Friday, March 19, 2010

Ten most influential books

See: Tyler Cowen, Will Wilkinson, Russell Arben Fox, Bryan Caplan,Matt Yglesias, and more. Haven't we done this on Facebook at some point?

I'm unsurprised by how alien Russell's and Bryan's lists are to me (in almost-opposite directions, of course). By contrast, even where my list doesn't overlap with Will's, for the most part I can recognize and to some degree share his reactions.

But, man, Rand and Nietzsche are showing up a lot, even on lists where I wouldn't expect them to. Neither's ever had a moment of hold on my mind. A friend in grad school thought that there was something odd and revealing about my complete lack of connection to Nietzsche: "You've never had a Nietzschean moment?" he asked-- a moment when I got it. Nope.

Anyway, I'll take the "formative influences" tack: books I first read before I graduated from college. And I'll arbitrarily stick to nonfiction in my general fields of professional inquiry.

1) Milton and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose. An adult friend gave this to me when I was 11 or so (and when it was very new-- the copy of it, which I still have, is in hardcover). So for me, the exposure to libertarianism and to social science/ social analysis and to serious nonfiction that contained ideas that could really give my brain exercise were simultaneous. It's hard to know what the counterfactual looks like-- how differently I would think if I hadn't read this, then. The friend said that he gave it to me because it was already clear that I would appreciate it-- that it reflected rather than (only) shaping my intellectual tastes. In any case, the ideas of regulatory capture and unintended consequences were among the first serious ideas about social analysis I ever encountered-- and the simplified moral-political philosophy of the introduction to the book genuinely inspired me.

2) John Stuart Mill, On Liberty. Read when I had just turned 16, during slow periods and coffee and lunch breaks at my summer supermarket job. (I think this is the moment when lots of smart teenagers encounter Rand or Nietzsche-- when they're looking for something to read to keep their brains going while they're off school, especially if they're in the kinds of summer jobs working/ lower middle class kids get rather than internships and the like.) It wasn't technically my first primary text in political philosophy; by then I had read Thoreau's "Resistance," a couple of the Federalist Papers, and smatterings of Plato, Smith, and Marx in my Great Books collection. But it was "On Liberty" that really fired me up about great works in political philosophy. I agreed with its conclusions, of course, but I already knew enough to know that there were things to worry about/ argue with; I wasn't excited primarily by the agreement. I was excited by the prose, the power of the arguments, and the sense of what it could be to assemble normative arguments about big questions.

3) Bernard Bailyn, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Read about the same time: the first work of scholarship I ever read, and still one of my favorites.

4) Leonard Levy, Original Intent and the Framers' Constitution. The second work of scholarship I ever read. The overarching argument of the book was a little beyond my reach at the time, but the detailed legal-historical analysis of the various constitutional provisions greatly impressed me, and complemented what I had learned about the era from Bailyn.

5) John Rawls, A Theory of Justice. First read it my first semester of college; it aggravated me and annoyed me and in many ways defined the intellectual world I've lived in ever since.

6) Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice. Spheres annoyed me even more, the first two times I read it, and not in the same "I must engage with and respond to this" way that Rawls did. First two times I read it, I didn't see the point of it; by comparison with Rawls (or Nozick), Walzer never seemed to have any arguments. Eventually, as I followed the path I now understand as leading from political philosophy to political theory, I came to see Spheres of Justice as a wise and profound book, and an important exemplar of how to think normatively but not abstractly. There's still almost no argument in it I find compelling, nothing that I'm brought to agree with by Walzer's reasoning. But I do love to reread from it, when the occasion presents itself.

7) F.A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty and Law, Legislation, and Liberty, vol. 1 (Listed together because I really think they belong together-- I think LLL v1 completes the argument of Constitution and makes the earlier book much more satisfying than it is on its own.) First read Hayek in a freshman seminar taught by by university's president on the history of liberalism. (Also my first exposure to Acton and Tocqueville.) More than any of the books listed so far, Hayek shaped how I think about the basic shape of the social world, and also how I think about the connections among normative, explanatory, and empirical social analysis. Though I'm not an economist, and one of the (minor but real) aims of my next book is to reject the intellectual history offered in Constitution, and to the best of my recollection the phrase "spontaneous order" doesn't appear in anything I've ever published, I still comfortably describe myself as a Hayekian in my intellectual outlook.

8) Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic. I read this in Wood's own class on the American Revolution, from then on I not only had my model of what to try to live up to as a classroom teacher, I also had my real understanding of how research at the highest level and teaching at the highest level enriched, complemented, and completed one another, and why the profession of university professor hung together as a single vocation. (It's also, simply, a great book, but its influence on me was not only intellectual.)

9) Will Kymlicka, Liberalism, Community, and Culture. This book gave me my first actual research agenda-- and was written recently enough before I became a graduate student that I felt like I could be a contributor to a live intellectual debate. Incidentally, this was probably the first dissertation-book I read all the way through. (I couldn't make it through Liberalism and the Limits of Justice on my first attempt; at a certain point I said "I get it, already," and put the book down.) I tell doctoral students in political theory that they should have a couple of dissertation-books on their minds and on their shelves that they think are relevant to their work. This may sound cruel: a dissertation-book is not a dissertation, and students shouldn't be made to think that they need to write an Oxford University Press-quality manuscript in order to have a submittable dissertation. But I found it tremendously useful to have a model for size and scope. Good graduate students often want to propose dissertations that are vastly too big and too ambitious, and then get frustrated when they realize that doing what they want would take decades and thousands of pages. A dissertation-book that you admire can reassure you that something important and worthwhile can be accomplished in something about this big-- and that it's okay not to answer every possible question or master the whole of human knowledge. Kymlicka provided that book for me: a reminder of how much could be accomplished in a project of about that size, and also a reminder that a dissertation can be an impressive accomplishment without doing everything. Kymlicka convincingly opened up a space for more research (others' research as well as his own); he didn't wait until he'd done it all himself before scheduling his defense.

10-11) Tocqueville, The Ancien Regime and the Revolution; Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity. You'll have noticed a lot of American Revolution/ American founding material on this list, and I was as prone as anyone to a simple Whiggish sense of the connections among freedom, reason, and the 18th-century revolutions. Tocqueville and Berlin, in their different ways, helped to break me of that.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Encyclopedia of Political Theory

According to Amazon, today is the last day to pre-order Sage's new Encyclopedia of Political Theory for the low, low price of $340. I suspect that about half of my blog's readers contributed enough entries to the volume that they're expecting complimentary copies in the mail, so this is primarily a heads-up that the volumes are apparently finally about to get published.
Fun and games with citation counts

Justin Wolfers at the Freakonomics blog on Hayek's scholarly impact:

Taking social science seriously surely means teaching the insights of the most prominent, most important, or most influential economists. This involves teaching important theories—even those you disagree with. There’s no doubt about the influence of Smith, Marx and Keynes; Friedman also belongs. But does Hayek belong on this list?

Let’s use data to inform this debate. I counted the number of references to each economist in the scholarly literature indexed by JSTOR, finding 30,708 articles mentioning “Adam Smith”; 25,626 articles mentioning “Karl Marx”; and 4,945 mentioning “John Maynard Keynes” (the middle name was required to avoid articles by his father, John Neville Keynes). “Milton Friedman” sits easily with this group, and was mentioned in 8,924 articles.

But searching for “Friedrich von Hayek” only yielded 398 articles; adding “(("Friedrich von Hayek") OR ("Friedrich Hayek"))” raised his total to 1242 mentions; also allowing “FH Hayek” raised his count to 1561.

He later corrected FH Hayek to FA Hayek and got up to 1745. This seemed odd to me.

So I went to JSTOR to replicate the results.

JSTOR, full text search, no restrictions as to years or discipline or kind of publication.

"Friedrich von Hayek"-- 397. Close enough to think I'm conducting the searches the same way Wolfers did.

"Friedrich von Hayek" OR "Friedrich Hayek"-- 1231. The discrepancy grows a little bit, but I'm still in Wolfer's ballpark. So these unrestricted full-text searches are what he was doing.

Next step, to get a ceiling estimate:

full-text search on Hayek . 12088 results. Browsing through these yields very few false positives-- so now I'm suspicious.

