Tuesday, May 3, 2011


One of my friends is studying economics hardcore. This winter he was focusing on global hunger and aspired to fast or consume a Very Low Calorie diet for 30 days, to have some first hand experience with hunger. I got really excited- what an awesome idea! Then he never did it, on the basis of he is not insane, or something. So, because I approve of disrupting the casual excess and comfort my life affords me, I decided not to eat this past February, with the caveat that fasting was my third priority, after school and health. I did a liquid fast of perhaps 300-400 calories per day, and after a few days I started missing deadlines and making a lot of small mistakes that took a lot of my day to correct. For various reasons I drove 75 miles 3 times, once to help my parents move. It was while I was moving furniture and boxes for 4 hours in their attic on the hottest Feb 6th Oakland has ever had that I decided my fast had to be over. I thought I was properly hydrated but I must have been delirious to think I could eat a bowl of ravioli comfortably. One thing I learned is my body is an amazing faster, and when it realized there was no food coming it just coped without making me hungry or anything.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

HC 110 C6 C586 1999- Consuming Desires

Where are my notes about this book? It's collected essays that are so on point and well assembled.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

HC 105 S63 2002

Adam Smith and the Origins of American Enterprise, Roy C Smith

I like history! It's so old fashioned- this book defers to Smith's describing wealth as opulence. Charming! And before the Industrial Revolution Britain's main export was wool. Wool. And Smith found that factories employed agricultural workers part time, and he illustrated the advantage of specialization with a report about a pin factory (26). A pin factory. A factory that makes only pins. A pin factory. I was just totally charmed by that, and I want to read more books focusing on individuals.

This captures my heart in the first pages by sharing that, "Most of the intellectual activity of this time was the product of talented amateurs who painstakingly learned methodology and specialization"(4) because I love working on my own.

Most of this book was so excited about America- I love that. There was such an exuberance and a

Thursday, April 21, 2011


I read in Consuming Desires and on the Sociological Images blog that our tastes are not unique things we develop but dictated by environment and class. I pretty much believe that. So I have been wanting boots all winter, fancy adventurer boots that I could wear if I were a time or space traveler since they would suit all kinds of terrain and climate and keep my feet safe from little mean bugs. Also they must never wear out. The only thing they wouldn't suit is post-apocalyptic anarchy, because they are so cute I would be shot for them. Obviously I have the feeling that I thought of these criteria myself. But really the internet television told me them. I finally ordered these:

from Boot Barn.
Update: My boots arrived yesterday! They are super comfortable and I let my new photographer friend take my portrait in them. I feel guilty for buying $120 boots when I am not working, but my budget said it was fine. I am going to track how many times I wear them before they wear out, to see if these fit the opting out of product obsolescence that upper middle class people get to do. So far I have worn them two times. One of my classmates suggested that I use a pedometer to track their steps. I'll see if I can fit my cheap pedometer into them unobtrusively.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

HC79 P6 P67 2009

Portfolios of the Poor
The Poor and Their Money presents the daily deposit collecting as neccessary under the precarious climate of poor households- saving at home is impractical because of emergency demands on the savings, or not having the whole household buy-in to the need to save. But Portfolios of the Poor goes on about the minus 40% annual return on savings (save a few cents a day for a month in exchange for one days' deposit, which of course is 3.3%) and that got me thinking. I would not go to someone's house everyday to collect ten cents from them- not for free, and not for 3.3%. I would do it as a favor, if it was nearby, but I don't understand how that can be a job.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


In art there are practitioners who are not formally trained and their work is called folk art, or naive art. It can't be produced by people who are trained in color theory and persective and the art historical canon, although certainly it can be imitated by formally trained artists. There is a value to naive art that I think comes from its spontaneity and innattention to conventions. Thus, my fine art background has taught me to value contributions from people who produce work from outseide the canonical freamework.

This makes me think that there is an interesting perspective to be gained from approaching economics in a naive way. I am reading seriously a lot of books- on the order of two daily- but they are not being screened for me by professors or represented by an accredited institution. So, I am gaining a book-based body of knowledge from outside the canon. I don't have a sense of which authors subscribe to widespread theories versus outsider theories, and except for year and writing style, I don't have a framework for evaluating the texts.

My art professor in the class for which I am undertaking this reading proposed that I present myself as an economist. I was charmed by this idea, because in my department the Picasso quote- "every child is an artist. the problem is how to remain one after he grows up" has a lot of credence. They teach us early on to identify ourselves as artists rather than art students- in fact, we devote more time now to art than we will likely be able to once we are in the loan-repaying-and-self-sustaining chapter of our lives. So self-identification feels adequate and appropriate for many things, including a soft science like economics.
I excitedly shared with a friend that I get to tell people I am an economist. (I am considering using the modifier "naive" except that outside the art community that word has a pejorative connotation) He said something to the effect of "that is an interesting lie," given that I don't have formal training and I got really frustratedly excited. The historical model of theorists and writers working outside the academy is dear to my heart, and in fact to this friend's heart as well, so I was pretty much aghast.

