Book Bits | 15 November 2014

The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America’s Grasp
by Marin Katusa
Interview with author via Yahoo Finance
“President Putin has clearly broken the [Sept. 5] truce agreement,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Germany’s Bild newspaper but, thus far, traders don’t seem to care — perhaps pulling from the same playbook as earlier this year when Russia annexed Crimea.
But “the problem is going to get worse and it is going to get bloodier,” says Marin Katusa, chief energy strategist for Casey Research. “More importantly [Ukraine] is central to [Putin’s] theme of not only making Europe more dependent on Russian oil and natural gas but at the same time he is also expanding his output of energy to countries like China so he’s got a double-pronged approach.”
In his new book, The Colder War, Katusa examines Putin’s long-term strategy of returning Russia to global superpower status via strategic use of its primary weapon: Energy.

Truth Wars:
The Politics of Climate Change, Military Intervention and Financial Crisis
by Peter Lee
Summary via publisher (Palgrave Macmillan)
How ‘true’ is climate change, and how do we know? Who is to blame for the financial crisis? What is the truth about the drone wars? We live in an age of crises that are global in scale and potentially apocalyptic in severity. In response, the language of war has been increasingly deployed across a whole spectrum of ecological, social and economic problems: war on terror; war on warming; war on want; war on bankers’ bonuses; war on drugs; war on waste; war on genocidal leaders. Peter Lee examines climate change, military intervention and financial collapse to reveal how truth is used by competing interests to shape individual behaviour, attitudes and identity.

The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels
by Alex Epstein
Review via The National Review
Epstein deals in a profound manner with the issue of “sustainability,” explaining the fundamental concept that “resources” do not exist in and of themselves but are the result of human technological innovation. “Resources are not taken from nature, but created from nature,” he says. “What applies to the raw materials of coal, oil, and gas, also applies to every raw material in nature. They are all potential resources, with unlimited potential to be rendered valuable by the human minds. . . . There is no inherent limit to energy resources — we just need human ingenuity to be free to discover ways to turn unusable energy into usable energy. This opens up a thrilling possibility: the endless potential for improving life through ever growing energy resources, helping create ever growing resources of every kind. This is the principle that explains the strong correlation between fossil fuel use and pretty much anything good: human ingenuity transforming potential resources into actual resources — including the most fundamental resource, energy.

The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong
by Judith Rodin
Review via Publishers Weekly
Rockefeller Foundation president Rodin writes in an expert and straightforward manner about the character trait of resilience, addressed here in socioeconomic terms and on nothing less than a global scale. Resilience, Rodin explains, is the ability to “prepare for disruptions… recover from shocks and stresses, and… adapt and grow from a disruptive experience.” The three primary such disruptions she identifies in today’s world are “urbanization, climate change, and globalization.”

A Nation Wholly Free: The Elimination of the National Debt in the Age of Jackson
by Carl Lane
Review via Publishers Weekly
Historian Lane delivers a superbly written exploration of a narrow subject in the fading past, making it feel surprisingly relevant to modern readers. Paying off the national debt, a topic that’s at the center of passionate debate today, similarly roiled the political scene 175 years ago. Lane describes how, under vastly different conditions, Andrew Jackson and his administration vowed to completely eliminate the national debt by 1835. They succeeded, but in the process were forced to bow to ideology and political pressure, killing the Second Bank of the U.S. and unwisely distributing surplus federal funds to state banks rather than using the money for infrastructure development. The result, according to the author, was the crash of 1837—America’s first great financial crisis.

Complexity and the Economy
by W. Brian Arthur
Summary via publisher (Oxford University Press)
Economics is changing. In the last few years it has generated a number of new approaches. One of the most promising – complexity economics – was pioneered in the 1980s and 1990s by a small team at the Santa Fe Institute. Economist and complexity theorist W. Brian Arthur led that team, and in this book he collects many of his articles on this new approach. The traditional framework sees behavior in the economy as in an equilibrium steady state. People in the economy face well-defined problems and use perfect deductive reasoning to base their actions on. The complexity framework, by contrast, sees the economy as always in process, always changing. People try to make sense of the situations they face using whatever reasoning they have at hand, and together create outcomes they must individually react to anew. The resulting economy is not a well-ordered machine, but a complex evolving system that is imperfect, perpetually constructing itself anew, and brimming with vitality.
The new vision complements and widens the standard one, and it helps answer many questions: Why does the stock market show moods and a psychology? Why do high-tech markets tend to lock in to the dominance of one or two very large players? How do economies form, and how do they continually alter in structure over time?