I notice a lot of references to "Professor Hayek." This seems to have been the convention in some academic journals at midcentury. "Professor Hayek" by itself yields 582 hits, and a quick browse yielded no false positives.

I also notice that the search engine cares about the difference between "F.A. Hayek" and "F. A. Hayek" (with a space between the first period and the A). This makes a big difference. Simply performing the search as "'F.A. Hayek' OR 'F. A. Hayek'" already yields 2219 results-- more than Wolfers' most complete version of his search.

Adding in F. A. von Hayek and Friedrich Hayek as options gets us to 3342.

Now there are more permutations than JSTOR can readily handle. But stretching out the search to ("Friedrich Hayek") OR ("Friedrich von Hayek") OR ("F.A. Hayek") OR ("F.A. von Hayek") OR ("F. A. Hayek") OR ("F. A. von Hayek") OR ("Friedrich A. Hayek") OR ("Friedrich A. von Hayek") OR ("Professor Hayek") yields 4267.

Proceeding from the other direction: a search just on Hayek restricted to business, economics, finance, law, linguistics, philosophy, political science, psychology, public policy, and sociology eliminated all the false positives I could find. 9385 . Searching for "milton friedman" in those same disciplines (and as far as I know there's no ambiguity in how to refer to him): 8088.

Now, I don't really think that citation counts are going to do the work Wolfers wants them to do here. But on his terms, Hayek is now out of Larry Summers' company, and into Friedman's.


See Wolfers' reply, and mine a few below his, in comments at Marginal Revolution. There's just a problem here in comparing names that are difficult to compare. "Hayek" almost always refers to the relevant person in academic searches (unlike, say, at Dan Drezner's blog.) You get very few false positives with just the last name. But the false negatives are extremely sensitive to variations in how you specify his given names. Approximately the same is true of Keynes, though as Wolfers notes Keynes' father was also well-known.

Milton Friedman, Adam Smith, and Karl Marx are opposite cases. Last names only will yield a huge number of false positives; the last names are just too common. But there's very little variation in how given names are specified-- I can't think that I've ever seen any of the three referred to by initials or with a middle name. So simply applying "the same" rule to Hayek and Friedman will get incomparable results-- vastly too many false positives or vastly too many false negatives. And so any of these count-comparisons are going to look more precise than they really are. But my strong impression from trying lots of variations: Smith, Marx, and Keynes are in a class by themselves, and Hayek and Friedman are basically comparable.

See also D-squared, who rightly emphasizes that "if something isn't worth doing, it isn't worth doing well".

Further update:
As long as I'm getting so much traffic sent here by Marginal Revolution and other blogs, might as well link to my own most recent engagement with Hayekian themes: Not So Novus an Ordo: Constitutions Without Social Contracts, Political Theory, Vol. 37, No. 2, 191-217 (2009)

Monday, March 15, 2010

CREUM postdocs in ethics for 2010-11

Deadline: April 30.
Two upcoming conferences: "Hegel After Spinoza" and "Basic Income at a Time of Economic Upheaval"

April 9-10, 2010: "Hegel After Spinoza: A Symposium
McGill University, Thomson House

Friday - 4:00 pm
Keynote Address

John McCumber, "Nature vs. Spirit: Hegel’s Reconciliation with Spinoza"

Saturday - 10:00 am

Jason Read, "'Desire is Man’s Very Essence': Spinoza and Hegel as Philosophers of Transindividuality"

Caroline Williams, "Thinking the Subject between Hegel and Spinoza"

2:00 pm

Vittorio Morfino, "Spinoza in the Science of Logic"

Vance Maxwell, "Hegel’s Treatment of Spinoza: Its Scope and Limits"

4:15 pm
Keynote Address

Warren Montag, "Hegel, sive Spinoza: Towards a History of the Problem"

April 15-16, 2010: Basic Income at a Time of Economic Upheaval: A Path to Justice and Stability?
McGill University, Faculty Club

9.30: coffee & registration

9.45: welcome: Jurgen De Wispelaere, CRÉUM

10.00 – 11.00: Opening Lecture

Louise Haagh, University of York & BIEN

“Basic Income and Public Finance”

