Book Bits: 18 March 2023

Meganets: How Digital Forces Beyond Our Control Commandeer Our Daily Lives and Inner Realities
David B. Auerbach
Excerpt via Gizmodo
The Googles, Facebooks, cryptocurrencies, and government systems of our world accumulate influence at a mystifying rate. The constant critiques and attempted regulation directed at these systems never seem to yield real reform. Such efforts run into a brick wall for one ultimate reason: no one is really in control. Even the companies and executives who run them are trapped by the persistent, evolving, and opaque systems they have created. What is it that has so destabilized our elites so that they have lost control of the very systems they built and run? With every passing day we intuitively sense a loss of control over our daily lives, society, culture, and politics, even as it becomes more difficult to extricate ourselves from our hypernetworked fabric. No explanation ever seems sufficient.

The Battle for Your Brain: Defending the Right to Think Freely in the Age of Neurotechnology
Nita A. Farahany
Q&A with author via The Wall Street Journal
Employers can track workers’ emails, computer keystrokes and calls. What happens when they routinely start tracking employees’ brains?
Nita Farahany, 46, has been studying the possibility for years. A professor of law and philosophy at Duke University School of Law, Dr. Farahany has long been intrigued by potential legal challenges posed by devices in the workplace that measure electrical activity in the brain.

Poverty, by America
Matthew Desmond
Review via The Economist
Many fine books on American poverty criticise capitalism and go in for intermittent moralising. It is indeed a moral failing that America continues to have a high rate of child poverty. But in this book, moral certainty and righteousness are the main substance of the argument.
Mr Desmond actively disparages nuance. “Hungry people want bread,” he notes. In response, “the rich convene a panel of experts. Complexity is the refuge of the powerful.” His policy analysis, when he gets to it, is cursory, somewhat contradictory and largely unconcerned with alternative explanations. He dismisses the prominent thesis that urban poverty is a result of deindustrialisation in a single short paragraph (which mostly gripes about the ugliness of that term).

Bootstrapped: Liberating Ourselves from the American Dream
Alissa Quart
Review via The Atlantic
The Horatio Alger Association is one of the institutions that Alissa Quart, a journalist and the executive director of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, critiques in her new book, Bootstrapped: Liberating Ourselves From the American Dream. In a wide-ranging 230 pages, Quart challenges our nation’s obsession with self-reliance. According to Quart, the fiction that anyone who works hard can have a better life increases inequality and promotes policies that hurt us. Meanwhile, blaming people for their supposedly bad choices is “a kind of nationwide bullying” that the poor internalize. Bootstrapped puts words to beliefs that I struggled to articulate as a teen and that haunted me into adulthood: Both success and failure were up to me alone, I was valuable only when I triumphed, and if I couldn’t overcome, I’d be better off dead.

Shelter from the Storm: How a COVID Mortgage Meltdown Was Averted
Mark Calabria
Summary via publisher (Cato Institute)
The COVID-19 pandemic upended our daily lives. The crisis was not only an unprecedented shock to our health care system but also a threat to our economic well‐​being, including our mortgage and housing markets. Despite the reforms following the 2008 financial crisis, markets were not prepared, and March 2020 brought another financial crisis. When he was the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Mark Calabria led a considerable part of the response to the 2020 crisis. In Shelter from the Storm, he tells the story of how millions of families were provided with mortgage and rental assistance, both to keep them safe and to keep our financial markets functioning. He offers readers a peek behind the curtain of government decisionmaking in a crisis and shows how housing disruptions were minimized at little cost to the public, while resisting calls for Wall Street bailouts.

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