Book Bits | 14 March 2020

● Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America
By Gerald Posner
Review via The Intercept
As the new coronavirus spreads illness, death, and catastrophe around the world, virtually no economic sector has been spared from harm. Yet amid the mayhem from the global pandemic, one industry is not only surviving, it is profiting handsomely.
“Pharmaceutical companies view Covid-19 as a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity,” said Gerald Posner, author of “Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America.” The world needs pharmaceutical products, of course. For the new coronavirus outbreak, in particular, we need treatments and vaccines and, in the U.S., tests. Dozens of companies are now vying to make them.

Stewards of the Market:
How the Federal Reserve Made Sense of the Financial Crisis

By Mitchel Y. Abolafia
Summary via publisher (Harvard U. Press)
The financial crisis of 2008 led to the collapse of several major banks and thrust the U.S. economy into the deepest recession since the Great Depression. The Federal Reserve was the agency most responsible for maintaining the nation’s economic stability. And the Fed’s Open Market Committee was a twelve-member body at the epicenter, making sense of the unfolding crisis and fashioning a response. This is the story of how they failed, learned, and staved off catastrophe. Drawing on verbatim transcripts of the committee’s closed-door meetings, Mitchel Abolafia puts readers in the room with the Federal Reserve’s senior policymaking group. Abolafia uncovers what the Fed’s policymakers knew before, during, and after the collapse. He explores how their biases and intellectual commitments both helped and hindered as they made sense of the emergency.

Capital and Ideology
By Thomas Piketty
Review via The New York Times
Seven years ago the French economist Thomas Piketty released “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” a magnum opus on income inequality. Economists already knew and admired Piketty’s scholarly work, and many — myself included — offered the book high praise. Remarkably, the book also became a huge international best seller.
In retrospect, however, what professionals saw in “Capital” wasn’t the same thing the broader audience saw. Economists already knew about rising income inequality. What excited them was Piketty’s novel hypothesis about the growing importance of disparities in wealth, especially inherited wealth, as opposed to earnings. We are, Piketty suggested, returning to the kind of dynastic, “patrimonial” capitalism that prevailed in the late 19th century.

The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks
By Ben Cohen
Review via Publishers Weekly
In this meandering debut, Cohen, a Wall Street Journal sports reporter, asks what makes for winning streaks. The “hot hand” of the title is the state of being in the zone, of making one win after another, seemingly effortlessly. Cohen’s lifelong love for basketball is an excellent excuse for exploring why this happens, which he does through stories of a high school basketball team that used data to improve its game, as well as through a video game developer, a viola player, a sculptor, and many others. Is the hot hand real—can a person or team identify what led to a winning streak and thus replicate those factors?

A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations
By Robert Bryce
Review via Foreign Affairs
This informative and highly readable book explains the basic physics of electricity, the modern history of electric power since the 1880s, the role that electricity plays today in both production and consumption, and the costs inflicted on a society when its electrical grid is badly damaged, as Iraq’s was by U.S. bombing in 2003 and as Lebanon’s was by Israeli bombing in 2006. Bryce persuasively claims that world electricity demand will double between 2015 and 2040, despite big improvements in the efficiency of generating and distributing electric power. In his view, there is no way that climate change can be arrested by the use of renewable fuels alone. Nuclear power (along with natural gas) will be required if the world is serious about greatly slashing coal consumption.

Statistical Analysis of Financial Data: With Examples In R
By James Gentle
Summary via publisher (CRC Press)
Statistical Analysis of Financial Data covers the use of statistical analysis and the methods of data science to model and analyze financial data. The first chapter is an overview of financial markets, describing the market operations and using exploratory data analysis to illustrate the nature of financial data. The software used to obtain the data for the examples in the first chapter and for all computations and to produce the graphs is R. However discussion of R is deferred to an appendix to the first chapter, where the basics of R, especially those most relevant in financial applications, are presented and illustrated. The appendix also describes how to use R to obtain current financial data from the internet.

The Myth of Chinese Capitalism: The Worker, the Factory, and the Future of the World
By Dexter Roberts
Summary via publisher (St. Martin’s Press/Macmillan)
The untold story of how restrictive policies are preventing China from becoming the world’s largest economy. Dexter Roberts lived in Beijing for two decades working as a reporter on economics, business and politics for Bloomberg Businessweek. In The Myth of Chinese Capitalism, Roberts explores the reality behind today’s financially-ascendant China and pulls the curtain back on how the Chinese manufacturing machine is actually powered.

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