Book Bits: 22 May 2021

Tarzan Economics: Eight Principles for Pivoting Through Disruption
Will Page
Review via The Financial Times
Tarzan Economics borrows its title from technologist Jim Griffin’s 2009 speech reflecting on the music industry’s response to the file-sharer Napster. Griffin described how successful companies need always to swing forwards, Tarzan-like, by reaching “for the next vine”. Page has done time in the jungle himself, as a civil servant turned chief economist at PRS, the UK music rights collecting society, and Spotify.
He applies his “rockonomist” eye well beyond the music business, which he argues just happened to be the first industry to suffer significant digital disruption, and therefore the first to “grab a new vine” of streaming services and recover. “The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it is selling,” management thinker Peter Drucker said. “That’s why you need this book,” Page writes. “It makes you look afresh at what you think you know.”

What to Do with Your Money When Crisis Hits: A Survival Guide
Michelle Singletary
Adaptation via The Washington Post
Increasingly, even workers with full-time salaried jobs are relying on side hustles. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans earn money from the digital-platform economy, according to the Pew Research Center. You might rent your home or apartment through Airbnb. You might be a freelance writer or contract employee.
Where once a side hustle was what someone did while between steady 9-to-5 jobs, many people have now decided that the gig economy is the way they want to work. Or because of a job loss, it’s the only work they can get. But the hard reality is, whether out of desire or necessity, it’s important to figure out whether you can live well enough on income earned in the gig economy.

Inside Money: Brown Brothers Harriman and the American Way of Power
Zachary Karabell
Review via Publishers Weekly
Journalist and former finance executive Karabell (The Last Campaign) delivers a largely flattering history of the private investment firm Brown Brothers Harriman. In 1800, Alexander Brown left Belfast, Ireland, for Baltimore, Md., where he became an importer of linen and an exporter of tobacco. Drawing on company records, Karabell tracks the evolution of the Brown family business from trading to investment banking, and its merger, at the height of the Great Depression, with a bank founded by railroad heir and U.S. diplomat W. Averell Harriman. Along the way, Karabell documents formative moments in America’s economic and political history

Super Founders: What Data Reveals About Billion-Dollar Startups
Ali Tamaseb
Q&A with author via TechCrunch
TC: Why write this book?
AT: When I was a founder, a lot of my perception was shaped through this lens of what the media tells us. Even now, when I’m on Twitter or Clubhouse, a lot of what I hear feels very different compared with what I see as a venture capitalist. Of course, nobody knows everything, and even the most successful venture capitalists have maybe invested in 10 of these breakout companies in their lifetime. So to get to the ground truth, and because nobody has collected this data because it’s hard, over four years of weekends and evenings, I began to collect [it], ultimately establishing 65 data points per company.

Algorithms and Autonomy: The Ethics of Automated Decision Systems
Alan Rubel, et al.
Summary via publisher (Cambridge University Press)
Algorithms influence every facet of modern life: criminal justice, education, housing, entertainment, elections, social media, news feeds, work… the list goes on. Delegating important decisions to machines, however, gives rise to deep moral concerns about responsibility, transparency, freedom, fairness, and democracy. Algorithms and Autonomy connects these concerns to the core human value of autonomy in the contexts of algorithmic teacher evaluation, risk assessment in criminal sentencing, predictive policing, background checks, news feeds, ride-sharing platforms, social media, and election interference. Using these case studies, the authors provide a better understanding of machine fairness and algorithmic transparency. They explain why interventions in algorithmic systems are necessary to ensure that algorithms are not used to control citizens’ participation in politics and undercut democracy.

The Spirit of Green: The Economics of Collisions and Contagions in a Crowded World
William D. Nordhaus
Summary via publisher (Princeton University Press)
Solving the world’s biggest problems—from climate catastrophe and pandemics to wildfires and corporate malfeasance—requires, more than anything else, coming up with new ways to manage the powerful interactions that surround us. For carbon emissions and other environmental damage, this means ensuring that those responsible pay their full costs rather than continuing to pass them along to others, including future generations. In The Spirit of Green, Nobel Prize–winning economist William Nordhaus describes a new way of green thinking that would help us overcome our biggest challenges without sacrificing economic prosperity, in large part by accounting for the spillover costs of economic collisions.

Baby Boomer Investing in the Perilous Decade of the 2020s: How to Live a Dignified Retirement
Ronald Surz
Summary via Amazon
Most of our 78 million baby boomers will spend much of this decade in the Risk Zone spanning the 10 years before and after retirement. Losses in the Risk Zone can make remaining lifetimes far less comfortable, and could make boomers a burden on society because $50 trillion is at stake.Following the Roaring 2010s, the odds of avoiding a market crash in this decade are incredibly low. This book explains why inflation and other threats are likely to burst bubbles in stock and bond markets, creating significant investment losses.

The Promise of Bitcoin: The Future of Money and How It Can Work for You
Bobby Lee
Summary via publisher (McGraw Hill)
Lee offers a primer on the best strategies for purchasing and investing in this digital currency. He discusses the pros and cons, and covers the more complicated method of acquiring bitcoin, mining. He predicts developments in regulation, technology, business, and society that will lead to bitcoin’s price increasing 500 percent over the next two decades. In the wake of the current economic crisis, Lee calls on consumers to embrace a technology that will not only increase their wealth but make their lives easier.

Postcapitalist Futures: Political Economy Beyond Crisis and Hope
Edited by Adam Fishwick and Nicholas Kiersey
Summary via publisher (Pluto Press)
This book critically engages with the proliferation of literature on postcapitalism, which is rapidly becoming an urgent area of inquiry, both in academic scholarship and in public life. It collects the insights from scholars working across the field of Critical International Political Economy to interrogate how we might begin to envisage a political economy of postcapitalism.

Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains
Lucas Bessire
Summary via publisher (Princeton University Press)
The Ogallala aquifer has nourished life on the American Great Plains for millennia. But less than a century of unsustainable irrigation farming has taxed much of the aquifer beyond repair. The imminent depletion of the Ogallala and other aquifers around the world is a defining planetary crisis of our times. Running Out offers a uniquely personal account of aquifer depletion and the deeper layers through which it gains meaning and force.

The Return of Inequality: Social Change and the Weight of the Past
Mike Savage
Summary via publisher (Harvard University Press)
The economic facts of inequality are clear. The rich have been pulling away from the rest of us for years, and the super-rich have been pulling away from the rich. More and more assets are concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Mainstream economists say we need not worry; what matters is growth, not distribution. In The Return of Inequality, acclaimed sociologist Mike Savage pushes back, explaining inequality’s profound deleterious effects on the shape of societies.

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