Got to the end of Economics of the Public Sector by Sara Connolly and Alistair Munro, though I skimmed a lot of the second half. It's an undergraduate textbook, requires some knowledge of economics, quite a few equations. Found it quite useful for clarifying some things, but it's not exactly a thrill ride. I've been spoilt by recent books: the text here is plodding and disjointed sidebars, graphs and digressions.
Found some bits of it fascinating though, especially the stuff on social welfare functions. The big trade-off is that between equity and efficiency: the more you intervene to make an economy fairer, the less efficient it gets. An economy is like a pie where the fairer you slice it, the smaller the pie gets.
That's pretty obvious, but where it gets interesting is where they start to analyse the economics in terms of ethics. They take three systems: a utilitarian view where social welfare is the sum of everyone's well-being, a Rawlsian view where social welfare is that of the worst-off person in society, and an isoelastic view where social welfare is the aversion to inequality. Then they take various graphs and show how you can adjust redistribution and tax rates to maximize each case.
They also have a bit on public choice theory, analysing voting systems. I'd already heard of Arrow's impossibility theorem, but the median voter theorem was new to me. It's not in the book, but that led me on to May's theorem which might be helpful in the next proportional representation flamewar (though they seem to have died out lately).
The rest of the book was less novel, but fleshed out a lot of stuff for me: nice to get a UK-centric perspective. This is the 1999 edition and some of the examples are getting a little dated though. Also has some good stuff on the various forms of market failure,
Overall, this book is almost certainly of no interest to any casual readers except me. Probably quite helpful for an econ undergrad though.
The book did have an interesting quote from Jude the Obscure
It was indeed open country, wide and high. They talked and bounded on, Jude cutting from a little covert a long walking-stick for Sue as tall as herself, with a great crook, which made her look like a shepherdess. About half-way on their journey they crossed a main road running due east and west--the old road from London to Land's End. They paused, and looked up and down it for a moment, and remarked upon the desolation which had come over this once lively thoroughfare, while the wind dipped to earth and scooped straws and hay-stems from the ground.The melancholy desolation is because this crude and ancient form of transport, the road, is being made obsolete by the new technology of the steam train.
What I'm Watching
Saw Be Kind Rewind. Not really what I expected, which was a dim comedy about a couple of video store clerks who start filming their own versions of movies after their tapes are wiped. Instead it's a kind of Capraesque fable about a Community Coming Together and learning to love the art of creation instead of sucking the Hollywood teat.
Seemed a little bit condescending to me, but it does have some good moments and it is a bit different.
Tried to look at the Turner prize exhibition but was derailed by a minor panic attack. Made the mistake of going Saturday afternoon: it was pretty crowded and it's mostly a darkened, body-heaving, unsignposted maze of video installations. Really annoyingly they'd blocked off the exit, so you have to thread/barge your way through everyone twice to get in and out.
The perspex sculptures by Goshka Macuga were pretty impressive though: nice patterns of reflection at least.
YouTube. Polysics music video: Domo Arigato Mr Roboto
Guardian on Chinese-run prostitution this time.
If a science book contains the lemon battery bulb-lightning experiment, it means that the author never performed the experiment to see if it works.
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