I feel a bit like Hugh Jackman in Les Mis singing “Who Am I” under the brooding shadow of Russell Crowe. In this case I think of Paul as Russell and he and Gigi are asking ” WHO ARE YOU!”. Well just like Hugh, I’ve been let out on parole to say something about their book. When I look at a newspaper I always start at the back where the racing news is ( or where it used to be until recently) and, most importantly, the orbituaries. So whenever I see a non‐ fiction book I naturally first go to the index just to see if it mentions me or people I know, living or dead. I once knew someone who agreed with a bunch of his fellow Ph.D. students that they would always cite one another, even if it had nothing to do with the paper they were writing. That way they would be sure of getting some citations. Now in this case I knew that Paul and Gigi wouldn’t be mentioning me but I did think they might be citing some of Paul’s UQ colleagues. One of these ‐ John Quiggin ‐ has written a book called Zombie Economics. Sure enough it’s mentioned in the citations and my hopes rose that I could learn about more about Zombies from this book ‐ were they economic man or economic no man? But I had to read to p 336 to find the reference and then there was nothing there on Zombies. So better go back to the start ‐ the cover. Well here there is a list of things the book is about – greed, love, groups and networks. Now the odd one here for an economist has to be love. We are a dismal and probably unlovable bunch after all.
I did know about the Love Boat and the Love Bug but now Paul and Gigi have come up with the Love Principle (LP) – “Love derives from the attempt of the unconscious mind to bargain with something that is believed to be capable of fulfilling desires and that is perceived to be too powerful to be possessed by direct means”. Now they apply this very effectively to a lot of issues – the military, partner selection, children..But my mind kept coming back to Russell Crowe. Now I think I would say that Russell Crowe loved the Sydney Rabbitohs, but according to the LP he shouldn’t be in love since he effectively bought the club, and that seems a pretty direct means of possessing it. Being in Melbourne I guess I should use John Elliott and Carlton as the example. So I think I didn’t quite get the LP. Maybe it’s because I never quite got the connection between this and loyalty. I like the loyalty idea that they often use and I am sure Russell could be classified as loyal, even if he isn’t in love. Now having missed something with the LP I felt I would be much more comfortable with the other three items on the cover ( actually four since there is lot on power, but just not on the front cover). Having once lived in Canberra, where instead of being the “garden State” or the “Sunshine State” they mistakenly and rather briefly adopted the slogan “Feel the Power”, I felt I could be comfortable with power. But the others were o.k. too, due to my student experiences of just on 50 years ago. One year I did political science and the most interesting books I read then were JBD Miller ( at ANU) on
The Interest Group Theory of Politics and Robert Dahl on power and elites. So I greatly enjoyed Paul and Gigi’s discussion of power and groups. My only issue was that it is maybe too rich in examples – from Magna Carta to the Ottomans and even the Xhosa ,where I leaned that they killed all their cattle “ in the hope of enlisting the help of the dead against the British army”. Zombies at last! However, disappointment once again as the lessons the book draws from this episode are about how a view of how the world works can assume a life of its own rather than telling me whether Zombies are greedy, love, form groups and networks. But I will say that film The Night of the Living Dead suggests positive answers to three of these. In my economics education the two books that are still fixed in my memory are the Economic Theory of Managerial Capitalism by Robin Marris and The Strategy of Economic Development by Albert Hirschman. The former built a model with groups of pioneers and sheep to explain the way sales of new durables rose slowly to begin with, then accelerated, and finally settled down. What I really liked about Hirschman’s book was his contention that development was about linkages and not the big balanced growth push that was fashionable at the time. So Paul and Gigi’s emphasis on linkages is a great resurrection of an idea that should never have almost disappeared in economics.
Almost 50 years on these books are still clear‐cut in my mind. I suspect Paul and Gigi’s book will have the same effect on many people. It uses the frameworks of groups, power and linkages to shed light on classic issues in economics and to discuss an enormous range of new ones –for example why the Great Leap Backwards in China was needed for the success of the later reforms, banana quotas in Australia, mergers…They give us a journalistic‐type checklist (where, which, who and why) for analysing these issues, missing only the why and repeating who ‐ who gains and who faces what powers). They show that whilst self‐interest (greed) is a core idea in economics it needs to be supplemented by these other forces in order to fully come to grips with many issues that economists address. In many ways this was Hirschman’s point about development. Anyone reading this book would have to be in awe of the enormous literature summarized and commented on and the range of problems elucidated. The themes may be old ones but I doubt they have been addressed in such a detailed and connected way. Finally, skipping all the maths in the last 50 pages of the book as being too hard for me in my old age, I ended up at the back cover. Here I found Andy Oswald saying “This is the most remarkable book I have read in the last decade…if you like a book that is intellectually taxing but unforgettable this is for you”. Andy and I once spent a night in a pub, and I am not sure we agreed on many things, but this one we do agree on.
Let me finish with a Zen story. A disciple goes to a Zen master and asks him to write down some advice for success in life. The Zen master takes a piece of paper and writes on it. The disciple takes it away and eagerly unwraps it, finding the word “Attention”. Next week he meets the Master who asks about his progress during the week and he says he was hoping for a little more from the Master’s written guidance. So the Zen master takes the page, and adds to the text. The novice eagerly takes it away, eagerly unwraps it, and sees it says “Attention! Attention! Attention!” The Zen master is shouting “Pay attention and you will be enlightened” and I join him in saying the same thing about this book. Paul and Gigi take a bow!