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.

-Chris

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

Announcing the Re-launch of WPC Book 1: What do we do about inequality?

Earlier this year I attempted to launch the first book by the Wicked Problems Collaborative, and I admittedly did a poor job on multiple fronts. First, I set a release date that I thought I would reasonably give me enough time to complete the manuscript and “whatever else” needed to be done, without giving too much consideration to what “whatever else” was. (When you’re flying by the seat of your pants, it’s tough to look past the end of your nose.) So as the time drew close for the launch, the book came into shape nicely, but I had little time left for the other stuff, which ended up being some important stuff. That came down to things like having the time needed for formatting other versions (You can have our book in any format you like, as long as it’s Kindle…), and the sort of marketing build up that’s necessary to get the word out. And as a new, independent publishing house (with a severely strained marketing budget) getting the word out is hard. It’s really, really, ridiculously hard. So to make a long story short, we basically fell a great tree in a forest with few around to take notice.

Mea culpa.

I obviously made a huge mistake with this, and it’s been a hard-learned lesson. I had been fortunate enough to assemble an incredible group for the effort, who have all been extremely patiently with me as I figured this all out. And I think we offer the reader a load of interesting, thoughtful material to chew on. But that doesn’t matter all that much if the books sit on shelves (servers?) for want of eyes. To add to this, while I was in the midst of this do-over, I had to hold off on starting Book 2 for an extra six months. (Imagine reaching the finish line of a marathon {a personal best!} and happily starting to look forward to the next…before being told you needed to go back and make up the five miles you had missed if you ever wanted to race again. — Oh crap.)

wicked problems collaborativeWhen it took me a couple of months to get the book converted* from e-book to physical format (It’s complicated. The story, behind this, not the process.), I decided to pull the existing version and do a bit of retooling before relaunching it in the fall. Labor Day seemed a fitting target given the topic.

(* Here’s my “not yet a pro” tip: Having tried this both ways, it seems it’s a lot easier to start with the physical format and then convert to e-book formats from there. This may seem obvious to others, but some of us have to learn things the hard way.)

I spent the summer doing that work, getting out advance review copies, updating the artwork, and whatnot. The time has passed quickly and now we’re ready to give it another whirl. I hope you’ll give it a serious look, and if you do decide to read it, we’d love to hear your thoughts. A handful of honest reviews on Amazon or Goodreads might go a long way for folks that are on the fence. If you have any thoughts you’d like to share directly, I’d be happy to hear from you. Please do drop me a line at chris (at) wickedproblemscollaborative (dot) com. And if you could share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or any other online haunts, I’d greatly appreciate it!

Thanks for reading.

-Chris

Email image

 

 


“What do we do about inequality?” is now available in paperback and Kindle formats. Please have a look. People may not be talking about the topic as much as they were last year, but the problems sure haven’t gone away. If anything, I’d say we’re a little further out on the same plank.

WPC Book 1’s chapter list, with contributor names, is available at the bottom of this page.

Side note: The book was written to be accessible for a general readership, but it is intended to be used as a reader for the social sciences. College-level educators who would like to check it out can request a review copy here.


Up Next

Now that Book 1 is finally out the door, I get to start shifting my focus to the fun part, making the next one. WPC Book 2: What do we do with technology?, will look at the promise and peril afforded by tech’s accelerating encroachment into our lives from largely ethical/moral perspectives. The goal of that effort will be to help the reader consider circumstances and trends in looking for opportunities for a brighter future, as well as potential pitfalls we might look to avoid.


WPC Book 1: What do we do about inequality?

Now available in paperback and Kindle formats.

