Book Bits | 10 October 2015

The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath
By Ben S. Bernanke
Review via The New York Times (Michael Kinsley)
Yes, the book is a bit of a slog, but it is undoubtedly the best account we will ever have of how government and financial institutions dealt with what has come to be known as the Great Recession. It’s an odd term, isn’t it? It invokes comparisons to the Great Depression and simultaneously suggests that: “Shucks, it wasn’t all that great. Wasn’t a depression or anything.” But Bernanke is persuasive in arguing that (a) it was pretty damned great (i.e., terrible) and (b) he and his colleagues at the Fed deserve credit for the fact that it wasn’t a heck of a lot greater.

How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy
By Mehrsa Baradaran
Summary via publisher (Harvard Unviverity Press)
The United States has two separate banking systems today—one serving the well-to-do and another exploiting everyone else. How the Other Half Banks contributes to the growing conversation on American inequality by highlighting one of its prime causes: unequal credit. Mehrsa Baradaran examines how a significant portion of the population, deserted by banks, is forced to wander through a Wild West of payday lenders and check-cashing services to cover emergency expenses and pay for necessities—all thanks to deregulation that began in the 1970s and continues decades later.

PostCapitalism: A Guide To Our Future
By Paul Mason
Review via The Independent
The idea of Utopia, a perfect society with people living together in harmony and comfort, has cast a seductive spell ever since Sir Thomas More wrote his treatise in 1516 on how the people created such a society on a fictional island in the Atlantic….
The latest contribution to the genre, PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future, comes from Paul Mason, widely known as the economics editor for Channel 4 News. His thesis is that capitalism has reached the end of is development and that a new socio-economic system will emerge from its ruins. The key driver of such change is technology, which destroys existing economic relationships and enables new ones to take their place. The task is how to ensure that this new society is a more just and harmonious one.

Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science
By Dani Rodrick
Review via The Enlightened Economist
It has been difficult to resist writing about Dani Rodrik’s new book, Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science, before the embargo date, but at last I’m free to say how terrific it is. Rodrik is of course one of the most eminent public intellectual economists, engaged with policy and the ‘real world’, and a natural communicator. I’m completely in sympathy with his dual aim of aiming the correct criticisms at economics while defending it others: “I have long been critical of my fellow economists for being narrow minded, taking their models too literally and paying inadequate attention to social processes. But I felt that many of the criticisms coming from outside the field missed the point.” This might sound defensive but it matters to get the criticisms right: some of the old chestnuts (too mathematical, all about selfishness etc) give economists a free pass because they allow them to ignore the more troubling issues.