Book Bits | 1 September 2018

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World
By Anand Giridharadas
Review via The Chronicle of Philanthropy
We don’t hear much about Zuckerberg’s presidential prospects these days; he has his hands full addressing concerns that Facebook helped spread disinformation propagated by Russian troll farms as part of an effort to sway the 2018 election.
In fact, his diminished public stature registers the eroding foundations of philanthrocapitalism more generally. An anti-establishment upsurge, wide-scale apprehensions about inequality, swelling grass-roots social movements, and the high-profile fumbling and failings of the economic elite themselves have all conspired to tamp down the inclination to turn to the rich to save the world.
For those who still might be tempted to do so, there’s an important new book by journalist Anand Giridharadas, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. It levels a devastating attack on philanthrocapitalism. There isn’t much left standing after his assault — and that’s both his book’s strongest point and its main shortcoming.

Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car—And How It Will Reshape Our World
By Lawrence D. Burns with Christopher Shulgan
Review via The Washington Post
The car, notes Lawrence D. Burns in his book “Autonomy,” is “terribly inefficient.” The internal combustion engine converts less than a third of a gallon of gasoline into actual kinetic energy — “the rest . . . is wasted as heat and sound.” And most of the kinetic energy goes to simply moving the (increasingly large) car itself. “Only about 5 percent of the gasoline energy . . . is used to move the driver,” Burns writes. Most people drive to work alone, in cars with too much capacity and engine power for that purpose. Then there’s the fact that most cars sit unused 95 percent of the time. Not to mention the societal costs in death and injuries, the environmental costs of the cars themselves, and the infrastructure supporting all this inefficiency. If this sounds “insane,” as one observer put it, Burns reports that he “couldn’t agree more.”

● The Federal Reserve and its Founders: Money, Politics, and Power
By Richard Naclerio
Summary via publisher (Agenda/Columbia University Press)
The U.S. Federal Reserve has been with us for just over one hundred years. Founded in response to a major economic panic, it has played a key role in the world economy ever since, including the recent global economic downturn. The Fed’s structure is unique among central banking systems. Many people think it is a government agency, that it was created by politicians for the benefit of the U.S. economy, and that it is regulated by the U.S. government. None of these assumptions are true. To fully understand the Federal Reserve and its role today we need to examine its origins and the men that founded it.

Established: Lessons from the World’s Oldest Companies
By the Dark Angels collective
Review via 5 Cool Things
Established: 1198, 1498, 1515, 1519, 1534, 1570, 1698, 1705, 1715, 1759, 1824, 1891. An inn, a removals company, a butchers, a ferry, a printing press, a bell foundry, a wine merchants, a stone carvers, a scale makers, a brewers, an agricultural company, a gum manufacturer. How on earth have they managed that? And what are their secrets of survival?
In Established, twelve business writers set out to find the answers to these questions and to tell the stories of these companies that have survived scores of booms and busts, black sheep in the family and strange twists of fate.

Inequality and Inclusive Growth in Rich Countries: Shared Challenges and Contrasting Fortunes
Edited by Brian Nolan
Summary via publisher (Oxford University Press)
Rising inequality in income and wealth across the OECD has been widely recognised and identified as a major concern; Inequality and Inclusive Growth in Rich Countries links this phenomenon with stagnation in wages and incomes for ordinary working households in order to address the challenge of promoting growth and prosperity. The concentration of wealth at the top of society is now seen as a threat to social and political stability. Inequality and Inclusive Growth in Rich Countries aims to identify what structures and policies are associated with success or failure in limiting the rise in inequality and promoting income growth for those in the middle and lower reaches of the income distribution.

Toward a Just Society: Joseph Stiglitz and Twenty-First Century Economics
Edited by Martin Guzman
Summary via publisher (Columbia University Press)
Joseph Stiglitz is one of the world’s greatest economists. He has made fundamental contributions to economic theory in areas such as inequality, the implications of imperfect and asymmetric information, and competition, and he has been a major figure in policy making, a leading public intellectual, and a remarkably influential teacher and mentor. This collection of essays influenced by Stiglitz’s work celebrates his career as a scholar and teacher and his aspiration to put economic knowledge in the service of creating a fairer world.

Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction
By Chris Bailey
Essay by author via Harvard Business Review
In the flurry of statistics that exist around personal productivity, there’s one I find especially alarming: The average person is distracted or interrupted every 40 seconds when working in front of their computer. In other words, we can’t work for even a single minute before we focus on something else. Sure, sometimes it’s easy to get back on track. But when our attention is completely derailed, research shows, it can take more than 20 minutes to refocus.
Why? Humans are hardwired for distraction. Our brain’s attentional system is programmed to respond to anything that’s pleasurable, threatening, or novel. We even have a novelty bias, wherein our brain is flooded with a pleasure chemical, dopamine, whenever we focus on something new.

The Big Four: The Curious Past and Perilous Future of the Global Accounting Monopoly
By by Ian D. Gow and Stuart Kells
Q&A with authors via Seattle pi
Q:How did the Big Four get so big without any checks on their growth?
A: The firms have an unusual structure; it is light on capital and heavy on labour. They can grow very rapidly (and easily and cheaply) by tacking on new partners and new businesses, and they’ve done this in sectors such as marketing, real estate, corporate finance, economic modelling, demography, IT advisory, and insolvency. Few people have paid close attention to the firms’ growth, which has been a commercial experiment on a grand scale. The firms themselves have been able in part to sculpt their own playing field, by helping to write audit standards and legislation.

Bits to Bitcoin: How Our Digital Stuff Works
By Mark Stuart Day
Summary via publisher (MIT Press)
Most of us feel at home in front of a computer; we own smartphones, tablets, and laptops; we look things up online and check social media to see what our friends are doing. But we may be a bit fuzzy about how any of this really works. In Bits to Bitcoin, Mark Stuart Day offers an accessible guide to our digital infrastructure, explaining the basics of operating systems, networks, security, and related topics for the general reader. He takes the reader from a single process to multiple processes that interact with each other; he explores processes that fail and processes that overcome failures; and he examines processes that attack each other or defend themselves against attacks.