Friday, February 1, 2019

A Workers' History update: February 2019

Updated 7 Feb 2019. I'm now finished with the first draft — I was out with a cold all week and 2" of snow in Seattle brought the city to a halt (ha!) so I had tons of time. It has been an interesting journey of discovery — I've had to revise some of the models (like this improved explanation of the housing crisis where there's no housing bubble), and found a lot more connections between the various streams of data. That first one required me to re-make the cover ... what will probably be its final version:

I explained my thinking in response to a comment on my other blog that I should get someone else to design it:
The cover design I'm working on now is in reference to Piet Modrian's abstract Paris work from the inter-war period, using a font (Futura) from the same time period. But it's also of the economic seismogram from the Great Recession. This (roughly) bookends the same time period I am writing about in the book. Additionally, the blue color is borrowed from my previous cover (the red is its RGB transpose) which was based on the blueberry analogies in the book but also a reference to the Velvet Underground's first album (and Andy Warhol cover).
Updated 7 Feb 2019. Here are the table of contents and the opening paragraphs of the first draft (click to enlarge):

I'm also recommending two books that I'm using to help understand the the subject of the second chapter on the decline of manufacturing:


I've added them to my side bar.

Friday, November 23, 2018

A Workers' History update

I'm at about 11,000 words (about 1/3 of my goal — about the same length as A Random Physicist Takes on Economics). At this rate, I'll probably be done much sooner than the end of 2019. I've finally collected all of the data I think I need and analyzed it with the dynamic information equilibrium model. On my more technical blog, I wrote a bit about one of the newer analyses looking at unionization and inequality. In that blog post I tested my draft diagrams for the book (in black and white so they render on a Kindle). Click to enlarge:

I also updated the cover art. I changed the color to be more blue — the same blue as on the cover of A Random Physicist [1].


[1] You can see them side by side (plus an alternate less spaced-out title):

I think I might go for Century Gothic or Futura (on which it was originally based) for the cover font for that Keynesian-era feel ...

And here are the spaced-out title versions:

Ok, one last pair — this one includes two data series in the first version above, but were left out in all the single spaced versions. The data was left out because it's actually left out in the diagram inside the book, but also it increases the size of the spacing between lines by about 10% so the single-spaced version isn't cramped. At this point, I'm leaning Futura but then the kid loves Gorillaz and Studio Ghibli which use Century Gothic (the former on the Demon Days cover, the latter in their English titles).

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A workers' history of the United States 1948-2020

It's been awhile since I've posted at A random physicist. I figured since I am going to be self-publishing, I am going to have to give myself my own deadlines. I plan on my second book, A workers' history of the United States 1948-2020, coming out in December of 2019, which gives me a little over a year to write and edit. It should come out in time for people to read before the bulk of the 2020 primary season. I was partially inspired to start writing this book based on this article in the NYRB suggesting that nothing came of the 2008 recession — history failed to turn at a potential turning point. I say it's still too early to say that.

The main thesis of the book will be that changes in labor force participation due to social factors are the primary drivers of economic change in the United States in the post-war period. It will be broken into three broad chapters:

I. Women in the workforce
Women entering the workforce and the social changes that both inspired and followed it were the source of the post-war economic boom as well as inflation.
II. The decline of unions
The breakdown in the post-WWII national unity into racial and gender divides broke the social contract resulting in domestic manufacturing jobs (and their unions) predominantly held by men at the time being shifted overseas, only to be finished off by the shipping container.
III. The Great Recession
The collapse of immigration from Mexico not only popped the housing bubble causing the worst recession since the Great Depression, but brought on the subsequent stagnant growth.
The title (currently, just a play on Friedman and Schwartz's monetary history) and cover are of course subject to change, as well as this structure. Feel free to leave comments (or tweet/DM me @infotranecon). And if any publishers out there are interested in working with me, feel free to contact me via:

Monday, February 5, 2018

A short review from Diane Coyle

Diane Coyle, economist at the University of Manchester and recent winner of the inaugural Indigo Prize, wrote a bit about my book at her blog The Enlightened Economist:
[A Random Physicist Takes on Economics] also made me think about the role of context or environment, and why this might be more influential than individual choice processes in determining economic outcomes. Smith alludes to the literature on biological market theory, pointing out, though, that this does not rest at all on the utility of biological agents, be they pigeons or fungi.
The context it appears (touching on information with two other books from Daniel Dennett who I discussed on my blog) in is also interesting so read the whole thing.

