Thursday, April 17, 2014

Learning from History

Seems like just about every wit to ever put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, has said something pithy about learning from history yet we, meaning human beings, continue to suck at it. Recently a new scholarly neo-abolitionist journal listed just about every discipline in academe, except history, as under its purview. Not only can history help to reduce the number of people forced to labor on behalf of others, it can help to prevent shipwrecks, like that heart wrenching tragedy in South Korea. How? In Institutional Revolution (2011), economic historian Douglas Allen explains why captains are supposed to go down with their ships -- it incentivizes them to be the best captain they can be, the type of captain who stays sober, pays attention to weather conditions and nautical charts, makes sure that life boats work, people know how to evacuate the ship, etc. Why do you think that commercial airplanes crash so much less frequently than ships sink these days? Airliner pilots are highly unlikely to be able to escape but ship captains, no longer bound by the old rule of being the last on board, escape with regularity.*

Similarly, my Corporation Nation (UPenn 2014) explains why the Left was right to squelch Social Security privatization during the Bush administration. Yep, corporations these days are governed almost as poorly as governments are! The book explains why, while showing how the U.S. came to have so many corporations. It also offers some suggestions on how corporations could clean up their acts. Alas, perhaps due to the high price (which signals scholarly tome in flashing lights), neither the right nor the left has picked up on the book's core message yet, making it almost as disappointing as Fubarnomics, which offered a completely balanced ("hybrid") view of major policy failures such as Social Security, healthcare, higher education, slavery, and the financial crisis. This tells me that most folks are more interested in scoring (largely worthless) ideological "points" than actually fixing these uber-costly messes.

*The latest news reports say that the captain will be arrested. That is a good start but he should not have been rescued until all the passengers were evacuated in the first place.