Auxiliary: I have a house mate who has studied economics for ages, and is working on his PhD. I asked him if he would describe himself as an economist, and he said "not quite yet." I completely respect that decision, and yet it reinforced my determination to just, you know, commit to calling myself one. Maybe I am not the best economist ever, but I am smarter than some of these authors, and more engaging than a third of them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

HC 103 F59 2000

Field Guide to the U.S. Economy
This book is kind of sympathetic, like me, but not focused on accuracy, which is what I like. For example, page 118 says, "A college diploma is worth at least its weight in gold." Okay, an ounce is 31 grams, which is like 1,500 USD right now, and a piece of paper might weigh three grams I suppose.
And then on page 141, they switch the "t" in "trillion" for a b, which is really confusing. (it's correct in the graphic but not in the text) I got excited because I don't think I have ever heard what the world GNP is, and then right when I do I can't believe in it because of a typo.

So that was really frustrating because it is full of little straightforward bits I would like to quote to people.

HC 107 A13 B35 1981

A Deplorable Scarcity, Bateman and Weiss

The last book I read about southern poverty was horribly sad, and since this one said "deplorable" on it I thought it would be similarly evocative, but it was very, very dry instead. I like that it talks a lot about cost curves and rates of returns because it is simple for me to understand and compare. I got excited because it says that there was not a great overland method of transport which limited how competitive manufacturing firms could be because of high cost of transportation, and that was in The Bottom Billion as an example of why some nations fall behind their neighbors- not having a safe, reliable infrastructure for exports.

Basically the south was a bit more of a success at manufacturing than people think, but the relative profitability of agriculture and the resistance planters had to abandoning the agrarian ideal were limiting factors. There is an interesting and telling portion that explores myths and realities of slave labor's suitability to industrial manufacture. It says nothing about slaves in particular is unsuitable. I am not used to a book calling people capital with no disclaimer, and I was still taken aback when it said, "Whether an entire industrial system based on slave labor could have evolved remains an intriguing question" 33. In my notes I wrote, "This is why I can't think like an economist."

I liked that this book ended a hundred pages before I expected it to, because of the long appendix. And I learned two new terms:
ceteris paribus- other things equal
gristmill- a building where grain is ground into flour. (I thought this was called a "mill")

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

HC 110 15 R955 2009

Rethinking the Income Gap

If this was online instead of print I would think it is satire. I still kind of think it is, except it was a long slog to read so it would be super long to write unless the author is in earnest. It is about how it is okay for CEOs to earn a lot of money because that makes more money for everyone.
"CEOs ... created over 45.0 million jobs for you, me, and most everyone else. Or do you think your private sector job just sprung up out of the earth?"p 3
It put parts of expressions in quotes and left the others out, like it talked about the "tipity" top of the income scale. It also went on at length about what a loaded term "gap" is so he uses the term "inequality." I know what inequality means in this context but calling something and inequality doesn't make it seem benign to me.

I mean, if it is satire how did Ryscavage sustain it so long?
"American families... realized there was nothing wrong with becoming rich and becoming richer. It was not greed, because needs were expanding. Whose business was it if one felt the need for an SUV or a 4,500 square foot house or a cruise around the world? Was it wrong for our grandparents to need a telephone or an indoor toilet or a college education for their son?" p59

I did not finish reading this book, even though it is a thin volume, because I think I get his points. But I did page to the back incase it said "kidding!" which it did not, although it did have two appendixes in a 162 page text.

HC107A13R38 2006

Reading Southern Poverty between the Wars, 1918-1939

This review will be kind of disjointed because this book is made of a dozen essays and I had to read this book over the course of several days because it is heartbreaking. Friends wanted to know why I was in such a bad mood and I had to tell them, "Prison labor" or, "child mill workers" or, "Multi-generation confinement to turpentine camps." I don't have a background in this subject except from an art history perspective (ie Roy E. Stryker's amazing photos of rural poverty in the Great Depression) so I glad this book has so many excerpts from primary sources to help me understand.

One of the overarching themes of the essays is the heritability of poverty:
-Mill children in the early 1900s had a 90% rate of doing the same job as their parents, and when child labor was outlawed there was a two year gap between the end of school at 14 and the legal beginning of work at 16. Also, school wasn't free. (Webb, Ain't Worth a Damn for Nothin)
-After slaves were freed, many of them were arrested for being vagrants (which of course they were) and imprisoned. They could be hired out by labor camps which also had employees who were vagrants offered jobs and then working in debt peonage, which was passed on to children. (Miller, Murder, "Convict Flogging Affairs," and Debt Peonage)

One part that I liked because it wasn't sad and was about artists was when, in the John T Matthews essay, he writes that is Bourdieu's model, "As economic 'losers,' of course, elite artists occupy a social position inferior to those enjoying wealth and political power. This may lead many such artists to feel sympathy toward society's lesser classes."218

Reading the criticism of the New Deal was surprising to me, because I like the New Deal, so I will seek out some books about it.