50 Books to Read

Here are the books I want to read. Not sure when I’ll finish.

  1. Beyond Freedom and Dignity (BF Skinner)
  2. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Thomas Kuhn)
  3. Philosophical Investigations (Ludwig Wittgenstein)
  4. 1984 (George Orwell)
  5. General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (J.M. Keynes)
  6. The Trial (Franz Kafka)
  7. I and Thou (Martin Buber)
  8. Psychological Types (Carl Jung)
  9. The Mind and Society (Martin Buber)
  10. Pragmatism (William James)
  11. The Interpretation of Dreams (Sigmund Freud)
  12. Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Friedrich Nietzsche)
  13. On the Geneology of Morals (Friedrich Nietzsche)
  14. On Liberty (J.S. Mill) – reread
  15. The Origin of Species (Charles Darwin) – reread
  16. Civil Disobedience (Henry David Thoreau)
  17. Either/Or (Søren Kierkegaard)
  18. The Wealth of Nations (Adam Smith)
  19. Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes)
  20. Economics: an introductory analysis (Paul Samuelson)
  21. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (Joseph Schumpeter)
  22. Social Choice and Individual Values (Kenneth Arrow)
  23. The Affluent Society (J.K. Galbraith)
  24. Four Essays on Liberty (Isaiah Berlin)
  25. The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Jane Jacobs)
  26. Taking Rights Seriously (Ronald Dworkin)
  27. Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Robert Nozick)
  28. A Brief History of Time (Stephen Hawking)
  29. Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)
  30. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (James Joyce) – reread
  31. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
  32. Dune (Frank Herbert)
  33. Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)
  34. Word and Object (W.V. Quine)
  35. Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (John Rawls)
  36. Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (P.F. Strawson)
  37. Consciousness Explained (Daniel Dennett)
  38. Beyond Good and Evil (Friedrich Nietzsche)
  39. On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation  (David Ricardo)
  40. Value and Capital (John Hicks)
  41. A Monetary History of the United States (Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz)
  42. Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern)
  43. The Economics of Welfare (Arthur Cecil Pigou)
  44. Collective Choice and Social Welfare (Amartya Sen)
  45. The Bell Curve (Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray)
  46. Visualizing Data (William S. Cleveland)
  47. Reasons and Persons (Derek Parfit)
  48. Guns, Germs & Steel (Jared Diamond)
  49. Tripmaster Monkey (Maxine Hong Kingston)
  50. The Blank Slate – Steven Pinker

My 10 Favorite Albums of 2013

  1. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City
  2. Kanye West: Yeezus
  3. The National: Trouble Will Find Me
  4. Arcade Fire: Reflektor
  5. Janelle Monae: The Electric Lady
  6. Daft Punk: Random Access Memories
  7. Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience 
  8. The Civil Wars (self-titled)
  9. Atoms for Peace: Amok
  10. Drake: Nothing Was the Same

What’d I miss?

RIP, George (Eulogy)

I’m reflecting on 2013, an incredible year overall. One of the most difficult parts of the year was saying goodbye to my stepfather, George. I had the opportunity to eulogize George at his funeral. My eulogy is below, along with the song I played in his dedication. 


For my eulogy, I’m going to share of my favorite memories and thoughts about George.

Though we won’t see George or interact with him anymore, he’ll remain part of our family through how he changed us and the special role he played in each of our lives. Though I’m sure George affected almost everyone in this room in some small way, I’m going to talk about how he changed my mother, my two brothers, and me, from my perspective as his stepson. Then, I’m going to talk about the way I think we changed him.

Before my mom met George, I believe she was looking for him. Prior to meeting him, she experienced a great deal of stress and anxiety that came with working full-time and two jobs more than 60 hours a week for many years, being a loving mother at home and dealing with the issues that raising three boys present, particularly in their teenage years, and, in the meantime, trying to find a partner in life who provides her with the love, respect, and support she deserves. It took her a while, but my mother found all those things in George Shepherd. George was a kind, caring, compassionate, joyful, self-reliant, understanding, responsible, trustworthy, and hilarious man. He loved and was so devoted to my mother that he spent months in a two-bedroom apartment and many nights sleeping on air mattresses — too many to count — when he had a lovely home in the countryside. It wasn’t long, perhaps 6 months, before George began, about every time I saw him, declaring his intention to marry my mother, not just to her, but my brothers and myself. Though he didn’t necessarily express it this way, I viewed this as George wanting to ask permission: saying to us, I love your mother; I want her to be my wife; to spend the rest of my life with her; and I want you all to be my family. That act meant so much to me, as I’m sure it did with my brothers. And George got his wish.

