Book Bits: 15 July 2023

The Paradox of Debt: A New Path to Prosperity Without Crisis
Richard Vague
Summary via publisher (U. of Pennsylvania Press)
When we talk about debt and its impact on our economy, we almost always mean “government debt.” However, this is only a small part of the picture: individuals, private firms, and households owe trillions, and these private debts are vital to understanding the economy. Author Richard Vague examines the assets, liabilities, and incomes of the entire country, private and public sector, to reveal its net worth. His holistic analysis shows that the real factor that drives both financial crises and spiraling inequality—but also, paradoxically, economic growth—is ever rising private debt. The paradox is that while debt is essential and our economy relies on it, it also brings instability unless it is periodically deleveraged—and that is very hard to do. It can, however, be carefully managed, and Vague ends the book by showing how to do so in policy areas ranging from trade and housing to financial policy and student debt.

The Four Pillars of Investing, Second Edition: Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio
William Bernstein
Summary via publisher (McGraw Hill)
First published two decades ago, The Four Pillars of Investing has been the go-to resource for an entire generation of investors. This updated edition of the investing classic provides the foundational knowledge you need to avoid the most common pitfalls and build a portfolio in today’s roller-coaster world of investing. Retired neurologist and master investor William J. Bernstein has seen it all throughout his career. Buying investments with borrowed money. Chasing past performance. Overestimating one’s own risk tolerance. Listening to cable news. These are just a few of the many mistakes he has witnessed smart, serious investors make, to the peril of their portfolios. Add to these behavioral errors such economic factors as deflation, sudden stock declines, soaring inflation, and the like—and investing can seem like something to be avoided at all costs. But with the right discipline and knowledge, you can build and manage an impressive portfolio.

The Nationalist Dilemma: A Global History of Economic Nationalism, 1776–Present
Marvin Suesse
Summary via publisher (Cambridge U. Press)
Nationalists think about the economy, Marvin Suesse argues, and this thinking matters once nationalists hold political power. Many nationalists seek to limit global exchange, but others prioritise economic development. The potential conflict between these two goals shapes nationalist policy making. Drawing on historical case studies from thirty countries – from the American Revolution to the rise of China – this book paints a broad panorama of economic nationalism over the past 250 years. It explains why such thinking has become influential, despite the internal contradictions and chequered record of many nationalist policy makers. At the root of economic nationalism’s appeal is its ability to capitalise upon economic inequality, both domestic and international. These inequalities are reinforced by political factors such as empire building, ethnic conflicts, and financial crises. This has given rise to powerful nationalist movements that have decisively shaped the global exchange of goods, people, and capital.

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