Book Bits: 7 August 2021

Workquake: Embracing the Aftershocks of COVID-19 to Create a Better Model of Working
Steve Cadigan
Review via BlueInk Review
Corporate America has found it difficult to get people back to work after the pandemic. But talent shortages, especially in fields like tech that drive the economy, were a problem even before the pandemic. Steve Cadigan’s compelling book Workquake explains why.
Cadigan posits that the pace of technological change makes employees’ skills obsolete in less than five years, particularly in fields that depend on knowledge-work. Future skill-sets are so uncertain that older employment models that emphasized regularity and employee retention are no longer relevant.

Samuelson Friedman: The Battle Over the Free Market
Nicholas Wapshott
Review via The New York Times
If you look at the Biden administration’s proposals — which are for the most part very popular, although their legislative fate is uncertain — they’re pro-market, but involve substantial government spending and regulation in an attempt to tilt the arc of markets toward social justice. In other words, they sound a lot like what Paul Samuelson was saying decades ago.
So by all means you should read Wapshott’s history of the disputes that roiled economics over much of the second half of the 20th century. But you should also ask a question I don’t think the book answers: Was all of this just a grand, ideologically driven detour away from sensible economic theory and policy? And why did that happen?

Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century
Tim Higgins
Review via BusinessInsider.com
“Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century,” by The Wall Street Journal’s Tim Higgins, sheds new light on the impulsive SpaceX and Tesla CEO’s short fuse and habit to unload on anyone — from hourly workers to strangers to top executives — whom he saw as a threat to Tesla’s growth.
Sometimes employees drew Musk’s ire for seemingly no reason at all.

The Debt Trap: How Student Loans Became a National Catastrophe
Josh Mitchell
Review via The Wall Street Journal
In “The Debt Trap,” Josh Mitchell offers a devastating account of the ways in which government, business, academia and naive citizens joined forces to produce the nation’s $1.6 trillion student loan crisis. The story he tells is so infuriating that it could induce apoplexy in a Zen monk. Yet it is also a characteristically American story, in which democratic ideals, political expedience, concerns over national security, naked greed and tender optimism have blighted the lives of millions.

Indentured Students: How Government-Guaranteed Loans Left Generations Drowning in College Debt
Elizabeth Tandy Shermer
Summary via publisher (Harvard U. Press)
The untold history of how America’s student-loan program turned the pursuit of higher education into a pathway to poverty. It didn’t always take thirty years to pay off the cost of a bachelor’s degree. Elizabeth Tandy Shermer untangles the history that brought us here and discovers that the story of skyrocketing college debt is not merely one of good intentions gone wrong. In fact, the federal student loan program was never supposed to make college affordable.

RESET: Rethinking Our World and Creating a Different Future
Philipp Kristian Diekhöner
Summary via publisher (World Scientific)
The pandemic forced us to adapt markedly in the short term. Its long-term effects will be even more profound. Much of the transformation happening now has been long overdue. We’re approaching a global turning point. This is our opportunity to finally realise pivotal changes we always knew mattered.

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