Review of WPC Book 1 from Econ Autodidactic

j edgar mihelic, econ autodidact, review, book reviewWe received a nice review from J. Edgar Mihelic via his Econ Autodidactic blog that raises a couple of good questions about WPC Book 1. As this is my first effort as a publisher, getting good, honest feedback will be critical to learning along the way, so I owe a debt of gratitude to J. Edgar for providing me with a chance to learn from his perspective. I’ve taken a bit of time to consider his comments, and shared a few of them below with my thoughts.

One weakness is that some of the writing is already available in other places. Tressie Cottom’s essay about the lived experience of being poor and making the wrong choices as perceived by outsiders is the most powerful essay in the book, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read it twice before this book because of people posting it on Twitter.

This is a fair assertion. 10 of the book’s 37 essays were reprints or updates from previously published efforts. All of these were germane to the topic, so they helped present a more rounded picture for the reader. Going forward, the plan is to aim to hold the line at new works, or at least updated ones that offer something new to the conversation. Also, Tressie’s essay is worth reading at least three times, so I don’t think there’s a foul here. 🙂

Ultimately though, the book’s strength is also part of its weakness. Since there are a lot of voices, there is no one thing that we can take away as the answer to the titular question. Having this be an issue aired recently and on the tips of the tongues from economists like Deaton and Piketty and Milanovic is good, but it is at the grassroots that hopefully will move the needle. I just worry the robots will rise before we work out an equitable distribution to the gains of the productivity and that in ten years we will be asking the same questions from a scarier baseline.

The book is intended first as a reader for the social sciences. The idea was for it to be consumed by students and then reflected upon; so that each reader could then update their priors individually. So I wasn’t looking to get everyone on the same page, but rather to have them end up on better pages of their own.

And I tried to write a closing chapter that pulled together threads that ran throughout the book. I really tried, but I failed miserably. My first stab at it ran over twenty pages, and that wasn’t nearly fleshed out. Given the length of the book, I wanted to try to close things out in roughly a half dozen pages, but every time I went in to try to pare it back I ended up with more than I started with.

Eventually, I had to make a decision about whether to keep wrestling with that chapter, and possibly delay a book that was otherwise ready to go to print. I thought about everything I wanted to write on the topic and decided to pull the plug because I would have had to skim the surface of ideas in a way that didn’t seem productive. Instead, I decided to take the bit that I had and make it into a separate effort that I’m currently working on…

I’m on the same page as far as the need to move quickly to avoid potential tragedy in the not too distant future. I’ve recently written two essays on universal basic incomes that will be out soon, and at least part of the next Wicked Problems Collaborative book, “What do we do with technology?” will address this issue head on.

For one, there is no identification of the writers and their educational or professional background. This may have been a deliberate choice, but it diminished it a bit as a reader, since I wasn’t able to place the writer into my hermeneutic circle or whatever.

This was a pragmatic trade off that was a very difficult decision. In an attempt to keep the price of the book down, I had to minimize the page count as much as possible. (The printing cost of my first attempt was higher than our eventual sales price. Not good.) But our author bios are available online. Here’s the link.

I just noticed that  J. Edgar posted his review on our Amazon page. (Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!) I can’t overstate how helpful this is for independent publishing houses. If you read a book from a small press like ours, I beseech you to take the time to share a brief, honest review. This is the lifeblood of our work.

Without reviews, it’s incredibly hard to build credibility. The self-publishing era has made it possible for people like me to put forth offerings; offerings that we never would have been given a chance to publish in the past. But readers know that this opportunity does not come with a promise of quality. We worked hard to put our best foot forward. Now it’s up to the reading public to have their say on how we did. We’ll see.

As I mentioned at the top, this was my first foray into publishing, so feedback is invaluable. If you read our book and have any thoughts you’d like to share that you don’t feel inclined to post in a public forum, please drop me a line: chris (@) wickedproblemscollaborative (dot) com

I’d be truly grateful if you would.


review, wicked problems, inequality, wicked problems collaborative, what do we do about inequality