George and my mom were the funniest, cutest couple and so clearly loved each other with all their hearts. Their favorite thing to do was sit across from each other at George’s bar, listen to music; drink Tequila, and just talk. They’d talk for hours on end, just the two of them. In eight years, they probably had as many conversations as most married couples do in 30 years. Sometimes, they’d play Yahtzee, Kizmit, or other games and they loved having friends over to George’s bar. They were so welcoming to anyone who wanted to join them — they built a small community in their home.

As a child, the farthest from home I’d gone with my mother was the UP. But within two years, George had her on a flight to Jamaica. George was so happy to share his paradise with my mom. On your next trip to Jamaica, be on the lookout for George — he’ll either be there in spirit or they’ll have a statue erected in his honor. I know that my mother will never be the same thanks to you George.

But my mother came with some baggage — the three of us — that would deter a lot of men. But not George. George took the three of us under his wing. George never treated any of us any differently than he would his own sons, and in many ways, he treated us better!  George welcomed Joe into his home and supported him financially. He taught him lessons about what it means to be a man and support your family. He led by example. He never looked down on Joe for whatever troubles came his way. Today, Joe is a loving father and devoted husband thanks, in my view, in no small part to his relationship with George. 

Dennis has already had a chance to tell you what George meant to him, but I knew Dennis before he met George. Words can’t describe how much George helped Dennis by giving him an opportunity to work alongside him, earn money, and learn a skilled trade, which allowed Dennis to be able to afford to move to Australia and marry his wife of six years where he has a lovely life with an amazing family.

What I remember about George is how, shortly after I met him, before he even married my mother, he told me how proud he was of me and the corporations and organizations were looking for people exactly like me who worked their way through college and came from disadvantaged circumstances. His constant encouragement meant so much to my brothers and me, who had less growing up than we needed. On the day George married my mother, I told him “I’m glad it was you” and shook his hand. George wasn’t a crier, but I swear I saw a twinkle in his eye right then. I’m so grateful to have had the experience of being his son, even though it was for so short a time.

Last, I’m going to share how I think we changed George. I met George in the twilight of his life — he was 61 years old when he walked into Speedway and shook my hand; I was 19, and hadn’t experienced much of life at all. Although George only knew us for one-seventh of his life, I’ve known him for one-third of mine. Most of what I know about George’s earlier life were from stories he told. I know his childhood was filled with traumatic experiences: poverty, neglect, abandonment, alcoholism, violence, and crime. Yet through everything he experienced, he was able to take control of his life and become an entrepreneurial, productive member of society, as well as a loving husband, father, and grandfather. How George overcame his experiences in his youth, I’ll never know for sure. But I know one thing that was a crucial element of his character was forgiveness. Without forgiving his family, society, and all those who hurt him over the years, he never would have become the man whistling the Flintstones in the morning while washing the dishes and saying “Yabba dabba doo”; the stepfather who took a loan out against his home to help me pay tuition; or the grandfather running up and down his driveway, or watching Bubble Guppies, yes, cartoons, just to bring a smile to his grandson’s face.

I’m now going play a song, Someone You’d Admire, which always reminds me of George. George, I admired you and I’m so grateful to have know you and to have you as a member of my family. I love you; I respect you; rest in peace. We have been remembering with love and gratitude a life that has ended. Let us return to our own homes and to our work, enriched and inspired by these memories.


After all is said and done I feel the same
All that I hoped would change within me stayed
Like a huddled moon-lit exile on the shore
Warming his hands, a thousand years ago

I walk with others in the yearning to get out
Claw at my skin and gnash their teeth and shout
One of them wants only to be someone you’d admire
One would as soon just throw you on the fire

After all is said and after all is done
God only knows which of them I’ll become

Why I’m Skeptical About Online Education

David Brooks has sort of jumped on the online education bandwagon.

This week, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology committed $60 million to offer free online courses from both universities. Two Stanford professors, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, have formed a company,Coursera, which offers interactive courses in the humanities, social sciences, mathematics and engineering. Their partners include Stanford, Michigan, Penn and Princeton. Many other elite universities, including Yale and Carnegie Mellon, are moving aggressively online. President John Hennessy of Stanford summed up the emerging view in an article by Ken Auletta in The New Yorker, “There’s a tsunami coming.”

He details some exciting things happening with the MITx project. I am also excited at these prospects, but think there’s a lot of exaggerating going on about their benefits. The main problem with higher education right now is not access; it’s productivity and low graduation rates. It’s unclear how these online projects would address either of these problems. Certainly, it’s going to be nice for institutions to have these resources available, and there are going to be a particular group of students that are going to be able to use things like MITx, the Khan Academy, etc. for their benefit. But, in my view, these resources will be more like public libraries than higher education institutions.


