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An economist looks in the mirror

| Saturday, July 4, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

Many who write about public policy publish collections of their work. When they do, far fewer rate how well they think their past work holds up. But Charles Wolf Jr. does just that in his new book, “Puzzles, Paradoxes, Controversies, and the Global Economy” (Hoover Institution Press).

Wolf is a senior research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He also holds the international economics chair at RAND Corp. Wolf offers a compilation of essays he wrote or co-wrote from 2007 through mid-2014. They concern economic matters but vary in both subject and length, ranging from several hundred to several thousand words. That mix reflects both Wolf's interests when the essays were written and the outlets where they initially appeared, which include The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Weekly Standard, the South China Morning Post and Hoover Institution journals.

Many of the essays deal with China, the United States and their interactions. Others concern Japan, Korea and India, and still others cover other regions of the world. Two essays, from October 2007 and March 2011, are published for the first time in this collection.

Numerous issues dealt with in Wolf's essays continue to be debated. Among those are economic inequality and its causes, China's maneuvers with its currency and the prospects that it will replace the U.S. dollar as the international reserve currency and the pros and cons of Keynesianism and austerity in responding to the 2008 recession.

But it's what Wolf calls a “postaudit” that sets his collection apart from most. After each essay, he looks back to offer his own assessment, rating it as “good,” “medium” or “not good” in terms of predictive accuracy (for essays that gave forecasts) or continuing relevancy.

Wolf writes that his “postaudit” assessments of these essays add up to 76 percent “good” and 19 percent “medium.” But he's more interested in fostering a conversation than in touting his self-ratings, as he invites readers to share their own assessments of how his work holds up.

HOW TO VIEW RUSSIA

“Putinism: Russia and Its Future with the West” by Walter Laqueur (Thomas Dunne Books) — The publisher says this historian author has “been ahead of the curve, predicting events in post-Soviet Russia with uncanny accuracy” for 20 years. He cautions against the notion that U.S.-Russia tensions, heightened by Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea and Western economic sanctions among other factors, are harbingers of a Russian return to a Cold War mentality. What the author sees instead is a Russian return to attitudes and governance reminiscent of the pre-Russian Revolution era more than a century ago, citing the Putin-era roles played by traditional hallmarks of Russian ideology — the Russian Orthodox Church, a Russian sense of “manifest destiny” in Eurasia and fear of foreign adversaries — and Putin's popularity at home. The author urges America to approach Russia on that basis, warning of danger in thinking today's Russia is a relic of the Cold War.

THE MAN BEHIND ‘THE RISE AND FALL'

“A Complex Fate: William L. Shirer and the American Century” by Ken Cuthbertson, foreword by Morley Safer (McGill-Queen's University Press) — Best known for his 1960 best-seller, “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” this biography's subject cut his journalistic teeth in the 1920s and '30s in Europe as a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. He helped shape modern electronic journalism as the first of the “Murrow boys” hired by Edward R. Murrow to inform Americans via CBS Radio of the growing Nazi threat in the late 1930s, reporting from Berlin, Vienna and occupied France and getting to know top aides to Hitler. Parting ways with Murrow and CBS after World War II, he found himself blacklisted as a suspected communist in 1950 and turned to working on “The Rise and Fall.” The Canadian author of this biography, which covers all of Shirer's life, had full cooperation from Shirer's family.

IN THE PIPELINE

Forthcoming titles from both ends of the political spectrum:

Conservative

• “The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America (And How Republicans Can Keep Up)” by Kristen Soltis Anderson (Broadside Books, available Tuesday)

• “The General and the Genius: Groves and Oppenheimer — The Unlikely Partnership that Built the Atom Bomb” by James Kunetka (Regnery History, July 13)

• “The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America” by Arthur C. Brooks (Broadside Books, July 14)

• “The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War” by Mark Tooley (Thomas Nelson, July 14)

• “Reagan Remembered” edited by Gilbert Robinson (Beaufort Books, July 20)

Liberal

• “Civil Resistance Today” by Kurt Schock (Polity, available Tuesday)

• “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety” by Jimmy Carter (Simon & Schuster, Tuesday)

• “Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle” by Brad Evans and Henry A. Giroux (City Lights Publishers, July 14)

• “On Community Civil Disobedience in the Name of Sustainability: The Community Rights Movement in the United States” by Thomas Linzey and Anneke Campbell (PM Press, July 16)

• “Year One of the Russian Revolution” by Victor Serge, translated by Peter Sedgwick (Haymarket Books, July 21)

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or awallace@tribweb.com).

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