Writing a “best books of the year” post for 2014 means choosing among flawed books.
Six months after Piketty’s Capital made its splash with the “law of capitalism” that r>g, we have Pikettarians saying that, of course, Piketty never said that r>g explains the rise in inequality in recent years that concerns everyone, and in fact anyone who thinks he said that is a knave who has not read the book. I was among the many who never made it through Capital (it gave a new and different meaning to the expression “widely unread”), so I will take it on faith that the whole r>g thing was a head fake. Anyway, Capital does not make my list.
I think that number 1 is Complexity, by David Colander and Roland Kupers. On many pages, I highlighted insightful passages. On many other pages, I highlighted irksome passages. Look for a longer review from me next year.
Probably number 2 is Trillion Dollar Economists, by Robert Litan. It is a great achievement, but even so I wanted a different book.
Number 3 might be Isabel Sawhill’s Generation Unbound, about the pathology of unwed motherhood (it’s not just for teenagers any more) and what to do about it. However, I think that the question of whether “society” should be trying to prevent births of a certain type (namely, from unplanned pregnancies) is more difficult than she makes it out to be. Again, I have a review forthcoming.
Number 4 might be Charles Calomiris and Stephen Haber, Fragile By Design. The financial crisis continues to stimulate books on banking and related topics, and of the recent lot I thought this one had the strongest historical and international perspective. However, in the end, I found its main thesis, that U.S. banking policy is hindered by populism, unpersuasive.
Number 5 might be Mark Robert Rank, PhD, Thomas A. Hirschl, PhD, and Kirk A. Foster, PhD, Chasing the American Dream, which provides a good empirical study of income dynamics using longitudinal data.
Finally, there is a category of books written by friends of mine, in which I recommend Russ Roberts’ How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life, Megan McArdle’s The Upside of Down, and Elizabeth Green’s How to Build a Better Teacher.
UPDATE: Here is Tyler’s list.