I often start, but don't finish good books. This probably happens for one out of every three books I start to read. For example, I started (but did not finish) The Life of Pi, Catch 22, The Hobbit, Homage to Catalonia, and Gang Leader for a Day. And even though I stopped reading those books, I really enjoyed reading the parts of those books that I actually read.
Why do I bring up this nasty habit? I am afraid that it is happening again.
I started, but probably won't finish, Create Your Own Economy by Tyler Cowen (of Marginal Revolution fame). I read the first three chapters, which puts me on page 65 of 228. I have really enjoyed the book so far, but other cultural bits are demanding the use of my time, and I found that the narrative in the book is being told in other places. I'll probably take up Cowen's narrative in those other places.
So, what's in the book that I am not going to finish?
The big idea behind Create Your Own Economy is that our chaotic world -- filled with Google, Blackberries, iPhones, netbooks, Twitter, Facebook, IM, and e-mail -- is a product of our own choices. We choose to be bombarded with a firehose-stream of information because we can take the little bits of our chaotic world and weave together beautiful narratives. In other words, we use the little cultural bits as inputs to "create our own economy."
It's a beautiful way to look at apparent chaos. It really resonates with the way I browse the Internet, use Facebook and Twitter, and check my e-mail.
For me, Cowen was re-telling a narrative I have seen developing in my own surfing of the web. But, it is also a re-telling of my favorite economic model, Becker's household production model (which I applied here). In Becker's model, households produce their own commodities, using both goods inputs and time inputs. Households do this with every commodity they consume.
Applying Becker to Cowen's setting, a "balanced musical experience" is a commodity that households produce using an iPod, some time to enjoy the music, some time to find the music and organize it, and perhaps some digital copies of the music. The fact that we see people "creating their own economy," is an artifact of the technological improvements that make mixing and remixing tiny cultural bits much easier.
That's precisely the point Cowen makes, but as nearly as I can tell in the first three chapters, he does so without reference to Becker's clear and simple way of thinking about the problem. So, I'll definitely continue my Create Your Own Economy narrative, and I may return to Chapter 4.
This morning, I will probably listen to Cowen's EconTalk podcast, then head over to the Becker-Posner blog, and maybe watch some Jon Stewart. And, if you don't like my information stream, don't judge me. I'm just creating my economy. Go create your own.