Chair: Almaz Zelleke, The New School & USBIG

11.00 – 12.45: Panel A – Basic Income Models in Canada and the US

Sally Lerner, University of Waterloo

“Education for a Canadian BIG Society”

Jim Mulvale, University of Regina

Rob Rainer, Canada Without Poverty

“Mapping out a Pragmatic Guaranteed Income Architecture for Canada”

Karl Widerquist, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Qatar

“Exporting the Alaska Model: A Model for Reform Around the World”

Chair: Peter Dietsch, CRÉUM

12.45 – 14.00: lunch

14.00 – 15.45: Panel B – Basic Income at the Margins of Employment

Andrea Vick, University of Toronto

Ernie Lightman, University of Toronto

“Precarious Jobs, Precarious Workers: Income Security for Canadians with Episodic Disabilities”

Matt Stahl, University of Western Ontario

“Copyright, Creative Work and the Basic Income Grant”

William DiFazio, St. John’s University

Stanley Aronowitz, City University of New York

“The Jobless Future and Democracy: Wither Agency?”

Chair: John Rook, National Council for Welfare

15.45 – 16.00: coffee

16.00 – 17.45: Panel C – The Ecological Imperative

Anita Vaillancourt, University of Toronto

“Reconnecting Basic Income in Canada with Indigenous and Ecological Roots”

Michael Howard, University of Maine

“A Cap on Carbon and a Floor on Income: A Defensible Combination in the US?”

Gianne Broughton, Canadian Friends Service Committee

“Outline of an Ecological Argument for BIG”

Chair: Pat Evans, University of Carleton & BIEN Canada

17.45 – 18.45: Keynote

Guy Standing, University of Bath & BIEN

“Basic Income for the Precariat”

Chair: Jim Mulvale, University of Regina & BIEN Canada

FRIDAY 16 APRIL, Hall B 3325

9.00 – 10.45: Panel D – Economic Crisis and Income Security

Chandra Pasma, Citizens for Public Justice

“The Great Recession: What Happened to Economic Security in 2009?”

James Bryant, Manhattanville College

“The Basic Income Guarantee as an Automatic Stabilizer”

Philip Harvey, Rutgers University

“More for Less: The Job Guarantee Strategy”

Chair: Pierre-Yves Néron, CRÉUM

10.45 – 11.00: coffee

11.00 – 12.45: Panel E – Funding a Basic Income

Gary Flomenhoft, University of Vermont

“Progress on Basic Income from Common Assets In Vermont”

André Presse, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Götz Werner, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

“Stimulating the Economy: Basic Income and the Consumption Tax”

Jeffrey Smith, Forum on Genomics

“Are Geonomies Both Imperturbable and Bountiful”

Chair: David Casassas, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona & BIEN

12.45 – 14.00: lunch

14.00 – 15.45: Political Forum “The Politics of a Universal Basic Income Grant”

Senator Art Eggleton, Chair Standing Committee Social Affairs, Science & Technology

Amélie Chateauneuf, spokesperson FCPASQ

Tony Martin MP

Rob Rainer, Executive Director Canada Without Poverty

Al Sheahen, Committee Member USBIG

Senator Hugh Segal, Deputy Chair of the Subcommittee on Cities

Chair: Sheila Regehr, Director National Council for Welfare

15.45 – 16.30: Closing Lecture

Senator Eduardo Suplicy, São Paulo, Brazil & BIEN

“Steps Towards a Citizen’s Basic Income”

Chair: Steve Shafarman, Income Security for All & USBIG

16.30: Closing & Thanks: Mike Howard, USBIG & Jim Mulvale, BIEN Canada

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Grad school

Those trying to decide among graduate schools should read this Brian Leiter post and follow its advice: talk to current students.

I'd add as secondary advice: beware of thinking that you can avoid the problems in a problematic department. Academia is in many ways a very solitary life, but grad students and faculty alike really are very enmeshed in the worlds made up by their departments and universities. All the problems he lists out there can poison a whole department. Be worried and careful if you find yourself explaining to yourself that the problematic professors/factions aren't in your part of the department and so won't affect your life as a grad student. It ain't necessarily so.