Social economy

I have many commendations, and one complaint/caveat about Charles Taylor’s discussion of the formation of an “economic” image of society in the early modern period ( A Secular Age , 176-84 ). Kudos for Taylor for his modification of the Weber thesis. Like Weber, he traces the rise . . . . Continue Reading »

Business of Breaking Bad

As “Breaking Bad” winds down, the Economist suggests that the show offers as much insight into business as a Harvard MBA at a fraction of the cost. What makes high-school-teacher-turned-meth-producer Walter White’s business successful? There are three ingredients: “The first . . . . Continue Reading »

Why firms?

Why the firm? Ronald Coase, a Nobel economist who died last week at the age of 102, was among the first to ask the question, in a 1937 article on the nature of the firm . His starting point was to notice the discrepancy between the way economic systems were described in theory and the reality of . . . . Continue Reading »

Scarcity upon Scarcity

Cass Sustein reviews Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir in the latest NYRB . The book focuses not on the reality of scarce resources but rather on the psychology of scarcity - the feeling of scarcity, which, the authors argue, has damaging . . . . Continue Reading »

Price of Lobster in Boston

Lobster, writes James Surowiecki in The New Yorker , was not always a luxury item. On the contrary: “In Colonial New England, it was a low-class food, in part because it was so abundant: servants, as a condition of their employment, insisted on not being fed lobster more than three times a . . . . Continue Reading »

Government and innovation

Americans think of ourselves as entrepreneurs, innovators, and self-starters. That description fits plenty of American businessmen, but in the world we inhabit many technological advances that fuel mega-sized companies started in government programs. John Judis makes this point concisely in a . . . . Continue Reading »

Who is this ‘we’?

At the outset of his The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society , Brad S. Gregory takes aim at Charles Taylor’s overly simplified portrait of the shift from the medieval “naive acknowledgment of the transcendent” to the “exclusive . . . . Continue Reading »

Virtue and rewards

It has long been said that virtue is its own reward. This notion is particularly set against any “instrumentalization” of virtue, any notion that virtue is a means to achieve some other end. We are good because it is good to be good, not because being good is rewarded with some other . . . . Continue Reading »

New Frontiers

In their contribution to American Space/American Place: Geographies of the Contemporary United States , John Agnew and Joanne Sharp describe the context and import of Frederick Jackson Turner’s famed “Frontier Thesis.” Turner wrote in the context of the downturn of the 1890s, and . . . . Continue Reading »