What is Capital?

I like Hernando de Soto’s answer from his book, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else (p. 41):

To unravel the mystery of capital, we have to go back to the seminal meaning of the word. In medieval Latin, “capital” appears to have denoted head of cattle or livestock, which have always been important sources of wealth beyond the basic meat they provide. Livestock are low-maintenance possessions; they are mobile and can be moved away from danger; they are also easy to count and measure. But most important, from livestock you can obtain additional wealth, or surplus value, by setting in motion other industries, including milk, hides, wool, meat, and fuel. Livestock also have the useful attribute to reproduce themselves. Thus the term “capital” begins to do two jobs simultaneously, capturing the physical dimension of assets (livestock) as well as their potential to generate surplus value. From the barnyard it, it was only a short step to the desks of the inventors of economics, who generally defined “capital” as that part of a country’s assets that initiates surplus production and increases productivity.

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Kindle Everywhere

There was a homeless dude that camped near my home as a child.  We always saw him walking along the business strip and he often came into the shops and diners while we were there.  He’d chat with the business owners, something would change hands and he’d walkout.

Everybody liked him.  He was always nice and polite and even as a kid I recognized that he would do odd jobs for the business owners in exchange for a few bucks, a cup of coffee or bite to eat. That’s just the way things were.  They were that way for a long time before I was born.

His name was Kendall.  My brother and I would see him and say, “Man, that Kendall is everywhere.”

Back then, I never would have guessed our childhood observation would inspire the title of a blog post.  Nor could I imagine what blogs or computers were.

Back in this post, I wrote that one of the things keeping me from buying a Kindle was that I couldn’t check out library books on it or it didn’t have a Netflix-like subscription plan for checking out books.

I only buy a few of the books that I read.  I didn’t want to have to start buying more just to have something to read on a Kindle.

Not long ago, Amazon.com started offering Kindle library checkouts through a service called Overdrive.  My library hooked up with Overdrive.  I have a Kindle app for my iPhone.  I’ve read portions of a few free Kindle books on my iPod and iPhone, but nothing that has had held my interest of yet.

Until now.

I borrowed (or downloaded) Daniel Hannan‘s The New Road to Serfdom.  It’s holding my interest.  And, since the phone goes just about everywhere I go, so does the Kindle App that is loaded on it and my library checkouts.

Now, I’m finding new snippets of time to read my library books that I could not use to read before because it was too difficult to carry library books everywhere.

For example, this evening while I waited in line at a retailer, I pulled out my iPhone, tapped the Kindle app and read a few screens of my borrowed library book.

And for good measure, here’s a great quote from Hannan’s book that I read while standing in line.  Here, he’s contrasting the Constitutions of the United States and the European Union (p. 44):

Where the one was based on empowering the people and controlling the state, the other was based on empowering the state and controlling the people.

I’m sure you can guess which was which.  Or maybe not.  Who knows?

Anyway, thanks to the folks at Amazon, Apple, Overdrive and my local library and the ever present communications networks (that allowed me to check out a library book and receive it instantaneously and not have to worry about getting it back on time) for helping me improve my life a little bit and read books in places I would not before.

Follow-up questions for “The Price of Everything”

I recommended reading Russ Roberts’ book The Price of Everything here.  Today, Russ Roberts posted a set of study questions used by Steven Horwitz in his class.

I’m keeping a set handy to spur a discussion for those who I get to read the book.  The questions are below the fold. Continue reading

Netflix for Kindle?

Is there a Netflix-type service for the Kindle, Nook or other ebook devices, where for a monthly fee the subscriber can have any book or two checked out on the device?  It would essentially be a fee-based ebook library.

If not, I can provide a sample size of one (me) that there may be a market for that.

One thing keeping me from buying a Kindle, or similar device, is that I don’t really want to buy all the books I read (thank you local library) and keep them.  But, I can see myself paying a monthly fee to have an ebook or two checked out at a time.

Maybe this service already exists and I don’t know about it.  Perhaps my local library will start the service soon.  They do have a similar service for audiobooks that you can download onto your iPod devices, but the title selection is limited.

Below are a couple other reasons keeping me from buying an ebook device.  Again, maybe there are existing solutions to these and I don’t know about it.

One concern is  with book file formats.  Will today’s ebook files work on tomorrow’s ebook devices?  I’d hate to keep having to buy or convert my ebook library files every time a better ebook device came along.

I do buy books that I like and want to keep in my personal library.  The reasons I buy books for my personal library are to have easy access to those books that I’d like to reference in the future and to be able to lend to others who are interested in reading my recommendations.

As far as I can tell, the ebook device would be great for reference.   But, I’m not sure whether I would be able to lend my ebook files to friends.  Is that possible?

Perhaps, the more limited versatility of ebooks, along with a cheaper distribution (printing, shipping, etc.)  is reflected in the lower price of ebooks, and these are things I will have to give up to move into the ebook world.   But, I’m sure there are creative people out there who can figure out how to retain more of the benefits of hard copy books, while still capturing a lower cost for a cheaper distribution method.