  1. TO ADDRESS INEQUALITY, THINK GLOBAL | Dylan Matthews – Vox
  2. THE IDEOLOGICAL STRAITJACKET | Sean McElwee – Demos
  3. WHAT DOES EQUIPOTENTIALITY BRING TO THE TABLE IN TERMS OF EQUALITY? | Michel Bauwens – p2p Foundation
  4. INEQUALITY, UNCOUNTED | Alex Cobham – Tax Justice Network
  5. THE INEFFICIENCY OF INEQUALITY | Daniel Altman – NYU Stern
  6. IS CAPITALISM UNFAIR? | Chris MacDonald – Ryerson University
  7. THE PROBLEM OF INEQUALITY | Kevin Carson – Center for a Stateless Society
  8. TOWARDS RENOUNCING PERSONAL PRIVATIZATION | Nicholas ArcherMiddlesex County College
  9. THE INEQUALITY OF WILDNESS AND THE NECESSITY OF WILDNESS FOR EQUALITY | Megan Hollingsworth – Extinction Witness
  10. THE STICKINESS OF INJUSTICE | Jennifer Reftreftpt
  11. NOBLE FICTIONS AND SACRED TEXTS | Paul FidalgoCenter for Inquiry
  12. THE VOICES THAT ARE NOT YOUR OWN: MAINTAINING CHOICE IN THE AGE OF THE ALGORITHM | John C. Havensjohnchavens.com
  13. THE EMPATHY DEFICIT: WHY THE INEQUALITY CRISIS IS ALSO A CRISIS OF EMPATHY | Robin Cangierobinoula
  14. BILLIONAIRES WITH DRONES: FROM OLIGARCHY TO NEOMEDIEVALISM | Frank A. Pasquale University of Maryland
  15. WHAT SHOULD THE WORLD LEARN FROM THE EXPERIENCE OF INEQUALITY IN LATIN AMERICA? | Patrick IberUniversity of Texas at El Paso
  16. OCCUPY SANDY AND THE FUTURE OF SOCIALISM | Sam KnightThe District Sentinel
  17. THE “PLACE OF BIRTH” LOTTERY | David Kaib – American UniversityChris OestereichWPC
  18. INEQUALITY AND THE BASIC INCOME GUARANTEE | Scott Santensscottsantens.com
  19. THE AGE OF INEQUALITY: CAUSES, DISCONTENTS, AND A RADICAL WAY FORWARD | Jason Hickel –LSEAlnoor Ladha – The Rules
  20. TWENTIETH CENTURY SOLUTIONS WON’T WORK FOR TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY INEQUALITY | David O. Atkins – Washington Monthly
  21. THE STATE OF AFFAIRS: HEADING FROM BAD TO WORSE | Adnan Al-Daini – Foreign Policy Journal
  22. THE TRAGEDY OF OUR MIDDLE CLASS | Peter Barnespeter-barnes.org
  23. POST-SCARCITY ECONOMICS: WHY ARE SOME PUNDITS AND ECONOMISTS STILL ENAMORED OF AUSTERITY? | Tom StreithorstLARB
  24. INCOME INEQUALITY: WHAT’S WRONG WITH IT, AND WHAT’S NOT | F. SpagnoliCosmologically Insignificant
  25. TURMOIL & TRANSITION | Harold Jarche– jarche.com
  26. KNOWLEDGE, POWER, AND A POTENTIAL SHIFT IN SYSTEMIC INEQUALITY | Jon Husband– Wirearchy
  27. THE QUESTION OF INEQUALITY: A VIEW FROM INDIA | Akhila Vijayaraghavan – The Green Den
  28. WHAT YOU KNOW IS BASED ON WHO YOU KNOW | Deborah Mills-Scofieldmills-scofield.com
  29. INEQUALITY IS ABOUT THE POOR, NOT ABOUT THE RICH | Miles KimballUniversity of Michigan
  30. TO TACKLE EXTREME POVERTY, WE MUST TAKE ON EXTREME INEQUALITY | Nick Galasso – Oxfam & Gawain Kripke – Oxfam
  31. ADDRESSING WEALTH EQUALITY WITH INVESTING SOLUTIONS FROM NATURE, NURTURE, AND SCIENCE | Rosalinda Sanquiche –Ethical Markets
  32. THE LOGIC OF STUPID POOR PEOPLE: STATUS, POVERTY AND GATEKEEPING | Tressie McMillan CottomVirginia Commonwealth University
  33. POOR CHOICES | Melonie Fullick – York University
  34. THE PARTICIPATION GAP | Devin Stewart – Carnegie Council
  35. GETTING THE FRAME RIGHT | KoAnn Skrzyniarz – Sustainable Brands
  36. THE FIRST JOB CREATOR | Adam Kotsko – Shimer College
  37. LIFE IN THE TREETOPS: A CHOICE OF CHASTENING PRIVATION OR DEBASING PROSPERITY | Chris Oestereich – WPC
Paperback Cover

Click on the cover to check it out on Amazon.

Getting to Here — My Path to the Wicked Problems Collaborative

I started a crazy project two years ago. I was afraid it had little chance of succeeding. But a lot of thoughtful folks chose to take a chance (and they were exceedingly patient with me as I fumbled through the process), so I’ll start here by thanking them.

Before I get to the story of our book, I need to take a step back to the events which nudged me toward this project to provide a bit of context.

I spent my twenties doing work that largely made me miserable. I was backed in to ill-fitting roles, doing uninteresting work, that lacked purpose, and afforded little room for creativity. I realize I wasn’t working on a chain gang, but from a thinking standpoint, it was awful.

