E-books are so convenient that I pick them up (turn them on?) only when convenience is a top priority, so it wasn’t until I took a long plane trip recently that I got to two that I had been keen to read for awhile. The authors, Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen, have both written for the WQ
, and Cowen is a member of our board of editorial advisers. Not only that, but the pair are the co-proprietors of my favorite blog,Marginal Revolution
In The Great Stagnation
, Cowen makes the provocative argument that all the digital wonders of the past few decades can’t hold a candle to earlier transformative technologies such as the car and the railroad, which not only changed our lives but created countless jobs. That, he says, helps explain why Americans’ incomes have grown so little since the 1970s. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but like the many people who have been talking about this book, I found it made me rethink my assumptions.
Cowen also makes a good argument that we benefitted in the last century by taking lots of smart, undereducated kids and pushing them through ramped up public school and higher education systems. But that untapped talent pool is depleted now.
Education also figures in Tabarrok’s Launching the Innovation Renaissance: A New Path to Bring Smart Ideas to Market Fast
, which I’d characterized as a flurry of sharp jabs around a theme—there’s a surprising take on what’s wrong with the patent system. In another chapter, Tabarrok argues that pushing more kids into college has led to dumbing down and grade inflation in higher education—and to too many degree-bearing bellhops. Why not improve apprentice programs and other skills-oriented education, he asks, while cutting back subsidies to English and dance majors? The chapter is the perfect counterpoint to Kevin Carey’s splendid “College for All?
” in our autumn issue.
In the latest project of the brainy powerhouse edge.org
, editor John Brockman dangled a tantalizing question before 165 public intellectuals: What scientific concept would improve everyone’s cognitive toolkit? The answers, which come predominantly from scientists or social scientists, make for fascinating reading. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman thinks that we often fall prey to the “focusing illusion,” in which problems that we are thinking about seem more grave the more we think about them. Yale psychologist Paul Bloom says we need to adopt scientific reasoning in daily thinking. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen suggests that we often lose sight of the fact that most problems we face are so complex that they defy simple definition. All 165 responses are available online
. For those of us who still prefer to consume their written fare the old-fashioned way, a book
has recently been published.
“The glorious spirit of abounding youth glows throughout this fascinating tale.” So wrote
the New York Times
about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise
when it was published in 1920. The caveat: “The whole story is disconnected, more or less, but loses none of its charm on that account.” My recent reading, 92 years later, confirms both sentiments. A coming-of-age story of Princeton University student Amory Blaine, Paradise
is hardly flawless, especially compared to Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby
(1925). But Fitzgerald’s first novel—published at the tender age of 23 and largely autobiographical—is a gem in its own right. Heartily recommended.