Book Bits | 21 September 2019

Paper Dragons: China and the Next Crash
By Walden Bello
Summary via publisher (ZED Books)
Emerging relatively unscathed from the banking crisis of 2008, China has been viewed as a model of both rampant success and fiscal stability. But beneath the surface lies a network of fissures that look likely to erupt into the next big financial crash. A bloated real-estate sector, roller-coaster stock market, and rapidly growing shadow-banking sector have all coalesced to create a perfect storm: one that is in danger of taking the rest of the world’s economy with it. Walden Bello traces our recent history of financial crises – from the bursting of Japan’s ‘bubble economy’ in 1990 to Wall Street in 2008 – taking in their political and human ramifications such as rising inequality and environmental degradation. He not only predicts that China might be the site of the next crash, but that under neoliberalism this will simply keep happening.

United States v. Apple: Competition in America
By Chris Sagers
Summary via publisher (Harvard University Press)
One of the most-followed antitrust cases of recent times—United States v. Apple—reveals an often-missed truth: what Americans most fear is competition itself. In 2012 the Department of Justice accused Apple and five book publishers of conspiring to fix ebook prices. The evidence overwhelmingly showed an unadorned price-fixing conspiracy that cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet before, during, and after the trial millions of Americans sided with the defendants. Pundits on the left and right condemned the government for its decision to sue, decrying Amazon’s market share, railing against a new high-tech economy, and rallying to defend beloved authors and publishers. For many, Amazon was the one that should have been put on trial. But why? One fact went unrecognized and unreckoned with: in practice, Americans have long been ambivalent about competition.

Digital Labor: The Coming Demise of the White Collar Worker
By Thomas Young
Summary via author’s web page
Since the industrial revolution, automation has transformed our global economy and the way we work. Early forms of automation took the form of machines meant to replace humans who performed repetitive, manual labor on the assembly line or in agriculture. Blue-collar jobs have since been on the edge of obsolescence as automation became more and more advanced. This book explores how white collar workers, who have been immune to many forms of automation for the past 20-30 years, are in the crosshairs of advanced software and technologies in the digital space.

That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea
By Marc Randolph
Q&A with author via Fast Company
Q: What did all of Netflix’s streaming rivals misunderstand about the company?
A: For one thing, Netflix started before streaming was even a possibility and certainly glimpsed that this was coming and was acting on it at the beginning. From day one, as you saw in the book, when we were pitching the company, a lot of people were saying, “Oh, that will never work.” And a lot of them were saying that [our DVDs by mail business model] would never work because they believed that, in just a matter of weeks or months, everyone would be downloading these movies or streaming these movies. And we of course knew that eventually that would be true, but we did not know how long that would take, and instead we built a company that would allow us not only to wait but would allow us to build equity and things that would have value at that point. Not just the brand, but building an expertise in helping people find entertainment they love. We never viewed ourselves as a DVD company but as a company that was really trying to help people find things they wanted to watch and that transcended whether they got it on DVD or got it on streaming.

On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal
By Naomi Klein
Q&A with author via Democracy Now!
Amid mounting climate disasters across the planet, from the fires ravaging the Amazon to Hurricane Dorian’s destructive path through the Bahamas, we speak with renowned journalist, author and activist Naomi Klein. In her new book, “On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal,” Klein looks unsparingly at the rise of ecofascism, as Western countries fortify their borders and white supremacy surges around the world in response to the climate crisis. But she also lays out another path forward in which mankind meets the challenge of global warming with radical and systemic transformation. “We do know that if we are going to lower our emissions in time, it is going to take transformations of how we live in cities, how we move ourselves around, how we grow our food, where we get our energy from,” Klein says. “Essentially, what the Green New Deal is saying: If we’re going to do all that, why wouldn’t we tackle all of these systemic economic and social crises at the same time? Because we live in a time of multiple, overlapping crises.”

Never Bullshit the Client: My Life in Investment Consulting
By Richard M. Ennis
Review via Forbes
Richard Ennis’ new autobiographic book, Never Bullshit the Client- My Life In Investment Consulting tells the story of his misspent youth, the interest he later developed in finance theory and his role in helping create the field of institutional investment consulting as we know it today.

Self-Devouring Growth: A Planetary Parable as Told from Southern Africa
By Julie Livingston
Summary via publisher (Duke University Press)
Under capitalism, economic growth is seen as the key to collective well-being. In Self-Devouring Growth Julie Livingston upends this notion, showing that while consumption-driven growth may seem to benefit a particular locale, it produces a number of unacknowledged, negative consequences that ripple throughout the wider world. Structuring the book as a parable in which the example of Botswana has lessons for the rest of the globe, Livingston shows how fundamental needs for water, food, and transportation become harnessed to what she calls self-devouring growth: an unchecked and unsustainable global pursuit of economic growth that threatens catastrophic environmental destruction. As Livingston notes, improved technology alone cannot stave off such destruction; what is required is a greater accounting of the web of relationships between humans, nonhuman beings, plants, and minerals that growth entails. Livingston contends that by failing to understand these relationships and the consequences of self-devouring growth, we may be unknowingly consuming our future.

What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence
By Stephen A. Schwarzman
Review via The Wall Street Journal
On Oct. 15, 1987, a Thursday, the fledgling Blackstone private-equity firm locked up nearly $800 million of investors’ capital. That was short of the firm’s brash $1 billion goal for its initial fund, but markets seemed nervous and so were the firm’s founders: the elder statesman Pete Peterson and his ambitious younger partner Stephen Schwarzman.

Sorting Out the Mixed Economy: The Rise and Fall of Welfare and Developmental States in the Americas
By Amy C. Offner
Summary via publisher (Princeton University Press)
In this groundbreaking book, Amy Offner brings readers to Colombia and back, showing the entanglement of American societies and the contradictory promises of midcentury statebuilding. The untold story of how the road from the New Deal to the Great Society ran through Latin America, Sorting Out the Mixed Economy also offers a surprising new account of the origins of neoliberalism.

Our Great Purpose: Adam Smith on Living a Better Life
By Ryan Patrick Hanley
Summary via publisher (Princeton University Press)
Adam Smith is best known today as the founder of modern economics, but he was also an uncommonly brilliant philosopher who was especially interested in the perennial question of how to live a good life. Our Great Purpose is a short and illuminating guide to Smith’s incomparable wisdom on how to live well, written by one of today’s leading Smith scholars. In this inspiring and entertaining book, Ryan Patrick Hanley describes Smith’s vision of “the excellent and praiseworthy character,” and draws on the philosopher’s writings to show how each of us can go about developing one.