Book Bits |1 October 2016

Among the Bankers: A Journey into the Heart of Finance
By Joris Luyendijk
Review via The Atlantic
How can bankers live with themselves after the destruction wrought by their industry? That’s in part what the Dutch journalist Joris Luyendijk sets out to uncover in his new book, Among the Bankers: A Journey Into the Heart of Finance, which was published overseas last year under the title Swimming with Sharks. The book attempts to lay bare not the technical workings of a very opaque industry, but the emotional and moral considerations of those who operate within it.
Luyendijk, a reporter at The Guardian who has a background in anthropology, poses that question of conscience over and over again. To answer it, he conducted hundreds of interviews with people who work in the City, London’s version of Wall Street.

Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems
By Georgia Levenson Keohane
Summary via publisher (Columbia University Press)
Despite social and economic advances around the world, poverty and disease persist, exacerbated by the mounting challenges of climate change, natural disasters, political conflict, mass migration, and economic inequality. While governments commit to addressing these challenges, traditional public and philanthropic dollars are not enough. Here, innovative finance has shown a way forward: by borrowing techniques from the world of finance, we can raise capital for social investments today. Innovative finance has provided polio vaccines to children in the DRC, crop insurance to farmers in India, pay-as-you-go solar electricity to Kenyans, and affordable housing and transportation to New Yorkers. It has helped governmental, commercial, and philanthropic resources meet the needs of the poor and underserved and build a more sustainable and inclusive prosperity.

Full Faith and Credit: The National Debt, Taxes, Spending, and the Bankrupting of America
By Alan Axelrod
Review via Publishers Weekly
In this cogent breakdown of historical and current government waste, Axelrod (Patton on Leadership) depicts the U.S., with a national debt of over $19 trillion, as perched on a tipping point of financial doom. Axelrod cites a study showing that economies in which the debt-to-GDP ratio surpasses 90% rarely survive—before informing the reader that this figure for the U.S. currently stands at 105%. He surmises that the federal government is unwilling to make the changes necessary to avert catastrophe, and that the American people need to become sufficiently well-informed to influence the 537 elected officials and 2 million unelected members of the federal bureaucracy to change their ways and become fiscally responsible. In plain English and with colorful anecdotes and aphorisms aplenty, Axelrod leaves no one but George Washington unscathed.

Citizens’ Wealth: Why (and How) Sovereign Funds Should be Managed by the People for the People
By Angela Cummine
Review via FT
The halcyon days of ballooning commodity prices have ended and with them the extraordinary flows of money into the coffers of oil, gas and mineral-exporting countries. Their legacy is political as much as it is financial: dozens of sovereign wealth funds dotted around the world in countries that may have to adjust to a much worse market for their exports but also have big cushions of cash to rely on for years to come.
It is these gargantuan piggy banks — the biggest examples hold close to $1tn, many but not all based on natural resources — that are the subject of Angela Cummine’s book Citizens’ Wealth.

FinTech Innovation: From Robo-Advisors to Goal Based Investing and Gamification
Summary via publisher (Wiley)
FinTech Innovation examines the rise of financial technology and its growing impact on the global banking industry. Wealth managers are standing at the epicenter of a tectonic shift, as the balance of power between offering and demand undergoes a dramatic upheaval. Regulators are pushing toward a ‘constrained offering’ norm while private clients and independent advisors demand a more proactive role; practitioners need examine this banking evolution in detail to understand the mechanisms at work. This book presents analysis of the current shift and offers clear insight into what happens when established economic interests collide with social transformation.

Water: Exploring the Blue Planet
by Markus Eisl, et al.
Summary via publisher (Firefly Books)
Remarkable satellite photographs show where water is — or isn’t — and how we are using it. Water is in crisis. We are in crisis. All life depends on water and we are running out of it, but where exactly is the water and where is it going? This book provides new insight into the world of water and contributes to a wider understanding of the current predicament. Water: Exploring the Blue Planet is essentially a map of water. It features astonishingly detailed photographs that reveal the watery health of the Blue Planet. Readers are taken aboard satellites circling the Earth from where the most technologically advanced cameras and remote sensors capture what lies below. The photographs are accompanied by descriptions and organized in thematic chapters.

The Handbook of Experimental Economics, Volume 2
Edited by John H. Kagel and Alvin E. Roth
Summary via publisher (Princeton University Press)
When The Handbook of Experimental Economics first came out in 1995, the notion of economists conducting lab experiments to generate data was relatively new. Since then, the field has exploded. This second volume of the Handbook covers some of the most exciting new growth areas in experimental economics, presents the latest results and experimental methods, and identifies promising new directions for future research. Featuring contributions by leading practitioners, the Handbook describes experiments in macroeconomics, charitable giving, neuroeconomics, other-regarding preferences, market design, political economy, subject population effects, gender effects, auctions, and learning and the economics of small decisions. Contributors focus on key developments and report on experiments, highlighting the dialogue between experimenters and theorists. While most of the experiments consist of laboratory studies, the book also includes several chapters that report extensively on field experiments related to the subject area studied.