Book Bits | 13 June 2020

The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy
Stephanie Kelton
Review via San Antonio Express-News
We live in extraordinary times. Revolutionary times. The upstarts, originally marginalized and dismissed as irresponsible, suddenly see their radical ideas embraced. The holders of power shift, first imperceptibly and then all at once, to the side of the revolutionaries in the streets.
I refer, of course, to the takeover of the Washington establishment and consensus by adherents of the Modern Monetary Theory, aka MMT, of economics.
A quick refresher: MMT begins with the principle that governments that control and create their own currency, like the United States, never have to worry about defaulting on excessive government debt. Taxes do not have to match spending now. Or ever. Borrowing and money creation can always fill the gap between spending and taxation.

The Economics of Belonging: A Radical Plan to Win Back the Left Behind and Achieve Prosperity for All
Martin Sandbu
Review via The Economist
How, exactly, should populists be disarmed—and which of their complaints had merit? The results are now being rebranded as ways to rebuild economies after the pandemic. Two new books fall into this category. In “The Economics of Belonging” Martin Sandbu, a columnist at the Financial Times, excoriates policymakers for unforced errors over recent decades and sets out an agenda for correcting course.

American Unemployment: Past, Present, and Future
Frank Stricker
Summary via publisher (U. of Illinois Press)
The history of unemployment and concepts surrounding it remain a mystery to many Americans. Frank Stricker believes we need to understand this essential thread in our shared past. American Unemployment is an introduction for everyone that takes aim at misinformation, willful deceptions, and popular myths to set the record straight

The Great American Housing Bubble: What Went Wrong and How We Can Protect Ourselves in the Future
Adam J. Levitin and Susan M. Wachter
Summary via publisher (Harvard U. Press)
The American housing bubble of the 2000s caused the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression. In this definitive account, Adam Levitin and Susan Wachter pinpoint its source: the shift in mortgage financing from securitization by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to “private-label securitization” by Wall Street banks. This change set off a race to the bottom in mortgage underwriting standards, as banks competed in laxity to gain market share. The Great American Housing Bubble tells the story of the transformation of mortgage lending from a dysfunctional, local affair, featuring short-term, interest-only “bullet” loans, to a robust, national market based around the thirty-year fixed-rate mortgage, a uniquely American innovation that served as the foundation for the middle class.

Superpower Showdown: How the Battle Between Trump and Xi Threatens a New Cold War
Bob Davis and Lingling Wei
Summary via publisher (Harper Collins)
This is the inside story of the US–China trade war, how relations between these superpowers unraveled, darkening prospects for global peace and prosperity, as told by two Wall Street Journal reporters, one based in Washington, D.C., the other in Beijing, who have had more access to the decision makers in the White House and in China’s Zhongnanhai leadership compound than anyone else.

Crunch Time: How Married Couples Confront Unemployment
Aliya Hamid Rao
Summary via publisher (U. of California Press)
In Crunch Time, Aliya Hamid Rao gets up close and personal with college-educated, unemployed men, women, and spouses to explain how comparable men and women have starkly different experiences of unemployment. Traditionally gendered understandings of work—that it’s a requirement for men and optional for women—loom large in this process, even for marriages that had been not organized in gender-traditional ways. These beliefs serve to make men’s unemployment an urgent problem, while women’s unemployment—cocooned within a narrative of staying at home—is almost a non-issue. Crunch Time reveals the minutiae of how gendered norms and behaviors are actively maintained by spouses at a time when they could be dismantled, and how gender is central to the ways couples react to and make sense of unemployment.

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