Book Bits: 10 September 2022

Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century
J. Bradford DeLong
Q&A with author via Vox
Q: You argue that 1870 through 2010 were “the most consequential years of all humanity’s centuries.” What’s your case?
A: It really looks that we had as much technological change and progress between 1870 and today as we had between 6000 BC and 1870 AD. We packed what had previously been nearly eight millennia of changes in the underlying technological hardware of society, which required changes in the running sociological code on top of that hardware. To try to pack what had been eight millennia worth of changes before in 150 years is going to produce an awful lot of history. Before 1870, most of history is how elites run their force-and-fraud, domination-and-extraction mechanism against a poor peasantry so that they, at least, can have enough, and so that their children are only two inches shorter than we are, rather than five or six as the peasants are. It’s about how the elites elbow each other out of the way as they eat from the trough. And it’s about the use they make of their wealth for purposes good and ill, of civilization and destruction.

How to Invest: Masters on the Craft
David M. Rubenstein
Review via The Wall Street Journal
The primary attraction of investment books isn’t beautiful prose or a compelling plot. Our relationship with such titles is more transactional: We spend the time and money in hopes of learning something that will help make us better investors. While the literati hobnob at Politics and Prose bookstore, we pick up our new reads at the airport en route to a client meeting in Minneapolis.
The breathless publicity for David Rubenstein’s “How to Invest: Masters on the Craft” promises that the book will “transform the way you approach investing forever.” Yet after reading Mr. Rubenstein’s interviews with some of the most brilliant and successful investors of our generation, I came away with few practical takeaways.

Spiderweb Capitalism: How Global Elites Exploit Frontier Markets
Kimberly Kay Hoang
Q&A with author via Fast Company
Q: Tell us about this idea of “spiderweb capitalism.”
A: Spiderweb capitalism is a complex web of subsidiaries that are interconnected across multiple sovereignties and are virtually impossible to identify. Offshore financial centers have enabled both economic and political elites—who in less-developed economies are often one and the same—to secure exclusive and quasi-legal opportunities for the accumulation of enormous wealth. The web is so complex, and involves so many layers and actors, that it becomes challenging to trace. Every strand is connected by networks of financial, legal, executive, and public relations professionals, all of whom are hidden from one another. They purposefully obfuscate their relations with other parts of the web.

The Chaos Machine: The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World
Max Fisher
Summary via publisher (Little, Brown)
From a New York Times investigative reporter, this “authoritative and devastating account of the impacts of social media” (New York Times Book Review) tracks the high-stakes inside story of how Big Tech’s breakneck race to drive engagement—and profits—at all costs fractured the world, and is “an essential book for our times” (Ezra Klein). We all have a vague sense that social media is bad for our minds, for our children, and for our democracies. But the truth is that its reach and impact run far deeper than we have understood. Building on years of international reporting, Max Fisher tells the gripping and galling inside story of how Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social networks, in their pursuit of unfettered profits, preyed on psychological frailties to create the algorithms that drive everyday users to extreme opinions and, increasingly, extreme actions. As Fisher demonstrates, the companies’ founding tenets, combined with a blinkered focus maximizing engagement, have led to a destabilized world for everyone.

Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires
Douglas Rushkoff
Interview with author via Vice
It seems like the Earth’s billionaires are desperate to escape the planet. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are looking to outer space. Mark Zuckerberg is looking to the inner space of virtual reality. So many billionaires are buying up land and luxury survival bunkers in New Zealand that it’s hard to keep track. Do they know something we don’t? Or do they just have the money to act on fears they themselves were instrumental in creating? Here today to help me answer that question is Douglas Rushkoff. Rushkoff is a media theorist and author. His newest book is out on September 6. It’s called Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires.

The Middle Out: The Rise of Progressive Economics and a Return to Shared Prosperity
Michael Tomasky
Review via Publishers Weekly
It’s time to repudiate free-market dogma and return to tax-and-spend liberalism, according to this feisty manifesto. New Republic editor Tomasky (If We Can Keep It) criticizes the neoliberal economic consensus of recent decades that emphasized tax cuts, reduced government social spending, privatization, deregulation, and pitiless self-interest; that recipe, he argues, yielded rising inequality, insecurity, and sluggish growth. His proposed antidote is massive government investment in healthcare, childcare, and education. Tomasky is light on policy specifics aside from a broad endorsement of the Biden administration’s stimulus and infrastructure spending, which he absolves of responsibility for inflation and salutes for “commendable progress in changing the economic circumstances of Americans.”

Free Market: The History of an Idea
Jacob Soll
Summary via publisher (Basic Books)
After two government bailouts of the US economy in less than twenty years, free market ideology is due for serious reappraisal. In Free Market, Jacob Soll details how we got to this current crisis, and how we can find our way out by looking to earlier iterations of free market thought. Contrary to popular narratives, early market theorists believed that states had an important role in building and maintaining free markets. But in the eighteenth century, thinkers insisted on free markets without state intervention, leading to a tradition of ideological brittleness. That tradition only calcified in the centuries that followed. Tracing the intellectual evolution of the free market from Cicero to Milton Friedman, Soll argues that we need to go back to the origins of free market ideology in order to truly understand it—and to develop new economic concepts to face today’s challenges.

Wealth of Wisdom: Top Practices for Wealthy Families and Their Advisors
Tom McCullough and Keith Whitaker
Summary via publisher (Wiley)
In Top Practices for Wealthy Families and Their Advisors, accomplished family wealth experts Tom McCullough and Keith Whitaker deliver a comprehensive collection of practical activities that members of wealthy families can undertake to ensure their continued success and development. The book contains over 50 chapters, each highlighting a practical tool, exercise, or activity that can be applied by advisors or family members themselves. Each chapter is written by a recognized expert in the field who has used the highlighted tool, exercise, or activity over many years with great success.

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