Book Bits | 19 September 2015

Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor
By Tren Griffin
Q&A with author via The Wall Street Journal
WSJ: Mr. Munger has unique views on investing, particularly about the choice between index investing and what he calls “focus investing.” Do you agree with his approach?
MR. GRIFFIN: Munger says the best option for what he calls the “know-nothing investor” with a long-term time horizon is a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds or ETFs. He also points out that despite the fact that more than 90% of investors are “know-nothing investors,” way more than 10% will conclude “I’m in the 10%.”

Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception
By George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller
Summary via publisher (Princeton University Press)
Ever since Adam Smith, the central teaching of economics has been that free markets provide us with material well-being, as if by an invisible hand. In Phishing for Phools, Nobel Prize–winning economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller deliver a fundamental challenge to this insight, arguing that markets harm as well as help us. As long as there is profit to be made, sellers will systematically exploit our psychological weaknesses and our ignorance through manipulation and deception. Rather than being essentially benign and always creating the greater good, markets are inherently filled with tricks and traps and will “phish” us as “phools.”

Disaster Capitalism
By Antony Loewenstein
Summary via publisher (Penguin Random House)
Award-winning journalist Antony Loewenstein travels across the US, Britain, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and Australia to witness the reality of Disaster Capitalism—the hidden world of privatized detention centers and militarized private security, formed to protect corporations as they profit from war zones. He visits Britain’s immigration detention centers, tours the prison system in the United States, and digs into the underbelly of the companies making a fortune from them. Loewenstein reveals the dark history of how large multinational corporations have become more powerful than governments, supported by media and political elites.

On Inequality
By Harry G. Frankfurt
Review via The Enlightened Economist
A small book has just arrived, On Inequality, by Harry G Frankfurt of On Bullshit fame. On first glance it looks like a provocative argument that inequality shouldn’t bother us, the moral challenge is the reduction of poverty. On a closer read, the essay argues: “Our basic focus should be on reducing both poverty and excessive affluence. But the reduction of inequality cannot itself be our most essential ambition.”

The Inequality Trap: Fighting Capitalism Instead of Poverty
By William Watson
Review via First Things
In The Inequality Trap, William Watson argues that the contemporary obsession with inequality is both an error and a trap.
An error because “inequality, unlike poverty, is not the problem it is so widely presumed to be. Inequality can be good, it can be bad, and it can be neither good nor bad but benign.” While we may need ways of addressing various kinds of inequality, “we do not need, and it would be a mistake to adopt a single perspective or policy for inequality writ large.” Ignoring the varieties of inequality not only lacks finesse, but can produce injustices: “A one-size-fits-all perspective or policy would involve us in meaningful and costly injustice, even, in the now ubiquitous but not always meaningful term social injustice.”