piketty on piketty: it’s not just r > g

Thomas Piketty has just published an interesting follow-up to his epic Capital in the 21st Century (a book important enough to already have its own wikipedia page). Perhaps the most surprising claim he makes is that commentators have put too much emphasis on the role of “r > g” in his analysis of the dynamics of inequality:

… the way in which I perceive the relationship between r > g and wealth inequality is often not well-captured in the discussion that has surrounded my book…

I do not view r > g as the only or even the primary tool for considering changes in income and wealth in the 20th century, or for forecasting the path of income and wealth inequality in the 21st century.

For an example of that overemphasis, see this delightful Colbert Report t-shirt:

r g t

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the normative aspects of positive thinking

I love economics papers with “optimal” in the title. When I was first starting out in sociology, I planned to study immigration, remittances, and development. For a literature review I was working on, I spent some time reading about the economics of migration. I came across a gem titled Optimal Migration: A World Perspective. The first line of the abstract struck me as a brilliant example of “the normative aspects of positive thinking” – the way that economics sometimes emphasizes the normative conclusions of seemingly positive models. Here it is:

We ask what level of migration would maximize world welfare.

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7th annual fiscal sociology grad student workshop

For the past six years, Isaac Martin, Monica Prasad, and Ajay Mehrotra have worked tirelessly to promote interest in “fiscal sociology” (the historical and sociological study of public finances, especially taxes). In addition to producing a great reader and publishing fantastic books on various aspects of the topic, they have also organized a one-day workshop each year for graduate students interested in fiscal sociology. As usual, the workshop will be held the day before SSHA (this year in Baltimore on November 11th), with a slightly different cast of instructors. Below is the full call for participants and details. Note that participation is (partially) funded, so it’s a great way for graduate students to get an introduction to SSHA.

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lizardo, “the end of theorists”

Omar Lizardo just posted his Lewis Coser award lecture “The End of Theorists: The Relevance, Opportunities, and Pitfalls of Theorizing in Sociology Today” as a delightful pdf pamphlet. Omar argues that theory today suffers from several structural problems, including the lack of a well-functioning hierarchy of modes of doing theory, the deinstitutionalization of “theorist” as a position in the field (as more and more programs now assign theory courses to specialists in other, empirical fields who only dabble in theory), and a lack of new, high quality theory to import from France and Germany. The solution for theory’s woes, Omar argues, has two parts:

The first is a move towards institutionalizing a new set of “positions” for the increasingly uprooted theory people floating around in the field. I will propose one model for such a position based on the role that philosophers play in the disciplinary collective known as cognitive science. Here the theorist is a generalist that is both familiar with the nitty-gritty empirical problems of the different fields and who uses a selective, generalist strategy to provide conceptual solutions to those problems.

The other productive pathway that I see opening up (and here I have been inspired by the recent work of Richard Swedberg) is a revival of interest in the notion of theorizing as a process and as an acquired skill. My recommendation will be that we should begin to move away from our obsession with theory as a finished product or as canon of works and towards a conception of theorizing as a creative activity.

The whole thing is short and witty, and highly recommended if you’re interested in the state of sociological theory today.

stiglitz on inequality: have economics, sociology, and political science converged?

The newest issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Politics and Social Science is out and the theme is inequality, especially intergenerational mobility. Several pieces caught my eye, including a short reflection on Ken Prewitt highlighting how little we know about the influence of social science on policymaking (including the institutionalized production of data, about which I have written a little). Prewitt is much more optimistic than many scholars about the potential for scientific research, and even social science, to influence policymaking in the present moment.

Also in the issue is a talk given by Joseph Stiglitz on inequality in the United States. Stiglitz has been writing about inequality on and off for his entire career. This talk struck me for two reasons: first, for how much it highlights the rise of top incomes as the hallmark of increased inequality and second, for how Stiglitz (and by moderate extension, some subset of mainstream economists) sounds a lot like mainstream sociology and political science in his diagnosis of inequality.

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best of 2014 sociology blogging

Each year, the political scientists at Duck of Minerva give out awards for the best international relations blogging of the year. Sociology at present has no such organized structure. I’m not sure we need more awards (though I suppose we could always ask the 52 ASA sections to create a “best blog post” award!), but the process does have a useful by-product: it creates a curated list of great posts and new blogs for each year. Below, I’ve compiled my own list of favorites. I wish I’d started keeping track earlier in the year, as I’m sure I’ve forgotten as many good posts as I remembered. But the real hope of this post is that you readers will leave comments with your favorite posts from 2014, and together we can build a comprehensive list! My list is shamelessly subjective, as any list of favorites must be, and focused on topics I’ve been following this year.

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