Book Bits For Saturday: 2.11.2012

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010
By Charles Murray
Review via LA Times
Charles Murray’s new book is hardly the bombshell that placed him on the Politically Incorrect Ten Most Wanted list 18 years ago when he co-wrote “The Bell Curve” with Richard J. Herrnstein in 1994. But by providing a data-driven argument for inequality’s cultural and sociological roots, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010″ arrives just in time for the central political and policy debate in the 2012 elections: What is the nature of the widening gap between the rich and everyone else — and what can, or should, be done about it?


The World America Made
By Robert Kagan
Excerpt via The New Republic
Is the United States in decline, as so many seem to believe these days? Or are Americans in danger of committing pre-emptive superpower suicide out of a misplaced fear of their own declining power? A great deal depends on the answer to these questions. The present world order—characterized by an unprecedented number of democratic nations; a greater global prosperity, even with the current crisis, than the world has ever known; and a long peace among great powers—reflects American principles and preferences, and was built and preserved by American power in all its political, economic, and military dimensions. If American power declines, this world order will decline with it. It will be replaced by some other kind of order, reflecting the desires and the qualities of other world powers. Or perhaps it will simply collapse, as the European world order collapsed in the first half of the twentieth century. The belief, held by many, that even with diminished American power “the underlying foundations of the liberal international order will survive and thrive,” as the political scientist G. John Ikenberry has argued, is a pleasant illusion. American decline, if it is real, will mean a different world for everyone.
The Prosperity of Vice: A Worried View of Economics
By Daniel Cohen
Summary via publisher, MIT Press
What happened yesterday in the West is today being repeated on a global scale. Industrial society is replacing rural society: millions of peasants in China, India, and elsewhere are leaving the countryside and going to the city. New powers are emerging and rivalries are exacerbated as competition increases for control of raw materials. Contrary to what believers in the “clash of civilizations” maintain, the great risk of the twenty-first century is not a confrontation between cultures but a repetition of history. In The Prosperity of Vice, the influential French economist Daniel Cohen shows that violence, rather than peace, has been the historical accompaniment to prosperity. Peace in Europe came only after the barbaric wars of the twentieth century, not as the outcome of economic growth. What will happen this time for today’s eagerly Westernizing emerging nations? Cohen guides us through history, describing the European discovery of the “philosopher’s stone”: the possibility of perpetual growth. But the consequences of addiction to growth are dire in an era of globalization. If a billion Chinese consume a billion cars, the future of the planet is threatened. But, Cohen points out, there is another kind of globalization: the immaterial globalization enabled by the Internet. It is still possible, he argues, that the cyber-world will create a new awareness of global solidarity. It even may help us accomplish a formidable cognitive task, as immense as that realized during the Industrial Revolution–one that would allow us learn to live within the limits of a solitary planet.
Sovereign Wealth Funds: The New Intersection of Money and Politics
By Christopher Balding
Summary via publisher, Oxford University Press
Sovereign wealth funds are a growing and dynamic force in international finance. The shifting international economic relations from capital rich states gives them new power in influencing the global agenda. Despite controlling trillions of dollars in the biggest companies in the world, little is known about the opaque funds of oil rich and non-democratic governments. This is the first book to compile a history of sovereign wealth funds recounting the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority’s involvement with the scandal-plagued BCCI bank and Chinese arms exports to Iran. By constructing a history within the proper context of oil-driven surpluses and large inflationary pressures with no international investment framework, this book explains the development and growth of sovereign wealth funds. The economics of capital surplus countries and investment strategies are examined in order to better understand sovereign wealth fund creation and growth. In a straightforward and accessible style, the author examines the complex and amazing growth of an unknown group of investors controlling trillions of dollars worldwide.
Beyond the Resource Curse
Edited by Brenda Shaffer and Taleh Ziyadov
Summary via publisher, University of Pennsylvania Press
When countries discover that they possess large deposits of oil and natural gas, the news is usually welcome. Yet, paradoxically, if they rely on their wealth of natural resources, they often set down a path of poor economic performance and governance challenges. Only a few resource-rich countries have managed to develop their economies fully and provide a better and sustainable standard of living for large segments of their populations. This phenomenon, known as the resource curse, is a core challenge for energy-exporting states. Beyond the Resource Curse focuses on this relationship between natural wealth and economic security, discussing the particular pitfalls and consistent perils facing oil- and gas-exporting states.