Book Bits | 18 July 2020

Underwater: How Our American Dream of Homeownership Became a Nightmare
Ryan Dezember
Review via The New York Times
It is certainly worth debating whether homeownership should be something every American strives for. But it’s not a change that should be imposed by companies that see profit in forcing this dramatic change on people who would otherwise be able to buy their own homes. As Dezember notes, “If homeownership falls out of fashion for even a generation, there could be dire economic consequences unless renters become diligent savers and prudent investors.” In other words, bring on the retirement crisis.

You’re About to Make a Terrible Mistake: How Biases Distort Decision-Making and What You Can Do to Fight Them
Olivier Sibony
Review via FT
This is not a book about how to tackle the particular challenges of managing out of a pandemic or through a recession — it was written before lockdown. There is, however, plenty here to help hard-pressed leaders in a crisis, richly illustrated with examples from business, sport and society.
For instance, Galunic suggests “scanning and sensemaking” — the process of capturing signals and interpreting them — are vital approaches to uncertainty. He also revisits another Marchian idea about managing the contradiction between “exploration” (including innovation and invention) and “exploitation” (the endless search for further efficiency in existing areas of business). The goal? An “ambidextrous” leadership style that balances “conflicting and often paradoxical forces”.

Oilcraft: The Myths of Scarcity and Security That Haunt U.S. Energy Policy
Robert Vitalis
Summary via publisher (Stanford U. Press)
A bracing corrective to the myths that have shaped economic, military, and diplomatic policy, dispelling our oil-soaked fantasies of dependence.
There is a conventional wisdom about oil—that the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf is what guarantees access to this strategic resource; that the “special” relationship with Saudi Arabia is necessary to stabilize an otherwise volatile market; and that these assumptions in turn provide Washington enormous leverage over Europe and Asia. Except, the conventional wisdom is wrong.

What Retirees Want: A Holistic View of Life’s Third Age
Ken Dychtwald and Robert Morison
Summary via publisher (Wiley)
The world is witnessing a powerful new version of retirement, driven by the power and needs of the Baby Boomer generation. Consumers over age 50 account for more than half of all spending and control more than 70% of our total net worth – yet are largely ignored by youth-focused marketers. How will work, family, and retirement be transformed to accommodate two billion people over the age of 60 worldwide? In the coming years, we’ll see explosive business growth fueled by this unprecedented longevity revolution. What Retirees Want presents the culmination of 30 years of research by world-famous “Age Wave” expert Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., and author and consultant Robert Morison. It explains how the aging of the Baby Boomers will forever change our lives, businesses, government programs, and the consumer marketplace.

The Infinite Machine: How an Army of Crypto-hackers Is Building the Next Internet with Ethereum
Camila Russo
Summary via publisher (Harper Business)
Everyone has heard of Bitcoin, but few know about the second largest cryptocurrency, Ethereum, which has been heralded as the “next internet.” The story of Ethereum begins with Vitalik Buterin, a supremely gifted nineteen-year-old autodidact who saw the promise of blockchain when the technology was in its earliest stages. He convinced a crack group of coders to join him in his quest to make a super-charged, global computer.

Raising Keynes: A Twenty-First-Century General Theory
Stephen A. Marglin
Summary via publisher (Harvard University Press)
Back to the future: a heterodox economist rewrites Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money to serve as the basis for a macroeconomics for the twenty-first century. John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money was the most influential economic idea of the twentieth century. But, argues Stephen Marglin, its radical implications were obscured by Keynes’s lack of the mathematical tools necessary to argue convincingly that the problem was the market itself, as distinct from myriad sources of friction around its margins.

Promised Land: How the Rise of the Middle Class Transformed America, 1929-1968
David Stebenne
Review via Publishers Weekly
A large, prosperous, and politically moderate middle class shaped the American century, according to this judicious and informative debut history from Stebenne, an Ohio State University history and law professor. He explores the revolutionary impact of New Deal social insurance programs, housing subsidies, and labor laws, as well as the WWII-era G.I. Bill, in turning America’s hardscrabble working class into a middle class of well-paid, often unionized (mostly white) workers with cars and suburban houses, who watched bland comedies about middle-class families on TV. The result, Stebenne writes, was a “middle class [that] was as much a state of mind as an economic and demographic reality… sharing a national pride and purpose,” along with centrist politics and a family-friendly middlebrow culture.

A Philosopher’s Economist: Hume and the Rise of Capitalism
Margaret Schabas and Carl Wennerlind
Summary via publisher (University of Chicago)
Although David Hume’s contributions to philosophy are firmly established, his economics has been largely overlooked. A Philosopher’s Economist offers the definitive account of Hume’s “worldly philosophy” and argues that economics was a central preoccupation of his life and work. Margaret Schabas and Carl Wennerlind show that Hume made important contributions to the science of economics, notably on money, trade, and public finance.

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