Keep your head down. Follow the rules. Punch the clock. Don’t think, just do. Enjoy life at the margins (if at all).

By my early 30s, I was already trying to hang on by my fingernails long enough to make it to retirement (which I knew was never going to happen). The stress of having to live within unnecessarily confining rules and policies, and inhuman hierarchies, took a toll that slowly built up.

I was getting ready for work one day when I passed out in the shower.

Thud.

My wife took me to the emergency room where I was hooked up to every monitoring system known to man. The doctors gave me a clean bill of health and sent me home explaining that it was probably a weird confluence of factors, but that it was nothing to be concerned about unless it happened again.

The next morning it happened again.

Clunk..

I then spent a couple of days in the hospital where the doctors took the poking and prodding to a new level. By the third day, I was exhausted and scared. I was told that a doctor was coming to do a final eval and that I’d probably be going home soon. I paced the room nervously as I waited for the doctor to come in.

By the time he arrived, my legs were starting to feel weak. I should have sat down, but I wanted to get home, and I thought I should show what “good shape” I was in. The doctor said my case was puzzling. (I had apparently become the hot topic of discussion throughout the hospital.) He had gone over everything with his colleagues, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with me. I passed out in front of him as he was telling me that a nurse would be in shortly to have me fill out my release papers.

Thwack…

When I came to, the scene was chaotic. Suddenly there were more people buzzing around the room than it could comfortably hold. A nurse arrived with a crash cart and started firing up the defibrillator. I signaled that I was conscious, and the frantic moment quickly subsided, but the look of panic on the faces of doctors stuck with me. So when a nice man in a white lab coat later showed me an EKG strip with a long pause in it, and suggested that I might want to put my affairs in order, the alarm bells that were already ringing in my head became deafening.

Hit the <pause> button. “wtf?!”

Image source: Flickr/Mo Riza

I had about three weeks to recuperate after receiving that news, a break from the treadmill that afforded me a chance to think things through. The big question that kept rolling around my mind was, had that been it, would I have felt good about what I had done with my time here? The answer was a resounding, “No.” So while the doctors sent me home with the advice that I might want to start taking it easy, I knew I had to take my chances swimming upstream.

It’s better to burn out…

Prior to that, I had long been looking for a way to make a positive difference in the world, and that search had been maddeningly fruitless. As I worked through my interests and desires, I eventually figured out that I wanted to work on wicked problems, the messy, interrelated problems faced by humanity–the gnawing ones which seem to defy resolution (Social and environmental issues like climate change, war, disease…), and  that I wanted to do something that brought diverse thinkers together to work on these problems, but even knowing that it still took a long time to fit the pieces of the puzzle together.

I don’t remember when the “spark” occurred, but I vividly remember discussing the idea with the editor I was working with at the time. When I finished describing it, she excitedly yelled out, “That’s ‘The Blind Men and the Elephant’!” She was referring to an old poem which describes six blind men who approach an elephant from different angles and declare it to be what their senses tell them the individual parts are: “a spear! (tusk),” “a wall! (body),” “a tree! (leg),” “a hose!” (trunk), and so on. Each of them understood an aspect of the animal, but none of them would discover its true nature on their own. This idea became the organizing principle from which the project flowed.

Wikipedia/racconish

My editor’s excitement helped get me moving forward. I started reaching out to people who shared unique perspectives to see if they might be interested in taking part, and I was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response I received. In the end, we were able to list academics, activists, artists, business leaders, economists, and journalists among our number. (There’s a full list of of contributors, with their chapters, at the end of this post, and their bios are available here.)

That starting point was just over two years ago. From there it was quite the roller coaster ride, with wonderful highs reading and editing submissions as they arrived, and miserable lows as publishing houses declined to sign the book, (or never, ever, ever responded). Fortunately, we’re living in an era in which you can go off into the publishing wild on your own, so I decided to head down that path. Several months of writing and editing ensued, with the specter of failure ever-present, but we were able to emerge with a book that I’m really proud of. Now that we’re here, it’s hard to believe the creation phase is over. It was an awful lot of work, but it was work that I enjoyed because it aligned with my interests and passions. (As such, I’m looking forward to working on the next one, “What do we do with technology?, which is tentatively scheduled for Spring of 2017.)

The Wicked Problems Collaborative is excited to offer “What do we do about inequality?” piping hot, and fresh out of the oven. Our book brings new perspectives to an array of issues which endure persistent inequality (wealth, race, income, access, etc.) and offers ideas towards achieving better outcomes than those we currently see. Please check the list of chapters/authors below, and do let me know if you have any questions. If you’re interested in picking up a copy, you can find it here. And if you’d like to keep up with our adventures going forward, here are a few links that’ll help:

Thanks for reading.

