Book Bits | 13 July 2019

The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America
Review via The New York Times
How an otherwise unexceptional swath of suburbia came to rule the world is the central question animating “The Code,” Margaret O’Mara’s accessible yet sophisticated chronicle of Silicon Valley. An academic historian blessed with a journalist’s prose, O’Mara focuses less on the actual technology than on the people and policies that ensured its success.
She digs deep into the region’s past, highlighting the critical role of Stanford University. In the immediate postwar era, Fred Terman, an electrical engineer who became Stanford’s provost, remade the school in his own image. He elevated science and engineering disciplines, enabling the university to capture federal defense dollars that helped to fuel the Cold War.

Replacing GDP by 2030: Towards a Common Language for the Well-being and Sustainability Community
By Rutger Hoekstra
Essay by author via WEF Live
GDP is the main attraction of the statistical world. It is used by all countries and GDP announcements are eagerly anticipated by markets, media and society. To paraphrase the novelist George Orwell – all statistics are equal but some statistics – such as GDP – are more equal than others.
While GDP is generally accepted as a proxy indicator for the “success” of a nation, it is also widely criticized, often for the fact that that it ignores important factors such as the wellbeing of citizens, levels of inequality and the health of the environment. Furthermore, the GDP methodology has been revised only four times in the last 70 years, which can raise doubts about whether it has kept pace with rapid developments in the globalized and digitized economy.

Coders: Who They Are, What They Think and How They Are Changing Our World
By Clive Thompson
Q&A with author via The Verge
Between never-ending Facebook scandals and debates over fake news and polarization, the general public seems to be more aware than ever of the extent to which software governs our daily lives. “People are unsettled by it, but they still don’t know anything about how the software came to be and why these creators decided to tackle these problems and build these tools,” says Clive Thompson, a technology journalist and author of Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World.
“There’s always this mystery behind the people who actually make the software, and at the same time there has historically been a pretty inaccurate vision that comes out of Hollywood and TV,” Thompson says. He became intrigued not just by the software itself and the environment that created it, but by the type of person who gets sucked into this world: “I really wanted to give the average person a glimpse at the priorities and dreams and blind spots of the people that are making the tools that are going wrong.”

Democracy in Crisis: The Neoliberal Roots of Popular Unrest
By Christian Lammert and Boris Vormann
Summary via publisher (University of Pennsylvania Press)
Liberal democracies on both sides of the Atlantic find themselves approaching a state of emergency, beset by potent populist challenges of the right and left. But what exactly lies at the core of widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo? And how can the challenge be overcome In Democracy in Crisis, Christian Lammert and Boris Vormann argue that the rise of populism in North Atlantic states is not the cause of a crisis of governance but its result. This crisis has been many decades in the making and is intricately linked to the rise of a certain type of political philosophy and practice in which economic rationality has hollowed out political values and led to an impoverishment of the political sphere more broadly. The process began in the 1980s, when the United States and Great Britain decided to unleash markets in the name of economic growth and democracy. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, several countries in Europe followed suit and marketized their educational, social, and healthcare systems, which in turn increased inequality and fragmentation. The result has been a collapse of social cohesion and trust that the populists promise to address but only make worse.

The Rise of Finance: Causes, Consequences and Cures
by V. Anantha Nageswaran and Gulzar Natarajan
Summary via publisher (Cambridge University Press)
Financialisation, or the disproportionate importance of financial considerations in economic decisions, has been a defining feature of the economic history of the last twenty-five years. The wave of deregulation that accompanied the neoliberal agenda in the US, aided by the dominance of US dollar and American economy, has resulted in the globalisation of finance. This book examines the rise of financialisation globally, while charting its drawbacks and prescribing suggestions for a definitive overhaul of the structure. Bringing together various strands of the latest research and evidence generated in recent years, empirical analysis, and views of reputed experts in the field, it presents a counter-point to the canonical ideas of analysing financial market dynamics and financial globalisation. It proposes a revision of the current monetary policy paradigm to correct its excessive focus on equity markets and their ‘wealth effect’, embrace a more symmetric response to the economic cycle, and a mandate to focus on financial stability as much as price stability.

Go Fund Yourself: What Money Means in the 21st Century, How to be Good at it and Live Your Best Life
By Alice Tapper
Review via Financial News
Alice Tapper wants young people to live their “best financial life”.
The twenty-something economist and former financial services worker — first at accounting firm EY and then as a freelance consultant for fintech companies — has written a personal guide, Go Fund Yourself: What Money Means in the 21st Century. In it, Tapper says she wants to “throw in the old generational tropes about avocado toast eating away your house deposit” and inspire millennials to take control of their finances.

Digital Transformation: Survive and Thrive in an Era of Mass Extinction
By Thomas M. Siebel
Summary via publisher (Rosetta Books)
The confluence of four technologies — elastic cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things — writes Siebel, is fundamentally changing how business and government will operate in the 21st century. Siebel masterfully guides readers through a fascinating discussion of the game-changing technologies driving digital transformation and provides a roadmap to seize them as a strategic opportunity. He shows how leading enterprises such as Enel, 3M, Royal Dutch Shell, the U.S. Department of Defense, and others are applying AI and IoT with stunning results.