I recently finished a really good book by a guy named Joseph
Heath. The book is called The Efficient Society, with a
subtitle of Why Canada is as close to utopia as it gets. This
is a really good book, which I have already stated, but it deserves
repeating. Heath discusses efficiency and a lot of other ideas such as
capitalism, socialism, markets, and moral economies, as they apply to
things we do in everyday life, such as walking the dog. He expands the
discussion from everyday life to larger social issues and examines a
number of interesting case studies.
This is a very readable book. It is not a dry philosophy text by some
old professor sitting in the ivory tower. Heath draws from everyday
life for many examples. He asks himself why he feels obligated to
clean up after his dog when he's quite certain he can get away with
leaving the shit where it is. He draws on TV by discussing Survivor,
on computer games with a hilarious narrative about a The Sims, from
literature by talking about how science fiction is used as social
commentary; he takes a specific example from Neal Stephenson's Snow
Crash, which I was tempted to buy today when I was in Chapters.
As I was reading this book, I was tempted to send copies, or at least
emails telling people to buy copies, to politicians at both the
federal and provincial levels. Sometimes I think those people could do
to get a clue.
The main point of this book is that Canadian society has the right
balance between a number of priorities and ideologies. Canadians don't
care as much about liberty as Americans do, and so we are able to let
the state control things like health care. This book points out that
the state is simply better at delivering some services than the
private market is. Often, state control of a particular market is
necessary because market failure would occur if it were left in the
hands of the private sector.
The last part of the book has a section on the problems associated
with knowledge based economies, which is one of my favorite things to
think about in a philosophical sense these days. Of course the central
idea here is that digital information can be copied infinitely,
perfectly, and almost without effort.
In short this is an excellent book for the casual reader who is
interested in philosophy, social science, and the economy.