Book Bits | 11.24.12

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
By Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Summary via publisher, Random House
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the bestselling author of The Black Swan and one of the foremost thinkers of our time, reveals how to thrive in an uncertain world. Just as human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension, and rumors or riots intensify when someone tries to repress them, many things in life benefit from stress, disorder, volatility, and turmoil. What Taleb has identified and calls “antifragile” is that category of things that not only gain from chaos but need it in order to survive and flourish. In The Black Swan, Taleb showed us that highly improbable and unpredictable events underlie almost everything about our world. In Antifragile, Taleb stands uncertainty on its head, making it desirable, even necessary, and proposes that things be built in an antifragile manner.

Taxes in America: What Everyone Needs to Know
By Leonard Burman and Joel Slemrod
Q&A with authors via Washington Independent Review of Books
Q: A chapter on taxes and the economy tackles some of the questions involved in the contentious issue of tax cuts versus spending cuts. You note that conventional economic wisdom argues for directing tax cuts to lower-income individuals since their marginal propensity to consume (MPC) — that is, the immediate need to spend any additional income, including tax cuts — will be higher than for the wealthy. But you point out that recent evidence has called this conventional wisdom into question. So, is the evidence about MPC credible and are we looking at arguments based on economic principles, or is it all just politics?
A: There’s certainly a lot of politics, but economic evidence is certainly relevant. The fact is that some tax cuts intended to help get the economy out of a recession often have proven disappointing. Policymakers hope that when they cut taxes for individuals, they will go out and spend the money, which will create new demand for products and services and induce companies to hire and invest more. The problem is that, especially in recent years, consumers often put their tax rebates in the bank or use them to pay down credit-card debt, which is good for the taxpayers but doesn’t do much to get the economy going.
Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966-2012: A Fortune Magazine Book
By Carol J. Loomis
Review via Kirkus Reviews
“In 1966 he was the proprietor of an unfamous hedge fund, Buffett Partnership Ltd., and the controlling shareowner and de facto CEO of a small New England textile company, Berkshire Hathaway, with $49 million in annual revenues,” writes Fortune senior editor at large Loomis, as she discusses more than 80 articles covering the investing history of Warren Buffett. “By 2011, Berkshire was No. 7 in the Fortune 500, with $144 billion in revenues.” Serious investors as well as those interested in the history of Berkshire Hathaway and the philanthropic ideas of Buffett will enjoy these revealing pieces extracted from the Fortune archives. Having written many of the original articles herself, Loomis offers new insights into the various phases and actions of her close personal friend. Chronologically arranged, the commentaries begin in 1966, when Buffett was first mentioned in Fortune (an article in which his name was misspelled) and move through his latest thoughts and actions on philanthropy based on a dinner held for the uber-rich in 2010.
Trading with Intermarket Analysis: A Visual Approach to Beating the Financial Markets Using Exchange-Traded Funds
By John J. Murphy
Summary via publisher, Wiley
With global markets and asset classes growing even more interconnected, intermarket analysis—the analysis of related asset classes or financial markets to determine their strengths and weaknesses—has become an essential part of any trader’s due diligence. In Trading with Intermarket Analysis, John J. Murphy, former technical analyst for CNBC, lays out the technical and intermarket tools needed to understand global markets and illustrates how they help traders profit in volatile climates using exchange-traded funds.
Deficits, Debt, and the New Politics of Tax Policy
By Dennis S. Ippolito
Summary via publisher, Cambridge University Press
The Constitution grants Congress the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises.” From the First Congress until today, conflicts over the size, role, and taxing power of government have been at the heart of national politics. This book provides a comprehensive historical account of federal tax policy that emphasizes the relationship between taxes and other components of the budget. It explains how wars, changing conceptions of the domestic role of government, and beliefs about deficits and debt have shaped the modern tax system. The contemporary focus of this book is the partisan battle over budget policy that began in the 1960s and triggered the disconnect between taxes and spending that has plagued the budget ever since. With the federal government now facing its most serious deficit and debt challenge in the modern era, partisan debate over taxation is almost completely divorced from fiscal realities. Continuing to indulge the public about the true costs of government has served the electoral interests of the parties, but it precludes honest debate about the urgent task of reconnecting taxes and budgets.
Business Cycles: Part I
Business Cycles: Part II
By F.A. Hayek
Summary via publisher, Routledge
In the years following its publication, F. A. Hayek’s pioneering work on business cycles was regarded as an important challenge to what was later known as Keynesian macroeconomics. Today, as debates rage on over the monetary origins of the current economic and financial crisis, economists are once again paying heed to Hayek’s thoughts on the repercussions of excessive central bank interventions. The latest editions in Routledge’s ongoing series The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, these volumes bring together Hayek’s work on what causes periods of boom and bust in the economy. Moving away from the classical emphasis on equilibrium, Hayek demonstrates that business cycles are generated by the adaptation of the structure of production to changes in relative demand. Thus, when central banks artificially lower interest rates, the result is a misallocation of capital and the creation of asset bubbles and additional instability. Business Cycles: Part I contains Hayek’s two major monographs on the topic: Monetary Theory and the Trade Cycle and Prices and Production. Reproducing the text of the original 1933 translation of the former, this edition also draws on the original German, as well as more recent translations. For Prices and Production, a variorum edition is presented, incorporating the 1931 first edition and its 1935 revision. Business Cycles: Part II assembles a series of Hayek’s shorter papers on the topic, ranging from the 1920s to 1981.