Book Bits | 11 October 2014

How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness
By Russ Roberts
Summary via publisher (Portfolio)
Adam Smith may have become the patron saint of capitalism after he penned his most famous work, The Wealth of Nations. But few people know that when it came to the behavior of individuals—the way we perceive ourselves, the way we treat others, and the decisions we make in pursuit of happiness—the Scottish philosopher had just as much to say. He developed his ideas on human nature in an epic, sprawling work titled The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life, Roberts examines Smith’s forgotten masterpiece, and finds a treasure trove of timeless, practical wisdom. Smith’s insights into human nature are just as relevant today as they were three hundred years ago. What does it take to be truly happy? Should we pursue fame and fortune or the respect of our friends and family? How can we make the world a better place? Smith’s unexpected answers, framed within the rich context of current events, literature, history, and pop culture, are at once profound, counterintuitive, and highly entertaining.

How to Speak Money: What the Money People Say–And What It Really Means
By John Lanchester.
Review via Publishers Weekly
Novelist (Capital) and New Yorker contributor Lanchester offers a terrific primer on financial jargon. Lanchester believes that ordinary people are perfectly capable of understanding the arcs of macroeconomics and managing their own microeconomic decisions—they only need to learn the basic lingua franca. Lanchester’s glossary cleverly illustrates arbitrage by way of cocoa futures, explains what a lender of last resort is, and helpfully defines terms such as “yield curve.” Along the way, Lanchester throws in entertaining asides: for instance, he explains how the lexicographer who oversaw the Oxford English Dictionary felt about the word “monetarism.”

Wealth Management Unwrapped
By Charlotte Beyer
Interview with author via
Individual investors need to view themselves as the CEO of their own small financial enterprise when selecting an adviser, said Charlotte Beyer, author of ‘Wealth Management Unwrapped’. Along those lines, Beyer said investors should make it clear to their financial advisers at the very beginning what they are willing to pay for and what kind of services they will receive for their money. She added that investors should clearly and honestly communicate with their wealth manager to make sure the relationship is working for both sides. Finally, she said investors should not fire an adviser too quickly, giving them a chance to win back the business.

Capital Failure: Rebuilding Trust in Financial Services
Edited by Nicholas Morris and David Vines
Summary via publisher (Oxford University Press)
Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ relied on the self-interest of individuals to produce good outcomes. Economists’ belief in efficient markets took this idea further by assuming that all individuals are selfish. This belief underpinned financial deregulation, and the theories on incentives and performance which supported it. However, although Adam Smith argued that although individuals may be self-interested, he argued that they also have other-regarding motivations, including a desire for the approbation of others. This book argues that the trust-intensive nature of financial services makes it essential to cultivate such other-regarding motivations, and it provides proposals on how this might be done.

The Formation of the BRICS and its Implication for the United States: Emerging Together
By Mark E. Schaefer and John G. Poffenbarger
Summary by publisher (Palgrave Macmillan)
While still considered a world political and economic superpower, the United States is becoming increasingly well-matched by five emerging economies known as the BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Together, these countries would have the clout to limit the United States’ ability to engage in its preferred foreign policies, thereby reducing US power abroad. In anticipation of this potential alliance, Schaefer and Poffenbarger analyze the foreign policies of individual BRICS members for common goals and approaches as well as bilateral problems that may exist between member states. With particular attention paid to the BRICS’ Africa strategy and founding of the New Development Bank, this work explores joint actions of the BRICS body and suggests policy recommendations the US might adopt in response.