Friday, January 5, 2018

How's this book thing going?

I haven't updated the book blog here in awhile because after the initial release, there hasn't been a lot of news. Diane Coyle mentioned on Twitter today that she'd read it and enjoyed it, and is going to write about it at some point in the future —which I'm looking forward to!

I'd like to thank everyone who has bought a copy! Overall, I've sold a few hundred copies (mostly the e-book version) most of which came in the first month with another burst around the holidays. As an aside, the e-book price is based on the Amazon "Kindle single" target pricing. The paperback pricing is based on several factors: a self-imposed "Carbon tax" as I wanted to encourage e-book purchases, the cost of on-demand printing, as well as interpolation between the list prices of two Dover paperbacks I own that my book fits between:


By the way, that is one of the best introductions to differential forms books for science applications around.

It has been a fun experience publishing through the Amazon Kindle bookstore and it's remarkably easy with a minimum of tedious formatting even for the paperback version. I'm in the process of collecting some notes and outlining a future book on dynamic equilibrium that I'm tentatively calling A Dynamic Information Equilibrium History of the United States: 1920-2020 as a pun on Milton Friedman's book with Anna Schwartz. In it, I plan to write a re-interpretation of the economic history of the US based on the dynamic equilibrium model (graphic below). I will make the case that the social change of women entering the workforce is one of the primary events of the post-war period.

Friday, October 6, 2017

My favorite metaphor in the book

One of the things you end up spending a lot of time on when trying to write a book aimed at a non-technical audience is coming up with good metaphors for highly technical concepts. This was one of my favorites: my attempt to explain the SMD theorem in terms of blueberries (individual economic agents) being aggregated into pies or smoothies (an economy). Because the agents interact with each other, aggregation has to yield something more complex than "it becomes a pile of blueberries". But we can only really say what some of the properties are (e.g. it'll taste a bit like blueberries) and not others (it'll be blueberry-shaped).

Friday, September 29, 2017

My information equilibrium paper

Almost two years ago, I submitted my draft pre-print Information equilibrium as an economic principle to the arXiv in the quantitative finance/economics section (q-fin.EC), pictured above. At the beginning of this year, I listed it on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) which makes it a bit more likely to be found by browsing economists. I briefly talked about it in my book, but if you're interested and down for a bit of math (specifically, differential equations) click on the previous link to download it.

I recently re-read it (as part of my response to a review critical of the idea), and found that it holds up remarkably well given how much more I've learned about information equilibrium. If I was writing it today, I would probably put more emphasis on dynamic equilibrium and ensembles of information equilibrium relationships. I'd also present the Solow model as a particular instantiation of the "Kaldor facts" and include both the "quantity theory of labor" and the "quantity theory of labor and capital".

The introduction really does lay out both the paper and the general concept well. The economy is a complex system and maximum entropy techniques frequently provide insight — but we're left without conservation laws, well-defined constraints, or even a well-defined equilibrium in economics. Information equilibrium is then offered as a solution to this problem. I focus on reproducing well-known results (the Solow model) or empirical regularities (Okun's law), only bringing in the more controversial claims toward the end in a way that does not seem antagonistic and may even be perceived as persuasive (at least I hope).

Unfortunately, I haven't gotten past the "desk rejection" stage in getting this paper published yet. It's understandable from a journal's viewpoint — an easy way to cull the submissions is to see if any of the authors are economists or economics graduate students from recognized institutions. As I describe in my book, I came into this work from a wildly different background in physics and signal processing. However, the reason I did was because economists were attempting to effectively enter my field with their wildly different backgrounds [pdf]! And of course even economists have difficulty getting papers published for things that are far less controversial.

I also knew this would probably be the case, which is why I started my blog:
Instead of trying (and probably failing) to publish it as a paper, I was inspired by Igor Carron to just think out loud with a blog. This blog will be focused on determining if the framework established here is good for anything or just an interesting toy model. Or if it is completely wrong!
My book is part of an attempt to both offer something interesting to economists (which seems to be working), as well as bypass journal editors and go directly to the public. My paper would be the next logical step if you're intrigued by the book!