Book Bits | 18 January 2020

A World Without Work: Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond
By Daniel Susskind
Review via The New York Times
If humans’ fears that technology would replace them have been unfounded in the past, this time is different. So argues Daniel Susskind, a fellow in economics at Oxford, in his new book, “A World Without Work: Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond.” Susskind declares that machines are getting so smart that they’ll soon replace humans at a growing list of jobs, potentially including doctors, bricklayers and insurance adjusters, thus ending what he calls the “Age of Labor.” Without some sort of intervention, he says, the inequality inherent in today’s economy will metastasize into an even greater divide between the haves and have-nots.

The Debt Delusion: Living Within Our Means and Other Fallacies
By John F. Weeks
Summary via publisher (Polity)
‘Governments should spend no more than their tax income.’ Most people in Europe and North America accept this statement as simple common sense. It resonates with the deeply engrained economic metaphors that dominate public discourse, from ‘living within your means’ to ‘balancing the budget’ – all necessary, or so conventional wisdom holds, to avoid the dangers of debt, taxation and financial ruin. This book shows how these homely metaphors constitute the ‘debt delusion’: a set of plausible-sounding yet false ideas that have been used to justify damaging austerity policies. John Weeks debunks these myths, explaining the true story behind public spending, taxation, and debt, and their real function in the management of our economies.

Bubble in the Sun: The Florida Boom of the 1920s and How It Brought on the Great DepressionBy Christopher Knowlton
Review via The Wall Street Journal
It is difficult to go wrong when writing of questionable behavior and wretched excess in Florida, a fact that is borne out yet again in Christopher Knowlton’s colorful “Bubble in the Sun,” a wide-ranging treatment of the ill-fated South Florida land boom of the 1920s. Mr. Knowlton, a former staff writer and London bureau chief for Fortune magazine, provides a close look into the exploits of a number of legendary players central to the meteoric rise and fall of the state’s fortunes in the first third of the 20th century.

Don’t Fall For It: A Short History of Financial Scams
By Ben Carlson
Summary via publisher (Wiley)
Why does financial fraud persist? History is full of sensational financial frauds and scams. Enron was forced to declare bankruptcy after allegations of massive accounting fraud, wiping out $78 billion in stock market value. Bernie Madoff, the largest individual fraudster in history, built a $65 billion Ponzi scheme that ultimately resulted in his being sentenced to 150 years in prison. People from all walks of life have been scammed out of their money: French and British nobility looking to get rich quickly, farmers looking for a miracle cure for their health ailments, several professional athletes, and some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. No one is immune from getting deceived when money is involved. Don’t Fall For It is a fascinating look into some of the biggest financial frauds and scams ever.

Labor in the Time of Trump
Edited by by Jasmine Kerrissey, et al.
Summary via publisher (ILR/Columbia University Press)
Labor in the Time of Trump critically analyzes the right-wing attack on workers and unions and offers strategies to build a working–class movement. While President Trump’s election in 2016 may have been a wakeup call for labor and the Left, the underlying processes behind this shift to the right have been building for at least forty years. The contributors show that only by analyzing the vulnerabilities in the right-wing strategy can the labor movement develop an effective response. Essays in the volume examine the conservative upsurge, explore key challenges the labor movement faces today, and draw lessons from recent activist successes.

Margin of Trust: The Berkshire Business Model
By Lawrence Cunningham and Stephanie Cuba
Summary via publisher (Columbia University Press)
Warren Buffett and his company, Berkshire Hathaway, are legendary for their distinctive investing approach. Yet many equally unconventional but less well known aspects of Berkshire’s managerial practices and organizational structure are rich with lessons for those seeking to follow in Buffett’s footsteps. Margin of Trust is the first book to distill Buffett’s approach to management and corporate life. It provides a definitive analysis of the tenets of the Berkshire system, its costs and benefits, and how it can be adapted for other organizations.

Trade Is Not a Four-Letter Word: How Six Everyday Products Make the Case for Trade
By Fred P. Hochberg
Op-ed by author via USA Today
Democrats need to make clear that Trump represents the party of protectionism, tariffs and trade wars that kill American jobs and hurt American workers, from Iowa farms to Michigan factories. Trump will no doubt try to claim victory with the signing of a new trade deal with China and Senate passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. But the truth is that the negative effects of Trump’s trade war with China linger on, especially in Iowa, and the success of the USMCA is mostly due to the hard work of Democrats in Congress.

Markets, State, and People: Economics for Public Policy
By Diane Coyle
Summary via publisher (Princeton University Press)
While economic research emphasizes the importance of governmental institutions for growth and progress, conventional public policy textbooks tend to focus on macroeconomic policies and on tax-and-spend decisions. Markets, State, and People stresses the basics of welfare economics and the interplay between individual and collective choices. It fills a gap by showing how economic theory relates to current policy questions, with a look at incentives, institutions, and efficiency. How should resources in society be allocated for the most economically efficient outcomes, and how does this sit with society’s sense of fairness?

Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy Is a Sign of Success
By Dietrich Vollrath
Summary via publisher (University of Chicago Press)
Most economists would agree that a thriving economy is synonymous with GDP growth. The more we produce and consume, the higher our living standard and the more resources available to the public. This means that our current era, in which growth has slowed substantially from its postwar highs, has raised alarm bells. But should it? Is growth actually the best way to measure economic success—and does our slowdown indicate economic problems?

Extreme Economies: What Life at the World’s Margins Can Teach Us About Our Own Future
By Richard Davies
Review via The New York Times
An adage in the legal profession holds that hard cases make bad law. The premise of Richard Davies’s “Extreme Economies” is that, at least with respect to economics, this notion is mistaken and strange outlier cases like the tsunami-ravaged Indonesian province of Aceh or the severe urban decline of Glasgow can teach us valuable general lessons about the world we live in.