Book Bits |14 January 2017

A Good Disruption: Redefining Growth in the Twenty-First Century
By Martin Stuchtey, et al.
Summary via publisher (Bloomsbury)
Disruptive technology is one of the defining economic trends of our age, transforming one major industry after another. But what is the true impact of such disruption on the world’s economies, and does it really have the potential to solve global problems such as low growth, inequality and environmental degradation? The provocative answer is that such disruption could indeed solve many of these issues, but that it won’t… at least, not on its current trajectory.

Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality
By James Kwak
Summary via publisher (Pantheon)
Here is a bracing deconstruction of the framework for understanding the world that is learned as gospel in Economics 101, regardless of its imaginary assumptions and misleading half-truths.
Economism: an ideology that distorts the valid principles and tools of introductory college economics, propagated by self-styled experts, zealous lobbyists, clueless politicians, and ignorant pundits. In order to illuminate the fallacies of economism, James Kwak first offers a primer on supply and demand, market equilibrium, and social welfare: the underpinnings of most popular economic arguments. Then he provides a historical account of how economism became a prevalent mode of thought in the United States—focusing on the people who packaged Econ 101 into sound bites that were then repeated until they took on the aura of truth.

The Unbanking of America: How the New Middle Class Survives
By Lisa Servon
Review via Publishers Weekly
The failure of banks to meet the needs of the 99%—and the cottage industries filling the gap—are thoughtfully explored in this startling and absorbing exposé from Servon, a professor of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania. As she describes, commercial banks now cater largely to the wealthy, and more Americans are turning to alternative financial services, including check cashers, payday lenders, and a variety of informal arrangements.

The End of the Asian Century: War, Stagnation, and the Risks to the World’s Most Dynamic Region
By Michael R. Auslin
Podcast with author via War On The Rocks
If you follow international affairs, it often feels like you can’t go to a lecture or read an article without being told that the world’s economic and military center of gravity is shifting from West to East. Michael Auslin takes a different view in his new book, The End of the Asian Century: War, Stagnation, and the Risks to the World’s Most Dynamic Region (Yale University Press, 2017). We sat down at the Tabard Inn in Washington, DC to talk about it. Auslin argues that Asia’s golden age is over and the region is likely to be approaching an era of instability when it comes to economies, political systems, demographics, and war. Our conversation ranged broadly from U.S. interests in the region, the state of America’s alliances, China’s anxieties, and President Obama’s missed opportunities.

Fraud: An American History from Barnum to Madoff
By Edward J. Balleisen
Summary via publisher (Princeton University Press)
The United States has always proved an inviting home for boosters, sharp dealers, and outright swindlers. Worship of entrepreneurial freedom has complicated the task of distinguishing aggressive salesmanship from unacceptable deceit, especially on the frontiers of innovation. At the same time, competitive pressures have often nudged respectable firms to embrace deception. As a result, fraud has been a key feature of American business since its beginnings. In this sweeping narrative, Edward Balleisen traces the history of fraud in America—and the evolving efforts to combat it—from the age of P. T. Barnum through the eras of Charles Ponzi and Bernie Madoff.

Our Bodies, Our Data: How Companies Make Billions Selling Our Medical Records
By Adam Tanner
Adapted excerpt via Scientific American
Companies that have nothing to do with our medical treatment are allowed to buy and sell our health care data, provided they remove certain fields of information, including birth date, name and Social Security number. These guidelines, outlined in the U.S. HIPAA rules, have allowed a multi-billion-dollar trade in anonymized patient data to emerge in recent years, with data mining firms collecting dossiers on hundreds of millions of patients. A growing number of data scientists and health care experts say the same computing advances that allow the aggregation of millions of anonymized patient files into a dossiers also make it increasingly possible to re-identify those files—that is, to match identities to patients.

Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business (Columbia Business School Publishing)
By Aswath Damodaran
Summary via publisher (Columbia University Press)
How can a company that has never turned a profit have a multibillion dollar valuation? Why do some start-ups attract large investments while others do not? Aswath Damodaran, finance professor and experienced investor, argues that the power of story drives corporate value, adding substance to numbers and persuading even cautious investors to take risks. In business, there are the storytellers who spin compelling narratives and the number-crunchers who construct meaningful models and accounts. Both are essential to success, but only by combining the two, Damodaran argues, can a business deliver and sustain value.

The Great Equalizer: How Main Street Capitalism Can Create an Economy for Everyone
By DAvid M. Smick
Summary via publisher (Public Affairs)
The experts say that America’s best days are behind us, that mediocre long-term economic growth is baked in the cake, and that politically, socially, and racially, the United States will continue to tear itself apart. But David Smick—hedge fund strategist and author of the 2008 bestseller The World Is Curved—argues that the experts are wrong…. Smick calls for the great equalizer, a Main Street Capitalism of mass small-business startups and bottom-up innovation, all unfolding on a level playing field. Introducing a fourteen-point plan of bipartisan reforms for unleashing America’s creativity and confidence, his forward-thinking book describes a new climate of dynamism where every man and woman is a potential entrepreneur—especially those at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.