Book Bits: 10 July 2021

The Key Man: The True Story of How the Global Elite Was Duped by a Capitalist Fairy Tale
Simon Clark and Will Louch
Review via The Financial Post
A new book tells the story of how impact investor Arif Naqvi was able to convince hundreds of senior business leaders, including Bill Gates, Prince Phillip and John Kerry, to provide him $14 billion to invest in projects with high returns while supporting game-changing social projects to reduce poverty and promote the energy transformation. The book, published this week by HarperCollins, is “The Key Man: The True Story of How the Global Elite was Duped by a Capitalistic Fairy Tale” by Wall Street Journal reporters Simon Clark and Will Louch.

Speculation: A Cultural History from Aristotle to AI
Gayle Rogers
Summary via publisher (Columbia U. Press)
In the modern world, why do we still resort to speculation? Advances in scientific and statistical reasoning are supposed to have provided greater certainty in making claims about the future. Yet we constantly spin out scenarios about tomorrow, for ourselves or for entire societies, with flimsy or no evidence. Insubstantial speculations—from utopian thinking to high-risk stock gambles—often provoke fierce backlash, even when they prove prophetic for the world we come to inhabit. Why does this hypothetical way of thinking generate such controversy? In this cultural, literary, and intellectual history, Gayle Rogers traces debates over speculation from antiquity to the present. Celebrated by Boethius as the height of humanity’s mental powers but denigrated as sinful by John Calvin, speculation eventually became central to the scientific revolution’s new methods of seeing the natural world.

Three Days at Camp David: How a Secret Meeting in 1971 Transformed the Global Economy
Jeffrey E. Garten
Review via The Project Syndicate
When the US effectively floated the US dollar in 1971, many foresaw the end, or at least the beginning of the end, of the Bretton Woods system and, with it, American monetary and economic hegemony. Yet the dollar-based system survives – along with the same old criticisms of it… To contemporaries and historians alike, Nixon’s announcement marked the end, or at least the beginning of the end, of the Bretton Woods international monetary and financial system. And that meant it marked the end, or at least the beginning of the end, of American economic and monetary hegemony. The postwar period when the US could all but unilaterally determine the monetary structure and financial fate of the Free World was drawing to a close.
Or was it?

The Critique of Commodification: Contours of a Post-Capitalist Society
Christoph Hermann
Summary via publisher (Oxford U. Press)
In recent years activists around the globe have challenged the commodification of water, education, health care, and other essential goods, while academics have warned from unintended effects when everything can be bought and sold. But what is commodification? And what is the problem with commodification? In The Critique of Commodification, Christoph Hermann argues that commodification entails production for profit rather than social needs, and that production for profit has a number of harmful effects, including the exclusion of those who cannot pay, the marginalization of those whose collective purchasing power is not large enough, and the focus on highly profitable forms of production over more socially beneficial and ecologically sustainable alternatives.

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