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Jonathan Andrew Wolter

Obsess About Your Time – 3 Economics Books

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Reading time: 3 – 4 minutes

Podcasts are to real-unabridged-books as a raindrop is to a punch in the face. It takes a team of dozens of people to write a really awesome book. And I find them more satisfying and thought provoking than several short podcasts.

There is nothing so precious as your time. I am only more convinced of this every day.

In the last 3 weeks, I listened to:

  • Confessions of an Economic Hitman – even though I don’t agree with his conclusions, it is an excellent memoir. It was personally thought provoking to listen to a man’s entire career life unfold in 5 days on my work commute. Takeaway: life can be very exciting, and some people are very powerful. Move faster, driving for results.
  • Banker to the Poor – fantastic book. If you don’t know about microfinance, this is your introductory course. Imagine in your mind what the marriage of finance and social justice would look like. I read it with friends–which led to great conversation–and scheduled a tentative meeting with the great folks at Kiva.org for my friend with an NGO in India.
  • Travels of a T-Shirt in a Global Economy – So far it’s entertaining. It is a story telling format asking “where did your T-Shirt come from?” And the government-subsidy-enabled-irony of the cotton planted in Texas, woven and sewn in China, and imported back to Florida.

To effective time.

UPDATE (10/26): Listening to more of the last book tonight. Around the 3h 30min mark, I learn the key driver our present industrial economy: the Spinning Jenny. This was a big deal. One person used to have one spinner to make the yarn. In 1764 they suddenly had eight spinners: a tremendous productivity boost in an under supplied marketplace. By 1800, spinning jenny’s had 80 spinners. And by the 1830’s the price was 1/20th of the 1700’s price.

This breakthrough –mechanized yarn production– propelled the world into the industrial age, and brought consumers into expecting constantly improving technology and quality of life. To me the parallels of present day high tech are remarkable, and the “so what” factor noteworthy.

Two “so what” takeaways:

  1. The invention of the spinning jenny came because of great bottlenecks in yarn production. In the 1760’s mostly farmers produced cotton yarn, and this was a cottage industry. When harvest time came the families were far too busy harvesting, and weavers had a great difficulties buying yarn. Often they had to walk six miles each day to gather up enough material for that same day’s weaving. This bottleneck –as all bottlenecks– created a great pressure. A pressure that burst forth in invention, and technological revolution.
  2. In the face of such bottlenecks, Britain sanctioned a contest of which the spinning jenny was an entrant. An example from the past of how using prizes compelled innovation. See the X Prize Foundation for present day contests in medicine, automotive, education, or (Google’s just announced) Lunar X Prize.
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Written by Jonathan

October 23rd, 2007 at 3:03 am

2 Responses to 'Obsess About Your Time – 3 Economics Books'

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  1. Great list, I will definitely have to check them out shortly!

    Jesse W.

    9 Nov 08 at 6:00 pm

  2. Jesse,

    Do please write a post and ping me back if you thought these were interesting. When I read books, I find that I get more and more out of them if I talk to people about what I learned. It helps me synthesize what I read, plus, I totally dig this stuff so I’m an eager listener!


    10 Nov 08 at 1:27 am

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