Book Bits | 6.21.14

The Consolations of Economics: How We Will All Benefit from the New World Order
By Gerard Lyons
Review via The Telegraph
The Consolations of Economics provides the reasons that the world has become so much smaller over the past 40 years, ranging from President Nixon’s decision to end the last remnants of the gold standard in 1971, by ceasing the convertibility between the dollar and gold, to the Big Bang of the London markets in 1986, and the rise of China as an economic superpower. Lyons also addresses the many crises that the new economy might face in the future, from market instability to growing inequality, to the end of Western economic dominance. However, none of these problems will prove terminal, he tells us, just so long as we follow the golden rule: “In economics, allowing the market mechanism to work is the right way to proceed, as it allows the price to clear, sends the right signals and allows outcomes freed of prejudice.” But how exactly do we ensure a world free of cloudy prejudice?

Mixed Fortunes: An Economic History of China, Russia, and the West
By Vladimir Popov
Summary via publisher, Oxford University Press
The rise of the West is often attributed the presence of certain features in Western countries from the 16th century that were absent in more traditional societies: the abolition of serfdom and Protestant ethics, the protection of property rights, and free universities. The problem with this reasoning is that, before the 16th century, there were many countries with social structures that possessed these same features that didn’t experience rapid productivity growth.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
By Greg McKeown
Essay by author via Harvard Business Review blog
Why don’t successful people and organizations automatically become very successful? One important explanation is due to what I call “the clarity paradox,” which can be summed up in four predictable phases:
Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.
Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.
Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.
Curiously, and overstating the point in order to make it, success is a catalyst for failure.
We can see this in companies that were once darlings of Wall Street, but later collapsed. In his book How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins explored this phenomenon and found that one of the key reasons for these failures was that companies fell into “the undisciplined pursuit of more.” It is true for companies and it is true for careers.

The Economics of Creativity: Art and Achievement under Uncertainty
By Pierre-Michel Menger
Review via BooksandIdeas.net
How can art, creativity and genius be subject to sociological and economic analysis? According to Pierre-Michel Menger, their rational status can be based on the idea of uncertainty.

Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion
By David Zweig
Summary via publisher, Penguin
In a culture where so many strive for praise and glory, what kind of person finds the greatest reward in anonymous work? Expanding from his acclaimed Atlantic article, ‘What Do Fact-Checkers and Anesthesiologists Have in Common?’ David Zweig explores what we can all learn from a modest group he calls ‘Invisibles.’ Their careers require expertise, skill, and dedication, yet they receive little or no public credit. And that’s just fine with them. Zweig met with a wide range of Invisibles to discover first hand what motivates them and how they define success and satisfaction.

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