of the effects and biases of the television and other digital media. Many of these forms of technology have a place as entertainment, but struggle to accurately and winsomely convey ideas. Knowing that the television has its basis in entertainment, I think that we should be skeptical of the “serious” information portrayed on the screen. As a general rule it would be good for members of society to limit their digital media consumption, in order to break away from some of the addicting, destructive tendencies of these types of technology. It also would be beneficial to try to find other, typographically based forms of communication as a medium for more serious, complex discourse.

I do not think that we should throw technology away completely. Our digital culture has both strengths and weaknesses. In order to get the most out of our current technology, we need to be aware of these leanings, play to the strengths, and try to work around the weaknesses. It is paramount that we find a balance between overreacting about the woes of technology and praising its merits. This book is a great conversation starter and deals with a topic that most of us have never thought about. Due to Postman’s logical and compelling argument, this book should leave us, as inhabitants of this technological world, with much to consider.

 

For further reading, here’s a link to Postman’s  book.

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If you have thoughts or reactions to the post, please leave a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear what you have to say. Thanks for reading!

Lessons From A Year of Marriage

Guys, as of today I’ve been married for a year so I am basically now an expert on all things related to marriage. Hopefully you detected the sarcasm in that initial sentenced and deduced that I was very much kidding. I know that, despite all I’ve learned, there are still a multitude of lessons ahead of me. That being said, here is a non-comprehensive list of some of the things that I have learned this past year:

  1. Marriage is hard, but very much worth it. Prior to getting married I heard a number of people say things like “Marriage is the hardest thing you’ll ever do” or other phrases along those lines. And it’s true, real relationships rarely work out as effortlessly as the ones in movies. But don’t let this dissuade you from pursuing marriage. The valuable things in life require effort, so (to some degree) the fact that a good marriage takes work could be a signal that it is something worth working for. And all that being said, I think overemphasizing the difficulty of marriage can work to overshadow the benefits of marriage. I am so thankful to the Lord for putting me and my wife Maddie together. I regularly wonder how I was able to survive without her, but more on that to come later.
  2. I’m quite a bit more selfish than I realized. Life is full of situations and relationships that accentuate areas of sin in one’s life. I’ve heard having children behaves in this way and can now tell you from experience that being married definitely does. I’ve always been aware of the fact that as a sinner, I am naturally selfish. But this awareness was often in a theoretical sense rather than a tangible awareness of specific selfish thoughts and actions. Having a person who lives with you, serves you, and is committed to being with you for the rest of life can create a situation where its easy to see the other person as a means to fulfilling your own desires. By God’s grace I’ve noticed these tendencies in my life and am desperately trying to fight against them.
  3. My wife is even more amazing than I could have imagined. I knew my wife was pretty special prior to marriage. After all, it would take a very special person to stick with me. And seeing the way that she has selflessly loved me this past year has been truly incredible. My wife has thrived this past year and is such an encouragement to me in all areas of life. I could go on and on about all the amazing food she makes, how hard she works at her job and school, how fun she is to spend time with, how beautiful she is, but that would literally take an entire post of itself.
  4. God is faithful and kind to bless imperfect relationships. It was a bit daunting getting married so young, while also both being full-time students. There were a lot of things that could have gone terribly wrong this past year, but the Lord has been so kind to not only prevent bad things from happening but to also bless us with many good gifts. From an amazing church to a supportive family to good jobs to a beautiful house, the Lord has given us far more than we deserve. And more than anything, we rejoice that He offered us salvation while did not deserve it (1 Peter 3:18) and promises to continue sanctifying us (Philippians 1:6).

These are just some of the things I’ve learned this past year. I’m sure there are others, but I honestly can’t think of them right now. My marriage has been an incredible blessing and I look forward to see how God will continue to teach me and sanctify me through it.

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If you have thoughts, questions, or comments on this post, please leave a comment or send me an email. A lot of you have been married longer than I and have far more wisdom to share than I do. Thanks for reading!

The Economic/Behavioral Effects of Bridge Tolls

Those of you who live in Louisville are likely very aware of the upcoming tolls on a few of our local bridges. Given the high amount of use that these bridges face in the Kentuckiana area, it will be interesting to see how traffic behavior changes with the introduction of these tolls. What exactly might be some of the changes instigated by these new tolls?

In essence these tolls will behave as a tax on the use of three of the five Ohio River bridges, raising the cost of travel via these bridges. (As a sidenote, a toll seems to be a more equitable way to pay for the costs of the bridge than increasing everybody’s state/local taxes, regardless of their use of the bridge.) All else equal, economists generally believe that an increase in price leads to a decrease in quantity demanded. Thus, it would make sense that traffic on these tolled bridges would decrease, as people try to effectively plan and limit their trips across the river.

Now the exact size of this decrease is a little bit harder to predict. One factor that effects the size of a decrease in quantity demanded, relative to an increase in price is the availability of close substitutes. The bridges not being tolled would seem like legitimate substitutes, meaning it would seem reasonable to expect traffic on non-tolled bridges to increase.

However, it will be interesting to see whether drivers traveling from (for example) downtown Louisville to Clarksville or Charlestown view the Sherman Minton Bridge as a legitimate substitute or if cost of the extra travel time would outweigh the benefit of avoiding the toll. If time is money, as the saying goes, than it seems reasonable to expect some people (especially high earners) to choose to pay the tolls and save time. People making less money, whose time is presumably less valuable (from a strict wage perspective) would likely be willing to endure longer travels for the sake of saving some money.

All that said, this is merely theory and there are most likely other factors that will effect commuting behavior beyond what I highlighted here. Hopefully, this post was helpful and thought provoking. It will be interesting to see how this change effects the city of Louisville and the surrounding area.

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If you agree or disagree with the thoughts posted here or have additional thoughts on this issue, please feel free to post a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear what you have to say. Thanks for reading!

 

Welcome

I know it’s very 2005 but I decided to start a blog. (I actually had a few blogs back in the day but I’d be scared to go back and see what ridiculous things I had to say back then.)

You might be wondering why in the world I would start a blog, and that would be a good question – I’ve wondered that myself sometimes. I am generally not a fan of putting my thoughts out there for everybody to see, analyze, criticize, or whatever. However, I do think that I, on occasion, have useful or at least semi-interesting things to say and wanted to create a medium through which to communicate some of my thoughts. Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media can be very limiting in terms of legitimate discourse and can, I believe, actually hurt thoughtful conversation. But that’s another topic for a different day.

The “About” section of the blog gives a little bit of information about what types of things I will write about. This will likely not be super structured – I will write when I can about things that strike me as interesting. I do, however, welcome ideas, feedback, thoughts, etc. from my readers, so please feel free to give me advice or suggestions or whatever.

Thanks for visiting this site and I hope you return in the future!