As Will Hunting said, “You dropped a 150 grand on an education that you could have gotten with a$1.50 worth of late charges at the public library.” That’s true, but only if you’re fucking Will Hunting. Today’s marginal student needs somebody holding their hand, giving them advice, helping them navigate higher ed institutions and make good decisions. They need paternalism, and I don’t at this point see how online education is going to help them with that. I could be wrong, but I’m skeptical.


That said, just as I think public libraries have been a great resource through the 20th century, I am sure the resources being developed will contribute to the public good as well. And it’s great that they are, for the most part, being privately financed. Yay rich people!

In the Long Run, We Are All Glowworms.

I’m reading Krugman’s new book, End This Depression Now. So far, there aren’t really any new ideas, but the book provides a good summary of lots of ideas and provides a framework for how they all fit together. One of these is the rejection of the view that we should only care about the long run — so it’s fruitless to enact any measures that would curb short-run suffering. Yglesias has some good sentences on this today: 

“I think that what draws people into Rajan’s trap is an excessive tendency to associate “focus on long-term sustainable growth” with the ideas that they happen to favor. This models political disagreement as one in which there’s an unquivocal “long-term sustainable growth” agenda that some politicians are failing to implement out of either cowardice or else a belief that some priority other than “long-term sustainable growth” is more important at the moment. Under the circumstances, raising the status of “long-term sustainable growth” as a priority relative to fixing mass unemployment starts to look like a clever rhetorical strategy. The cure is to remind yourself that there’s profound and perfectly sincere disagreement about what a long-term sustainable growth agenda looks like. In particular, if you’re a University of Chicago economist you should remind yourself that a great many intelligent people believe a long-term sustainable growth agenda consist of large-scale public expenditures on clean electricity generation, high-speed rail, and universial preschool, a much greater government role in the health care sector, and increased subsidization of public colleges, all financed in large part by sharply higher marginal tax rates on high-income individuals.”

That gets the sociology basically right. But the bigger point is that, to some extent, long-run growth depends of the sort of things we’re doing right now. Krugman makes this point in several ways. First, when you’ve got potentially productive workers that long-term unemployed, they lose skills or drop out of the workforce altogether, so the economy’s productive capacity drops. The same sort of thing happens to college grads who are underemployed: their productive potential goes from high skill to low skill. Second, business investment drops when demand is low, so businesses aren’t increasing their productive capacity. Third, cutting public services, like education and infrastructure spending negatively affects long-run growth. 

Simplicity = Happiness

I’m a big fan of this website in terms of increasing my life satisfaction or self improvement. Chrissy and I are moving soon, so I recently started to get rid of a lot of our belongings that we don’t need or use. Basically, the strategy is to divide things into metaphorical buckets: Keep, Sell, Donate, Throw out, Unsure. I’ve moved about 25 times in my life (too many to be sure that’s the right number) and I hate it every time. But the worst part about moving is spending time transferring things you don’t use that you’ve kept in storage all year to a new place to store them. Having only the essential things that you really take advantage of and make your life better really takes a lot of weight off your shoulders.

One example is books. We’re selling basically all of our books. Chrissy has an iPad and I have a Kindle, so we really don’t need to store hundreds of pounds of books in our apartment, and move them once every year or two. One of the best uses of space is emptiness.

Among other things, we’ve sold our desktop computer, printer, surround sound system, iPod docks, bike pump (of which we had two, and my car, which I replaced with a Capital Bikeshare and Zipcar memberships. What a relief! There’s something about the freedom of not having a car in an urban area. It forces you to walk, bike, or take public transportation. You spend less time sitting and more time reading. You spend less time each day stressed out from being in traffic. I liked driving in the midwest to some extent; there is plenty of joy in riding around, looking at scenery, listening to your favorite songs play loudly through the stereo system. But the costs involved in driving are enormous, for me anyway.

Tim Lee on Zombie Ideas About Inflation

Is there some major advantage to having an inflation rate of 0% as opposed to 2% or 4%? Tim Lee says no:

Economists like to say that money serves two primary purposes: it serves as a medium of exchange and a store of value (many also describe it as a unit of account, but this is largely a consequence of the other two functions). Inflation—even in the single digits—prevents money from working effectively as a long-term store of value. If you were born in 1920 and your retirement plan was to put $100 bills under your mattress, the inflation of the 1970s would have destroyed the majority of the value of your savings.

The problem with this line of argument is that even stable money is a bad long-term store of value. That’s because modern capital markets offer you the opportunity to not just preserve the value of your money but dramatically increase it by investing in productive assets. You can buy stocks, bonds, or real estate, all of which generate a stream of income that increases the value of your investment.

Basically, a low amount of inflation encourages you to invest your money in the real economy instead of hoarding dollars, a significant positive effect with really no significant negative effect. If people are really concerned about inflation, they can purchase real assets or trade dollars for other currencies if they like. 


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