Book Bits | 3.22.14

Against Austerity: How We Can Fix the Crisis They Made
By Richard Seymour
Summary by publisher, Pluto Press
Five years into capitalism’s deepest crisis, which has led to cuts and economic pain across the world, Against Austerity addresses a puzzling aspect of the current conjuncture: why are the rich still getting away with it? Why is protest so ephemeral? Why does the left appear to be marginal to political life? In an analysis which challenges our understanding of capitalism, class and ideology, Richard Seymour shows how ‘austerity’ is just one part of a wider elite plan to radically re-engineer society and everyday life in the interests of profit, consumerism and speculative finance.

Behavioral Portfolio Management
By Thomas Howard
Summary via publisher, Harriman House
The investment industry is on the cusp of a major shift, from Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) to Behavioral Finance, with Behavioral Portfolio Management (BPM) the next step in this transition. BPM focuses on how to harness the price distortions that are driven by emotional crowds and use this to create superior portfolios. Once markets and investing are viewed through the lens of behavior, and portfolios are constructed on this basis, investable opportunities become readily apparent. Mastering your emotions is critical to the process and the insights provided by Tom Howard put investors on the path to achieving this. Forty years of Behavioral Science research presents a clear picture of how individuals make decisions; there are few signs of rationality.

Money, Blood and Revolution: How Darwin and the doctor of King Charles I could turn economics into a science
By George Cooper
Review via The Economist
As the old joke goes, the questions in economics exams are the same every year; only the answers change. Just 40 years ago, the emergence of stagflation was prompting the monetarists to challenge the disciples of John Maynard Keynes, but after the crisis of 2008 the enthusiasm for Keynesian stimulus was discovered all over again.
In a new book George Cooper, a fund manager, suggests that the economics profession is itself in a state of crisis. It needs the kind of shift in thinking that Copernicus brought to astronomy, or Charles Darwin to biology, Mr Cooper argues. He cites Thomas Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions. First, the existing models are proved wrong by the facts. Second, the experts try to adjust the theory to account for the anomalies, leading to ever-greater complexity. Third, a new theory is put forward that throws away the existing framework. Fourth, the theory is attacked by the experts as being incompatible with the existing model. Finally, younger, more open-minded scientists accept the new theory and it becomes the consensus.

Biggs on Finance, Economics, and the Stock Market: Barton’s Market Chronicles from the Morgan Stanley Years
By Barton Biggs
Summary via publisher, Wiley
Long considered one of the best brains on Wall Street, Barton Biggs acquired the stature of a legend within his lifetime. Among his many coups, he accurately called the rise and fall of the dot-com market, and was an energetic promoter of emerging markets, including China, well before American businesses began flocking there—and he made vast fortunes for his clients, in the process. But, as this fascinating book confirms, it wasn’t Biggs’s genius as a market analyst and hedge fund manager alone that made him special. The product of a keen and broad-ranging intellect in full command of his subjects—and the English language—the letters compiled in this volume leave no doubt that Barton Biggs was one of the most interesting observers of Wall Street, the financial world, and the human comedy, ever to set pen to paper.

A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism
By Patrick Allitt
Review via The Associated Press
According to “A Climate of Crisis,” climate change and other pressing environmental concerns will be, instead of disasters, problems handily managed by America’s capitalism and technological know-how. That’s bound to be a hard sell on any of the shorelines that regularly disappear under projections of rising sea levels.
The thing to keep in mind when reading “A Climate of Crisis” is that the author, Patrick Allitt, is not a climatologist or any kind of scientist. Allitt is a historian — one who puts his skeptical bias right in the book’s introduction, noting that he’s receptive to ideas from “counter-environmentalists.”

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