-Chris


What do we do about inequality?
Wicked Problems Collaborative – Book 1

OPENING VOLLEYS
EDITOR’S NOTE
THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT
PREFACE
INTRODUCTION
1. TO ADDRESS INEQUALITY, THINK GLOBAL | Dylan Matthews
2. THE IDEOLOGICAL STRAITJACKET | Sean McElwee
3. WHAT DOES EQUIPOTENTIALITY BRING TO THE TABLE IN TERMS OF EQUALITY? | Michel Bauwens
4. INEQUALITY, UNCOUNTED | Alex Cobham
5. THE INEFFICIENCY OF INEQUALITY | Daniel Altman
6. IS CAPITALISM UNFAIR? | Chris MacDonald
7. THE PROBLEM OF INEQUALITY | Kevin Carson
8. TOWARDS RENOUNCING PERSONAL PRIVATIZATION | Nicholas Archer
9. THE INEQUALITY OF WILDNESS AND THE NECESSITY OF WILDNESS FOR EQUALITY | Megan Hollingsworth
10. THE STICKINESS OF INJUSTICE | Jennifer Reft
11. NOBLE FICTIONS AND SACRED TEXTS | Paul Fidalgo
12. THE VOICES THAT ARE NOT YOUR OWN: MAINTAINING CHOICE IN THE AGE OF THE ALGORITHM | John C. Havens
13. THE EMPATHY DEFICIT: WHY THE INEQUALITY CRISIS IS ALSO A CRISIS OF EMPATHY | Robin Cangie
14. BILLIONAIRES WITH DRONES: FROM OLIGARCHY TO NEOMEDIEVALISM | Frank A. Pasquale
15. WHAT SHOULD THE WORLD LEARN FROM THE EXPERIENCE OF INEQUALITY IN LATIN AMERICA? | Patrick Iber
16. OCCUPY SANDY AND THE FUTURE OF SOCIALISM | Sam Knight
17. THE “PLACE OF BIRTH” LOTTERY | David Kaib & Chris Oestereich
18. INEQUALITY AND THE BASIC INCOME GUARANTEE | Scott Santens
19. THE AGE OF INEQUALITY: CAUSES, DISCONTENTS, AND A RADICAL WAY FORWARD | Jason Hickel & Alnoor Ladha
20. TWENTIETH CENTURY SOLUTIONS WON’T WORK FOR TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY INEQUALITY | David O. Atkins
21. THE STATE OF AFFAIRS: HEADING FROM BAD TO WORSE | Adnan Al-Daini
22. THE TRAGEDY OF OUR MIDDLE CLASS | Peter Barnes
23. POST-SCARCITY ECONOMICS: WHY ARE SOME PUNDITS AND ECONOMISTS STILL ENAMORED OF AUSTERITY? | Tom Streithorst
24. INCOME INEQUALITY: WHAT’S WRONG WITH IT, AND WHAT’S NOT | F. Spagnoli
25. TURMOIL & TRANSITION | Harold Jarche
26. KNOWLEDGE, POWER, AND A POTENTIAL SHIFT IN SYSTEMIC INEQUALITY | Jon Husband
27. THE QUESTION OF INEQUALITY: A VIEW FROM INDIA | Akhila Vijayaraghavan
28. WHAT YOU KNOW IS BASED ON WHO YOU KNOW | Deborah Mills-Scofield
29. INEQUALITY IS ABOUT THE POOR, NOT ABOUT THE RICH | Miles Kimball
30. TO TACKLE EXTREME POVERTY, WE MUST TAKE ON EXTREME INEQUALITY | Nick Galasso & Gawain Kripke
31. ADDRESSING WEALTH EQUALITY WITH INVESTING SOLUTIONS FROM NATURE, NURTURE, AND SCIENCE | Rosalinda Sanquiche
32. THE LOGIC OF STUPID POOR PEOPLE: STATUS, POVERTY AND GATEKEEPING | Tressie McMillan Cottom
33. POOR CHOICES | Melonie Fullick
34. THE PARTICIPATION GAP | Devin Stewart
35. GETTING THE FRAME RIGHT | KoAnn Skrzyniarz
36. THE FIRST JOB CREATOR | Adam Kotsko
37. LIFE IN THE TREETOPS: A CHOICE OF CHASTENING PRIVATION OR DEBASING PROSPERITY | Chris Oestereich
NOW WHAT?
IT’S LONELY OUT IN SPACE
PARTING SHOTS
NEXT

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