Book Bits | 2.08.14

The Affluent Society Revisited
By Mike Berry
Summary via publisher, Oxford University Press
This book revisits John Kenneth Galbraith’s classic text The Affluent Society in the context of the background to, and causes of, the global economic crisis that erupted in 2008. Each chapter takes a major theme of Galbraith’s book, distils his arguments, and then discusses to what extent they cast light on current developments, both in developed economies and in the economics discipline. The themes include: inequality, insecurity, inflation, debt, consumer behaviour, financialization, the economic role of government (‘social balance’), the power of ideas, the role of power in the economy, and the nature of the good society. It considers the current problems of capitalism and the huge challenges facing democratic governments in tackling them.

How Numbers Rule the World: The Use and Abuse of Statistics in Global Politics
By Lorenzo Fioramonti
Summary via publisher, Zed Books
Numbers dominate global politics and, as a result, our everyday lives. Credit ratings steer financial markets and can make or break the future of entire nations. GDP drives our economies. Stock market indices flood our media and national debates. Statistical calculations define how we deal with climate change, poverty and sustainability. But what is behind these numbers? Lorenzo Fioramonti reveals the hidden agendas underpinning the use of statistics and those who control them. Most worryingly, he shows how numbers have been used as a means to reinforce the grip of markets on our social and political life, curtailing public participation and rational debate.

By All Means Necessary: How China’s Resource Quest is Changing the World
By Elizabeth Economy and Michael Levi
Review via Council on Foreign Relations
China is now engaged in a far-flung quest, hunting around the world for fuel, ores, water, and land for farming, and deploying whatever it needs in the economic, political, and military spheres to secure the resources it requires. Chinese traders and investors buy commodities, with consequences for economies, people, and the environment around the world. Meanwhile the Chinese military aspires to secure sea lanes, and Chinese diplomats struggle to protect the country’s interests abroad. And just as surely as China’s pursuit of natural resources is changing the world–restructuring markets, pushing up commodity prices, transforming resource-rich economies through investment and trade–it is also changing China itself. As Chinese corporations increasingly venture abroad, they must navigate various political regimes, participate in international markets, and adopt foreign standards and practices, which can lead to wide-reaching social and political ramifications at home. Clear, authoritative, and provocative, By All Means Necessary is a sweeping account of where China’s pursuit of raw materials may take the country in the coming years and what the consequences will be–not just for China, but for the whole world.

The Contest of the Century: The New Era of Competition with China–and How America Can Win
By Geoff A. Dyer
Summary via publisher, Random House
Dyer explains how China will struggle to unseat the United States. China’s new ambitions are provoking intense anxiety, especially in Asia, while America’s global influence has deep roots. If Washington can adjust to a world in which it is no longer dominant but still immensely powerful, it can withstand China’s challenge. With keen insight based on a deep local knowledge—offering the reader visions of coastal Chinese beauty pageants and secret submarine bases, lockstep Beijing military parades and the neon media screens of Xinhua exported to New York City’s Times Square—The Contest of the Century is essential reading at a time of great uncertainty about America’s future, a road map for retaining a central role in the world.

Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All
By Costas Lapavitsas
Review via the Financial Times
The thrust of the argument is that “financialisation” is corrosive. Its ascent since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system of exchange rate controls in 1973 has not only created new layers of society. It also explains the increasingly lacklustre underlying performance of economies in the advanced world – and threatens that of their emerging counterparts. It has forced the retreat of labour and exacerbated income inequality. Finance, he warns, could even become “predatory and destructive” towards the rest of the economy.

The Safe Investor: How to Make Your Money Grow in a Volatile Global Economy
By Tim McCarthy
Summary via publisher, Palgrave Macmillan
Expert investor Timothy McCarthy has spent the last 30 years in the US and overseas providing investment solutions to individuals and their advisors. He believes that understanding how to create a truly globally diverse portfolio while applying the magic of time will help all investors navigate risky markets. McCarthy also explores the fundamentals of picking and evaluating financial advisors for those who want to understand the principles of investing but not actually do the work themselves. McCarthy helps guide the reader along a straightforward path to investment success by telling engaging and actual stories to illustrate each of his seven lessons of successful investing.