Best of Book Bits 2013 (Part II)

Here’s the second installment to last week’s recap of The Capital Spectator’s short list of titles from 2013 that deserve another look. Each of the following reviews and summaries appeared earlier in the year on these pages. And now for an encore presentation….

Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America
By Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane
Review via Publishers Weekly
Political paralysis leading to fiscal collapse is the “existential threat” facing America, argues this stimulating, contentious economic history. Economists Hubbard (dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business) and Kane (chief economist of the Hudson Institute), both one-time advisers to the 2012 Romney-Ryan campaign, conduct a loose, engaging tour through history, pinpointing the economic failings of states from ancient Rome (debased currency, expensive bread and circuses, totalitarian labor controls) and Ming China (squabbling between court mandarins and eunuchs that scotched trade initiatives) to contemporary Europe and the United States (unsustainable government entitlements and debt). They frame the perennial debate over national decline in novel economic terms, ranking countries by a metric of “economic power”—GDP times productivity times the square root of growth—that puts America still uneasily on top.

Keeping Up with the Quants: Your Guide to Understanding and Using Analytics
By Thomas H. Davenport and Jinho Kim
Summary via publisher, Harvard Business Press
Welcome to the age of data. No matter your interests (sports, movies, politics), your industry (finance, marketing, technology, manufacturing), or the type of organization you work for (big company, nonprofit, small start-up)–your world is awash with data. As a successful manager today, you must be able to make sense of all this information. You need to be conversant with analytical terminology and methods and able to work with quantitative information. This book promises to become your “quantitative literacy” guide–helping you develop the analytical skills you need right now in order to summarize data, find the meaning in it, and extract its value. In “Keeping Up with the Quants,” authors, professors, and analytics experts Thomas Davenport and Jinho Kim offer practical tools to improve your understanding of data analytics and enhance your thinking and decision making.

When the Money Runs Out: The End of Western Affluence
By Stephen D. King
Summary via publisher, Yale University Press
The Western world has experienced extraordinary economic progress throughout the last six decades, a prosperous period so extended that continuous economic growth has come to seem normal. But such an era of continuously rising living standards is a historical anomaly, economist Stephen D. King warns, and the current stagnation of Western economies threatens to reach crisis proportions in the not-so-distant future. Praised for the “dose of realism” he provided in his book Losing Control, King follows up in this volume with a plain-spoken assessment of where the West stands today. It’s not just the end of an age of affluence, he shows. We have made promises to ourselves that are achievable only through ongoing economic expansion. The future benefits we expect—pensions, healthcare, and social security, for example—may be larger than tomorrow’s resources.

Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World
By Paul Collier
Summary via publisher, Oxford University Press
In Exodus, Paul Collier, the world-renowned economist and bestselling author of The Bottom Billion, clearly and concisely lays out the effects of encouraging or restricting migration. Drawing on original research and case studies, he explores this volatile issue from three perspectives: that of the migrants themselves, that of the people they leave behind, and that of the host societies where they relocate. As Collier shows, emigrants from the poorest countries of the world tend to be the best educated and most ambitious. And while these people often benefit economically by leaving their home countries, they also drain these countries of the skills they so desperately need. In the absence of controls, emigration would accelerate: the poorest countries would face nothing less than a mass exodus. Ultimately the danger is that both host and countries of origin may lose their national identities — an outcome that would be disastrous, Collier argues, as national identity remains a powerful force for good. Migration must be restricted to ensure that it benefits both those countries left behind and those opening their doors.

Fortune Tellers: The Story of America’s First Economic Forecasters
By Walter A. Friedman
Summary via publisher, Princeton University Press
The period leading up to the Great Depression witnessed the rise of the economic forecasters, pioneers who sought to use the tools of science to predict the future, with the aim of profiting from their forecasts. This book chronicles the lives and careers of the men who defined this first wave of economic fortune tellers, men such as Roger Babson, Irving Fisher, John Moody, C. J. Bullock, and Warren Persons. They competed to sell their distinctive methods of prediction to investors and businesses, and thrived in the boom years that followed World War I. Yet, almost to a man, they failed to predict the devastating crash of 1929.