Book Bits | 19 January 2019

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power
By Shoshana Zuboff
Review via Los Angeles Review of Books
Silicon Valley’s Phoenix-like resurrection is a story of ingenuity and initiative. It is also a story of callousness, predation, and deceit. Harvard Business School professor emerita Shoshana Zuboff argues in her new book that the Valley’s wealth and power are predicated on an insidious, essentially pathological form of private enterprise — what she calls “surveillance capitalism.” Pioneered by Google, perfected by Facebook, and now spreading throughout the economy, surveillance capitalism uses human life as its raw material. Our everyday experiences, distilled into data, have become a privately owned business asset used to predict and mold our behavior, whether we’re shopping or socializing, working or voting.
Zuboff’s fierce indictment of the big internet firms goes beyond the usual condemnations of privacy violations and monopolistic practices. To her, such criticisms are sideshows, distractions that blind us to a graver danger: By reengineering the economy and society to their own benefit, Google and Facebook are perverting capitalism in a way that undermines personal freedom and corrodes democracy.

The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty
By Clayton M. Christensen, et al.
Summary via publisher (HarperCollins)
Global poverty is one of the world’s most vexing problems. For decades, we’ve assumed smart, well-intentioned people will eventually be able to change the economic trajectory of poor countries. From education to healthcare, infrastructure to eradicating corruption, too many solutions rely on trial and error. Essentially, the plan is often to identify areas that need help, flood them with resources, and hope to see change over time. But hope is not an effective strategy. Clayton M. Christensen and his co-authors reveal a paradox at the heart of our approach to solving poverty. While noble, our current solutions are not producing consistent results, and in some cases, have exacerbated the problem. At least twenty countries that have received billions of dollars’ worth of aid are poorer now.

Great Economic Thinkers: An Introduction-from Adam Smith to Amartya Sen
By Jonathan Conlin
Summary via publisher (Reaktion Books)
Great Economic Thinkers presents an accessible introduction to the lives and works of the most influential economists of modern times. Free from confusing jargon and equations, the book describes and discusses key economic concepts – from the role played by the division of labour to wages and rents, cognitive biases, saving, entrepreneurship, game theory, liberalism, laissez-faire and welfare economics – showing how they have come to shape how we see ourselves and our society today.

Reproducible Finance with R: Code Flows and Shiny Apps for Portfolio Analysis
By Jonathan K. Regenstein, Jr.
Summary via publisher (CRC Press)
Reproducible Finance with R: Code Flows and Shiny Apps for Portfolio Analysis is a unique introduction to data science for investment management that explores the three major R/finance coding paradigms, emphasizes data visualization, and explains how to build a cohesive suite of functioning Shiny applications. The full source code, asset price data and live Shiny applications are available at The ideal reader works in finance or wants to work in finance and has a desire to learn R code and Shiny through simple, yet practical real-world examples.

The Bank War and the Partisan Press: Newspapers, Financial Institutions, and the Post Office in Jacksonian America
By Stephen Campbell
Summary via publisher (University Press of Kansas)
President Andrew Jackson’s conflict with the Second Bank of the United States was one of the most consequential political struggles in the early nineteenth century. A fight over the bank’s reauthorization, the Bank War, provoked fundamental disagreements over the role of money in politics, competing constitutional interpretations, equal opportunity in the face of a state-sanctioned monopoly, and the importance of financial regulation—all of which cemented emerging differences between Jacksonian Democrats and Whigs. As Stephen W. Campbell argues here, both sides in the Bank War engaged interregional communications networks funded by public and private money. The first reappraisal of this political turning point in US history in almost fifty years, The Bank War and the Partisan Press advances a new interpretation by focusing on the funding and dissemination of the party press.

In God We Trust: Morally Responsible Investing
By George P. Schwartz and Michael O. Kenney
Summary via publisher (Tan Books)
In God We Trust delves deeply into current economic and market developments and reflects on how U.S. prosperity has returned in 2018, as capitalism has again been unleashed. The author says, “What a relief after eight years of economic stagna­tion and government over-regulation.” Oddly, as the U.S. economy has benefited from pro-growth policies, like tax rate cuts and deregulation, there exists a rising tide of sympathy for socialism among leftist politicians and young people. This timeless divide between capitalism and socialism is explored within the context of the economic and moral ramifications for society in general and long-term investors, specifically.