Book Bits | 16 April 2016

A Violent World: Modern Threats to Economic Stability
By Jean-Hervé Lorenzi and Mickaël Berrebi
Summary via publisher (Palgrave Macmillan)
During the 1990s Francis Fukuyama announced the end of history. The 2000s showed how it is an illusion to imagine a peaceful world without conflict. In this book, the authors explore how six major constraints are set to fix the trajectory of the global economy. Three of them are new: the aging population, the failure of technical progress, and the scarcity of savings. The other three have been at work for some time: the explosion of inequality, the mass transfer of activities from one end of the world to the other, and the limitless financialization of the economy. They suggest that like seismic activity which depends on pressure between tectonic plates, political and social tensions will be exacerbated in the coming years by these major forces. They propose that authorities will be incapable of preventing neither the date nor the intensity of the coming earthquakes, and ask the question: Are we able to cope with these future shocks and the violence they are sure to cause?

Odds On: The Making of an Evidence-Based Investor
By Matt Hall
Q&A with author via Abnormal Returns
Matt Hall of Hill Investment Group has an interesting story to tell. He tells it well in his new book Odds On: The Making of an Evidence-Based Investor. Most investment books, mine included, take a more left-brain approach to exploring investment theory. In contrast Hall uses his personal narrative to make the case for following a low cost, index-centric approach to investing.
Not only does this kind of approach make sense given the voluminous academic research on the topic. But you can see in this excerpt from the book how it can literally change people’s lives for the better by freeing up time (and attention) they previously spent on investing and can focus on their lives.

And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe’s Crisis and America’s Economic Future
By Yanis Varoufakis
Summary via publisher (Nation Books)
In January 2015, Yanis Varoufakis, an economics professor teaching in Austin, Texas, was elected to the Greek parliament with more votes than any other member of parliament. He was appointed finance minister and, in the whirlwind five months that followed, everything he had warned about—the perils of the euro’s faulty design, the European Union’s shortsighted austerity policies, financialized crony capitalism, American complicity and rising authoritarianism—was confirmed as the “troika” (the European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund, and European Commission) stonewalled his efforts to resolve Greece’s economic crisis. Here, Varoufakis delivers a fresh look at the history of Europe’s crisis and America’s central role in it. He presents the ultimate case against austerity, proposing concrete policies for Europe that are necessary to address its crisis and avert contagion to America, China, and the rest of the world.

Everydata: The Misinformation Hidden in the Little Data You Consume Every Day
By John H. Johnson and Mike Gluck
Review via Publishers Weekly
Though much has been written about the ways in which companies collect and use personal data, the topic of how average citizens use and process data on a daily basis is less widely understood. Statistician Johnson and writer Gluck address and begin to remedy this discrepancy with their overview of how information is rendered and represented, and how it should be interpreted. The authors cover many basic statistical concepts as they explain how easily data is manipulated and misinterpreted. Studies, for example, can suffer from methodological failures such as improper sampling, and information can be misleading when it is cherry-picked. This book points out these pitfalls and educates readers on how to navigate the increasingly dense information environment.

Good for the Money: My Fight to Pay Back America
By Bob Benmosche
Review via Bloomberg
Robert Benmosche, the former American International Group Inc. chief executive officer who repaid a U.S. bailout, left behind criticism for Wall Street after his death.
“The commissions being charged on the auctions were exorbitant,” as banks and law firms advised on deals to shrink AIG, Benmosche recounted in “Good For the Money: My Fight to Pay Back America,” a posthumous memoir written with Peter Marks and Valerie Hendy and released Tuesday. “I wanted the numbers slashed in half.”
Benmosche was known for colorful barbs at government officials and clashes with colleagues including ex-AIG Chairman Harvey Golub over the best future for the company. While Benmosche was also a board member at Credit Suisse Group AG and spent years at PaineWebber Group and Chase Manhattan Bank, he was staunch in defending the insurer from Wall Street.

All the Facts: A History of Information in the United States since 1870
By James W. Cortada
Summary via publisher (Oxford University Press)
All the Facts presents a history of the role of information in the United States since 1870, when the nation began a nearly 150-year period of economic prosperity and technological and scientific transformations. James Cortada argues that citizens and their institutions used information extensively as tools to augment their work and private lives and that they used facts to help shape how the nation evolved during these fourteen decades. He argues that information’s role has long been a critical component of the work, play, culture, and values of this nation, and no more so than during the twentieth century when its function in society expanded dramatically. While elements of this story have been examined by thousands of scholars—such as the role of radio, newspapers, books, computers, and the Internet, about such institutions as education, big business, expanded roles of governments from town administration to the state house, from agriculture to the services and information industries—All the Facts looks at all of these elements holistically, providing a deeper insight into the way the United States evolved over time.