Book Bits | 21 March 2020

Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers
By John Kay and Mervyn King
Review via The Telegraph
That ripping sound you may have heard lately is the noise of economists around the world tearing up carefully-honed forecasts, thanks to the rapidly spreading coronavirus.
For former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King and the senior economist John Kay, the all-too-rapid redundancy of the investment banks’ glossy brochures merely underline the folly of such prognostications in the first place.
In their new book, Radical Uncertainty, the pair turn a critical gaze on their own economics profession and find it badly wanting. They paint an unsparing picture of a discipline enslaved by its models, pretending to knowledge it cannot possibly have, and losing public trust as a consequence.

Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism
By Anne Case and Angus Deaton
Review via Financial Times
Like all good economics, the argument in Deaths of Despair starts from an observation — rising suicide rates among working-class Americans in the first decades of the 21st century. The authors then use data to describe the problem before trying to diagnose, understand and prescribe.
As you might expect from a Nobel Prize winner (Deaton) and, in Case, one of America’s best empirical economists, the picture they paint is painstaking in its detail and vivid in its importance. The victims of this new epidemic, they demonstrate, are white, non-Hispanic middle-aged Americans without a degree-level education qualification — a group that overwhelmingly voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 and has stuck with him since. Over the past 25 years, deaths from suicide, drug and alcohol abuse among this group have tripled.

Competition Overdose: How Free Market Mythology Transformed Us from Citizen Kings to Market Servants
By Maurice E. Stucke and Ariel Ezrach
Review via Kirkus Reviews
In their latest collaboration, Stucke (Law/Univ. of Tennessee) and Ezrachi (Competition Law/Univ. of Oxford), who co-authored Virtual Competition: The Promise and Perils of the Algorithm-Driven Economy (2016, etc.), parse the theory of competition within a society, delineating how sometimes the positive aspects of competition—e.g., in choosing a college, on supermarket shelves, regarding hotel prices, etc.—can spiral downward, becoming a menace. Because competition has been sold for centuries as an unbridled positive, reading this book requires counterintuitive thinking and an open mind. Using a lucid, conversational style, the authors thoroughly explain each case study and anecdote. Does competition regularly result in a race to the bottom? Yes, the authors maintain, and they present ideas about how to achieve what they term “noble competition,” in which sellers, buyers, and society at large all benefit.

The American Trap: My battle to expose America’s secret economic war against the rest of the world
By Frédéric Pierucci
Summary via publisher (Hodder & Stoughton)
In 2014, France lost part of the control of its nuclear power plants to the United States. Frédéric Pierucci, former senior executive of one of Alstom’s power company subsidiaries, found himself at the heart of this state scandal. His story goes to the very core of how he plotted the key features of the secret economic war that the United States is waging in Europe. And after being silenced for a long time, he has decided, with the help of journalist Matthieu Aron, to reveal all.

Samsung Rising: The Inside Story of the South Korean Giant That Set Out to Beat Apple and Conquer Tech
By Geoffrey Cain
Review via Asia Times
Biographies are prominent sights on non-fiction shelves, and many become classics. Business bios? Less so. But a new entry to the genre – Geoffrey Cain’s Samsung Rising: The Inside Story of the South Korean Giant that Set out to Beat Apple and Conquer Tech (Penguin Random House, 2020) – is a corker.
Samsung, which Cain calls a “strange labyrinth of a company,” in many ways mirrors South Korea itself. Indeed, when Koreans call their country “The Republic of Samsung” they are only half-joking. The high-tech juggernaut was a zero-to-hero success story that accelerated from low-end commodity player to high-tech super brand in virtually the blink of an eye – and now stands nose-to-nose with Apple.
That is the upside. The down: Samsung is also a vastly powerful, opaque and abusive entity – one that many Koreans consider representative of the unfairness of native capitalism.

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