Book Bits | 14 September 2019

The Case For People’s Quantitative Easing
By Frances Coppola
Review via Brave New Europe
The thesis behind the book is that, although quantitative easing since the Great Financial Crisis of 2007/8 has failed, the cause of failure was its implementation, not the policy itself. Quantitative easing was a policy proposed by Milton Friedman and Ann Schwartz back in 1963 as a way to counter a financial depression, or “Great Contraction” as they termed it. The idea was to radically increase the money supply, providing consumers with money to resuscitate the economy. Five years later Friedman used the metaphor of a helicopter dropping money over communities to achieve this goal. He emphasised that it had to be a one-off event to discourage people from saving it, thinking there was more to come. Following the Great Financial Crisis, central banks worldwide initiated Friedman’s policy of helicopter money, dispensing trillions of dollars. However, as Coppola explains, this massive use of quantitative easing, or the “Great Experiment”, failed because” Friedman’s “‘helicopter drop” came to mean not putting money into people’s pockets, but rather casting money blindly onto international financial markets without regard to where it would end up. The desired result did not happen; instead we find ourselves in the “Long Stagnation”.

Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age
By Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne
Review via Politico
Brad Smith joined Microsoft as a 34-year-old attorney in 1993, at a time when the company’s market value was about $25 billion. Today, the company has a market value of more than a trillion dollars, and Smith, at age 60, is its president.
He is also the author of a new book about technology in the modern world filled with arguments that he says would have surprised and elicited disapproval from a younger version of himself. The more startling change, however, is the evolution of not his own views but other people’s.
“I think the most stunning surprise about the state of the world at the moment,” Smith said in an interview with POLITICO, “is to see such a profound lack of optimism in the future, by so many people, in a time of great prosperity.”

Schism: China, America, and the Fracturing of the Global Trading System
By Paul Blustein
Summary via publisher (CIGI Press)
History was heralded when China joined the ­World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, for good reason: the world’s most populous nation was entering the rules-based system that has governed international commerce since World War II. But the full ramifications of that event are only now becoming apparent, as the Chinese economic juggernaut evolved in unanticipated and profoundly troublesome ways.
In this book, journalist Paul Blustein chronicles the contentious process resulting in China’s WTO membership and the transformative changes that followed, both good and bad — for China, for its trading partners, and for the global trading system as a whole.

Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream
By Nicholas Lemann
Review via Publishers Weekly
New Yorker staff writer Lemann (The Promised Land) describes the evolution of American corporate culture in this excellent and unusually framed economic history. Lemann describes how the American worker once dedicated his or her life to a single company, receiving generous benefits, career-long job security, and a pension, whereas the transaction man labors at the mercy of corporate shareholders who may sell, break up, or merge a company to maximize share price. Lemann attributes this change to the work of economists Milton Friedman, who believed the sole function of corporations was to maximize profits for shareholders, and Michael Jensen, who justified rapacious junk bond trading, hostile takeovers, and debt-leveraged buyouts.

Moving Up without Losing Your Way: The Ethical Costs of Upward Mobility
By Jennifer M. Morton
Summary via publisher (Princeton University Press)
Upward mobility through the path of higher education has been an article of faith for generations of working-class, low-income, and immigrant college students. While we know this path usually entails financial sacrifices and hard work, very little attention has been paid to the deep personal compromises such students have to make as they enter worlds vastly different from their own. Measuring the true cost of higher education for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, Moving Up without Losing Your Way looks at the ethical dilemmas of upward mobility—the broken ties with family and friends, the severed connections with former communities, and the loss of identity—faced by students as they strive to earn a successful place in society.

Possessed: Why We Want More Than We Need
By Bruce Hood
Summary via publisher (Oxford University Press)
You may not believe it, but there is a link between our current political instability and your childhood attachment to teddy bears. There’s also a reason why children in Asia are more likely to share than their western counterparts and why the poor spend more of their income on luxury goods than the rich. Or why your mother is more likely to leave her money to you than your father. What connects these things? The answer is our need for ownership. Award-winning psychologist Bruce Hood draws on research from his own lab and others around the world to explain why this uniquely human preoccupation governs our behaviour from the cradle to the grave, even when it is often irrational, and destructive.

The Green New Deal: Why the Fossil Fuel Civilization Will Collapse by 2028, and the Bold Economic Plan to Save Life on Earth
By Jeremy Rifkin
Summary via publisher (Macmillan)
A new vision for America’s future is quickly gaining momentum. Facing a global emergency, a younger generation is spearheading a national conversation around a Green New Deal and setting the agenda for a bold political movement with the potential to revolutionize society. Millennials, the largest voting bloc in the country, are now leading on the issue of climate change. In The Green New Deal, New York Times bestselling author and renowned economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin delivers the political narrative and economic plan for the Green New Deal that we need at this critical moment in history.

Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust
By Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis
Q&A with co-author (Marcus) via SingularityWeblog
Gary is the youngest Professor Emeritus at NYU and I wanted to get his contrarian views on the major things that have happened in AI as well as those that haven’t happened. Prof. Marcus is an interesting interviewee not only because he is an expert in the field but also because he is a skeptic on the current approaches and progress towards Artificial General Intelligence but an optimist that we will eventually figure it all out.