Book Bits: 20 November 2021

To the Brink of Destruction: America’s Rating Agencies and Financial Crisis
Timothy J. Sinclair
Summary via publisher (Cornell U. Press)
To the Brink of Destruction exposes how America’s rating agencies helped generate the global financial crisis of 2007 and beyond, surviving and thriving in the aftermath. Despite widespread scrutiny, rating agencies continued to operate on the same business model and wield extraordinary power, exerting extensive influence over public policy. Timothy J. Sinclair brings the shadowy corners of this story to life by examining congressional testimony, showing how the wheels of accountability turned—and ultimately failed—during the crisis. He asks how and why the agencies risked their lucrative franchise by aligning so closely with a process of financial innovation that came undone during the crisis. What he finds is that key institutions, including the agencies, changed from being judges to being advocates years before the crisis, eliminating a vital safety valve meant to hinder financial excess.

No Free Lunch: Six Economic Lies You’ve Been Taught And Probably Believe
Caleb S. Fuller
Q&A with author via The Paper
Q: What are the economic lies you address? How do these harm people?
A: In my book, I give six examples. First, “Destruction is profit.” This phrase comes from Bastiat’s 1850 essay, “That Which is Seen and That Which is Unseen.” This lie says that “economic activity” is synonymous with “productive economic activity.” The lie is spread whenever someone praises natural disasters or wars for creating a flurry of activity. It’s a lie because it forgets about the alternative uses of scarce resources. One reason it’s harmful is because it sees a silver lining in war where there is none. For example, many hold that World War II ended the Great Depression when, in fact, the former only prolonged the latter. The data supports this view of the relationship between war and prosperity—if you only know where to look!

Foxconned: Imaginary Jobs, Bulldozed Homes, and the Sacking of Local Government
Lawrence Tabak
Review via Publishers Weekly
Journalist Tabak (In Real Life) offers a stark cautionary tale of the murky practices, questionable economics, and political wheeling and dealing done in the name of economic development and job creation by manufacturing giant Foxconn, the Taiwan-based company that makes “some of the most popular electronics in the world,” including iPhones, Kindles, and PlayStations. In 2017, Donald Trump and Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s governor, announced the company would build a factory there, bringing 13,000 new manufacturing jobs to the state. Tabak highlights the costly accommodations necessary for that, powerfully demonstrating how the complex trade-offs that accompany speculative efforts to deliver new jobs can ultimately be just “a desert mirage to a thirst-crazed traveler.”

Geoengineering: The Gamble
Gernot Wagner
Review via The Guardian
Gernot Wagner has spent a large part of his life thinking about solar geoengineering, and even he thinks it is “nuts”, as he says in the first line of his book. Geoengineering is usually defined as large-scale interventions in our climate. Here, although Wagner refers briefly to carbon removal and natural climate solutions such as tree-planting, he is mainly concerned with solar geoengineering (also called solar radiation management), where aerosols would be deployed into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight back into space and reduce the amount of heat coming in. The comparison he returns to most often is that of the ash from a volcanic explosion….
Would it work? All the evidence suggests that solar geoengineering would be “fast, cheap and highly imperfect”, notes Wagner.

Living on the Edge: When Hard Times Become a Way of Life
Celine-Marie Pascale
Q&A with author via Progressive.org
In Living on the Edge: When Hard Times Become a Way of Life, Pascale explores the personal impact of poverty in low-income communities while simultaneously putting economic hardship into a robust political frame. This rare focus on the daily lives of the millions of U.S. residents who live paycheck to paycheck creates a vivid indictment of capitalism and the collusion between government and corporate interests.

Outgrowing Capitalism: Rethinking Money to Reshape Society and Pursue Purpose
Marco Dondi
Interview with author via RIMScast
This week, Justin Smulison is joined by author and management consultant, Marco Dondi! Since his humble beginnings on the outskirts of Milan, Marco has established his career and expertise as a strategy consultant with over a decade of experience in advising CEOs and government officials on economics, economic development, banking, education, adult training, and people development. Most recently, he wrote his book, Outgrowing Capitalism: Rethinking Money to Reshape Society and Pursue Purpose.

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