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  • 2017 Reading, continued

    Posted by David Foster on December 30th, 2017 (All posts by )

    Fed Up, by Danielle DiMartino Booth. Following a successful career on Wall Street, the author in 2008 took a job as an analyst with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.  In this primarily-male organization, she did not experience discrimination on account of her sex…but she did face serious prejudice against her on account of not having a PhD.  Her take on the Fed is that is is far too theoretical in its approach and too limited in the backgrounds of its staff:

    Grasping the modus operandi of the Federal Reserve requires first anchoring in your mind two words: hubris and myopia.  We know better than you.  Only our models can decipher and predict the economy.

    The Fed’s battalion of economists–from the top down–believe that their training in the world’s top universities and their unique schooling in analysis gives them wisdom and insight, when in fact their training often blinds them to reality…Virtually no one I met at the bank had ever worked on Wall Street, managed a business, or handled their own investments.

    Indeed, her negative view of the Fed pretty much extends to the economics profession as a whole   Referring to a letter signed by 364 prominent economists in March 1981, which predicted disaster as a result of Margaret Thatcher’s fiscal policies, she approvingly quotes Geoffrey Howe, chancellor of the exchequer, to the effect that an economist was like “a man who knows 364 ways of making love, but doesn’t know any women.” She also cites a 1991 report by the American Economics Association which concluded that university economics programs “may be turning out a generation with two many idiot savants, skilled in technique but innocent of real economic issues.”

    One Fed official that she does speak of very highly is Richard Fisher, who was president of the Dallas Fed when she was there and was a noted critic of the way the quantitative easing program was carried out.  (He is now an advisor to Barclays and a member of the PepsiCo board.)

    Forgotten Victory, by Gary Sheffield.  This is basically a revisionist history of the First World War.  The author argues that–contrary to common opinions–the war, although tragic, was not futile, and that the British Army was not the incompetent organization as which it has often been portrayed, but rather was an institution which developed the ability to learn and to adapt:

    The (British Expeditionary Force) did not simply gape at the trenches with incomprehension in the winter of 1914-15.  Instead, British soldiers at all levels began a process of innovation and experimentation as the BEF rapidly began to adjust to the new conditions of warfare.

    If a unit bethought itself of some useful improvisation, such as a new method of firing rifle grenades, carrying rations or making ingenious loopholes combining a better field of fire with greater safety, details were collected and circulated by Army Headquarters. 

    One area of technical innovation cited by the author was in the artillery.  ‘Predicted’ bombardments, using improved calculation methods which accounted for variation in individual guns as well as such factors as wind speed, allow the preliminary ‘registration’ fires to be dispensed with or at least shortened, thereby increasing the element of surprise.  The instantaneous fuse, which triggered the burst before the shell buried itself in the ground, greatly improved the artillery’s effectiveness at cutting barbed-wire entanglements.  And sound ranging, which has been described as ‘the Manhattan Project of the Great War’, employed some first-class scientific minds and resulted in the ability to locate and destroy enemy artillery positions more effectively.

    More important than the technical and tactical points, of course, is the question of whether the war was really necessary at all.  The author argues that, at least from Britain’s standpoint, it was.

    This book probably deserves a stand-alone review and discussion thread.

    The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages.  I picked this up at a book sale…it is actually a children’s book, recommended for grades 5-8, but makes it good adult reading as well.  Dewey Kerrigan, a 10-year-old aspiring inventor, sets off on a cross-country train trip to be with her father, who is engaged in war work.  She is engaged in designing a radio when a fellow passenger, Dick Feynman, offers to help her.  They are both bound for the same destinations, Los Alamos.

    There is also a sequel, White Sands, Red Menace.

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