Book Bits For Saturday: 2.18.2012

The Decline in Saving: A Threat to America’s Prosperity?
By Barry Bosworth
Summary via publisher, Brookings Institution Press
ongtime Brookings economist and former presidential adviser Barry Bosworth examines why saving rates in the United States have fallen so precipitously over the past quarter century, why the initial consequences were surprisingly benign, and how reduced saving will affect the future well-being of Americans. The saving of American households underwent an astonishing collapse in the years before the financial crisis as consumers engaged in a long-lived spending binge. More recently, however, that saving rate has risen as households attempt to rebuild their wealth in the aftermath of large stock market and housing losses. It was not only consumers who were guilty of overspending; budget deficits grew as the government borrowed huge sums from the rest of the world. Indeed, over the past three decades, the cumulative external deficit has exceeded $7 trillion, leaving the United States as the world’s largest debtor nation.

Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance
By Perry Mehrling
Summary via publisher, Wiley
Besides revolutionizing finance with the Black-Scholes option pricing model, Fischer Black forever changed Wall Street by developing what is now known as quantitative finance. Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance explores Black’s intellectual journey from Harvard to the offices of ADL, from the University of Chicago to MIT, and then to Goldman Sachs. This poignant book tells the story of one man’s intellectual adventure at the very center of modern finance, fully describing the birth of quantitative finance and financial engineering along the way.
Portfolio Representations: A step-by-step guide to representing value, exposure and risk for fixed income, equity, FX and derivatives
By Jem Tugwell
Summary via publisher, Harriman House
This book provides a practical and sophisticated insight into each financial asset type, and how the different risks and exposures they involve should be most accurately combined and represented in a portfolio. The financial issues facing the world since the late 2000s have provided the asset management community with a brutal reminder of the importance of having genuine knowledge of portfolio structures and the risks embedded within them. More so than ever, fund managers need a clear and consistent way of separating value from exposure in their portfolios, allowing a complete ‘look-through’ to the real risks contained in derivatives and pooled/structured products. Equally, as fund managers are driven to find risk-adjusted rather than just raw returns, it is imperative that risk measures and the understanding derived from them are applied to the entirety of a portfolio, as opposed to just particular asset classes or sections. This book, written by hugely experienced investment expert Jem Tugwell, provides a practical and comprehensive solution. Written in plain English and carefully structured to be easy to use, this is the definitive guide to accurately and quickly representing value in financial portfolios of every complexity. Taking the reader through each asset type in turn, with detailed workings and explanations, it is the most lucid and helpful professional guide yet written on the subject – and something no one working in this area can afford to be without.
Reckoning with Markets: The Role of Moral Reflection in Economics
By James Halteman and Edd S. Noell
Summary via publisher, Oxford University Press
Undergraduate economics students begin and end their study of economics with the simple claim that economics is value free. Only in a policy role will values and beliefs enter into economic work; there can be little meaningful dialogue by economists about such personal views and opinions. This view, now well over 200 years old, has been challenged by heterodox thinkers in economics, and philosophers and social scientists outside the discipline all along the way. However, much of the debate in modern times has been narrowly focused on philosophical methodological issues on one hand or theological/sectarian concerns on the other. None of this filters down to the typical undergraduate even in advanced courses on the history of economic thought. This book presents the notion that economic thinking cannot escape value judgments at any level and that this understanding has been the dominant view throughout most of history. It shows how, from ancient times, people who thought about economic matters integrated moral reflection into their thinking. Reflecting on the Enlightenment and the birth of economics as a science, Halteman and Noell illustrate the process by which values and beliefs were excluded from economics proper. They also appraise the reader with relevant developments over the last half-century which offer promise of re-integrating moral reflection in economic research.
Learning From the Global Financial Crisis: Creatively, Reliably, and Sustainably
Edited by Paul Shrivastava and Matt Statler
Summary via publisher, Stanford University Press
This book is motivated by the simple hope that the cloud of the global financial crisis may yet have a silver lining—that political leaders, economists, and management scholars might seize this opportunity to reflect critically on the assumptions, practices, and infrastructures that have precipitated the crisis and to imagine and create new forms of organization that sustainably enhance the well-being of global stakeholders.
Better Living through Economics
Edited by John J. Siegfried
Summary via publisher, Harvard University Press
Better Living Through Economics consists of twelve case studies that demonstrate how economic research has improved economic and social conditions over the past half century by influencing public policy decisions. Economists were obviously instrumental in revising the consumer price index and in devising auctions for allocating spectrum rights to cell phone providers in the 1990s. But perhaps more surprisingly, economists built the foundation for eliminating the military draft in favor of an all-volunteer army in 1973, for passing the Earned Income Tax Credit in 1975, for deregulating airlines in 1978, for adopting the welfare-to-work reforms during the Clinton administration, and for implementing the Pension Reform Act of 2006 that allowed employers to automatically enroll employees in a 401(k). Other important policy changes resulting from economists’ research include a new approach to monetary policy that resulted in moderated economic fluctuations (at least until 2008!), the reduction of trade impediments that allows countries to better exploit their natural advantages, a revision of antitrust policy to focus on those market characteristics that affect competition, an improved method of placing new physicians in hospital residencies that is more likely to keep married couples in the same city, and the adoption of tradable emissions rights which has improved our environment at minimum cost.