Best of Book Bits 2019 (Part II)

Following last week’s first installment of notable titles that found their way to The Capital Spectator’s weekly Book Bits column in 2019, here’s the second half of this absurdly subjective short list. Cheers!

● Not Working: Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?
By David G. Blanchflower
Summary via publisher (Princeton U. Press)
Don’t trust low unemployment numbers as proof that the labor market is doing fine—it isn’t. Not Working is about those who can’t find full-time work at a decent wage—the underemployed—and how their plight is contributing to widespread despair, a worsening drug epidemic, and the unchecked rise of right-wing populism. In this revelatory and outspoken book, David Blanchflower draws on his acclaimed work in the economics of labor and well-being to explain why today’s postrecession economy is vastly different from what came before. He calls out our leaders and policymakers for failing to see the Great Recession coming, and for their continued failure to address one of the most unacknowledged social catastrophes of our time. Blanchflower shows how many workers are underemployed or have simply given up trying to find a well-paying job, how wage growth has not returned to prerecession levels despite rosy employment indicators, and how general prosperity has not returned since the crash of 2008.

● Forecasting: An Essential Introduction
By  Jennifer Castle, et al.
Review via The Enlightened Economist
For a non-technical guide to economic forecasting, there could be nothing better than Forecasting: An Essential Introduction by Jennifer Castle, Michael Clements and David Hendry. It is a crystal clear and intuitive explanation of what macroeconomic forecasts can and can’t do. It explains the inherent difficulties in trying to forecast the future of a complex non- linear, non-stationary system in which behaviour can be affected by forecasts themselves, all from a limited amount of past data. Better still, it explains the empirical techniques this ace team have devised to tackle some of the challenges.

● The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society
By Binyamin Appelbaum
Review via Reuters
What is it about “free markets”? The phrase creates a frisson of excitement among a certain group of people. In “The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society”, Binyamin Appelbaum describes what happened when these intellectual fanatics were given the power to act on their ideas. It is not a happy tale.
Like most foolish notions about human society, the basic belief in free markets is simple, appealing and deeply wrong. It’s simple to think that all will be well if governments just leave competitive markets alone. It’s also appealing: There’s no need to plan or judge if price signals provided by the self-regulating market do all the economic work. And it’s wrong: Neither human nature nor the modern economy works the way these economists assume. Appelbaum’s narrative provides ample evidence of that.

● The Geography of Risk: Epic Storms, Rising Seas, and the Cost of America’s Coasts
By by Gilbert M. Gaul
Review via The New York Times
Hurricanes and other coastal storms create more costly damage than do earthquakes, tornadoes and wildfires combined, and 17 of the 20 most destructive hurricanes in history have occurred since 2000. At the moment of this writing, Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm at its strongest, has pummeled the Bahamas and is heading toward the Southeast of the United States. Past storms have pitched houses into forests half a mile away or submerged them beneath the sea. Doors and windows jut from the sand “like weathered dinosaur bones,” we’re told by the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gilbert M. Gaul in this carefully researched and eye-opening book. But astonishingly, between 1970 and 2010, in coastal floodplains that are among “the most ecologically fragile and dangerous places on earth,” real estate values have risen and the population expanded.

● Capital is Dead: Is This Something Worse?
By McKenzie Wark
Summary via publisher (Verso)
In this radical and visionary new book, McKenzie Wark argues that information has empowered a new kind of ruling class. Through the ownership and control of information, this emergent class dominates not only labour but capital as traditionally understood as well. And it’s not just tech companies like Amazon and Google. Even Walmart and Nike can now dominate the entire production chain through the ownership of not much more than brands, patents, copyrights, and logistical systems. While techno-utopian apologists still celebrate these innovations as an improvement on capitalism, for workers—and the planet—it’s worse. The new ruling class uses the powers of information to route around any obstacle labor and social movements put up.