Book Bits | 20 September 2014

American Power After The Financial Crisis
By Jonathan Kirshner
Summary via publisher (Cornell University Press)
The global financial crisis of 2007–2008 was both an economic catastrophe and a watershed event in world politics. In American Power after the Financial Crisis, Jonathan Kirshner explains how the crisis altered the international balance of power, affecting the patterns and pulse of world politics. The crisis, Kirshner argues, brought about an end to what he identifies as the “second postwar American order” because it undermined the legitimacy of the economic ideas that underpinned that order—especially those that encouraged and even insisted upon uninhibited financial deregulation. The crisis also accelerated two existing trends: the relative erosion of the power and political influence of the United States and the increased political influence of other states, most notably, but not exclusively, China.

Keynes: Useful Economics for the World Economy
By Peter Temin and David Vines
Summary via publisher (MIT Press)
As the global economic crisis continues to cause damage, some policy makers have called for a more Keynesian approach to current economic problems. In this book, the economists Peter Temin and David Vines provide an accessible introduction to Keynesian ideas that connects Keynes’s insights to today’s global economy and offers readers a way to understand current policy debates. John Maynard Keynes (1883–1946) created the branch of economics now known as macroeconomics. He played a major role in the reconstruction of Europe and the world economy after the Second World War. Keynesian economics came to be identified with efforts to mitigate the Great Depression and with postwar economic policies that helped power a golden age of economic growth. Temin and Vines argue that Keynes also provided a way to understand the interactions among nations, and therein lies his relevance for today’s global crisis.

Model Building in Economics: Its Purposes and Limitations
By Lawrence A. Boland
Summary via publisher (Cambridge University Press)
Concern about the role and the limits of modeling has heightened after repeated questions were raised regarding the dependability and suitability of the models that were used in the run-up to the 2008 financial crash. In this book, Lawrence Boland provides an overview of the practices of and the problems faced by model builders to explain the nature of models, the modeling process, and the possibility for and nature of their testing. In a reflective manner, the author raises serious questions about the assumptions and judgments that model builders make in constructing models. In making his case, he examines the traditional microeconomics-macroeconomics separation with regard to how theoretical models are built and used and how they interact, paying particular attention to the use of equilibrium concepts in macroeconomic models and game theory and to the challenges involved in building empirical models, testing models, and using models to test theoretical explanations.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
By Peter Thiel with Blake Masters
Review via The Economist
The book’s title sums up the main argument, that truly valuable innovation occurs not through incremental change but by creating something out of nothing, something entirely new. That will require hard, contrarian thinking; the sort of vague “indefinite optimism” that things are going to get better that has long been a part of American culture, though is currently on the wane, will have to be resisted. Successful entrepreneurs, he argues, are not lucky lottery-winners, but people who have a clear vision of the future and a well-designed plan for getting there. Knowing where Facebook was heading enabled Mark Zuckerberg to dismiss Yahoo’s offer to buy the social network for $1 billion in 2006. Seeing the future as random and unplannable is, he says, the curse of our age.

Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust
By Darrell M. West
Summary via publisher (Brookings Institution Press)
The top one percent own about one-third of the assets in America and 40 percent of assets around the world. This concentration of financial resources in many countries gives the ultra-rich extraordinary influence over elections, public policy, and governance. In his new book, Darrell M. West analyzes the growing political activism of billionaires and how they have created more activist forms of politics and philanthropy based on their net worth. With this “wealthification” of politics and society, it is important to understand how this concentration of wealth affects system performance as well as social and economic opportunity.