Book Bits | 23 February 2019

Bubbles and Crashes: The Boom and Bust of Technological Innovation
By Brent Goldfarb and David A. Kirsch
Summary via publisher (Stanford University Press)
Financial market bubbles are recurring, often painful, reminders of the costs and benefits of capitalism. While many books have studied financial manias and crises, most fail to compare times of turmoil with times of stability. In Bubbles and Crashes, Brent Goldfarb and David A. Kirsch give us new insights into the causes of speculative booms and busts. They identify a class of assets—major technological innovations—that can, but does not necessarily, produce bubbles. This methodological twist is essential: Only by comparing similar events that sometimes lead to booms and busts can we ascertain the root causes of bubbles.

Austerity: When It Works and When It Doesn’t
By Alberto Alesina, et al.
Summary via publisher (Princeton University Press)
Fiscal austerity is hugely controversial. Opponents argue that it can trigger downward growth spirals and become self-defeating. Supporters argue that budget deficits have to be tackled aggressively at all times and at all costs. In this masterful book, three of today’s leading policy experts cut through the political noise to demonstrate that there is not one type of austerity but many. Looking at thousands of fiscal measures adopted by sixteen advanced economies since the late 1970s, Austerity assesses the relative effectiveness of tax increases and spending cuts at reducing debt. It shows that spending cuts have much smaller costs in terms of output losses than tax increases. Spending cuts can sometimes be associated with output gains in the case of expansionary austerity and are much more successful than tax increases at reducing the growth of debt.

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming
By David Wallace-Wells
Review via The Economist
Mr Wallace-Wells, an editor at New York magazine, freely admits that he is not an environmentalist. He has never willingly gone camping, and rarely recycles. Nor is he an environmental reporter. He is a voyeur, seduced at first by stories that appeared allegorical—Arctic scientists trapped by melting ice on an island inhabited by polar bears, or a Russian boy killed by anthrax from a reindeer carcass uncovered by thawing permafrost.
Yet, as the author makes starkly clear, global warming is no parable. Far from being a problem only for future generations, it is wreaking havoc now. Five of the 20 worst fires in California’s history blazed in 2017; the deadliest incinerated the town of Paradise last year. Floods are becoming wetter, droughts drier and hurricanes fiercer. Such calamities, Mr Wallace-Wells notes, are not the “new normal”; they mark “the end of normal”, as climate change tips Earth beyond the conditions that allowed humans to evolve in the first place. And that is with barely 1°C of man-made warming since the industrial revolution.

The Identity Trade: Selling Privacy and Reputation Online
By By Nora A. Draper
Summary via publisher (New York University Press)
What does privacy mean in the digital era? As technology increasingly blurs the boundary between public and private, questions about who controls our data become harder and harder to answer. Our every web view, click, and online purchase can be sold to anyone to store and use as they wish. At the same time, our online reputation has become an important part of our identity—a form of cultural currency. The Identity Trade examines the relationship between online visibility and privacy, and the politics of identity and self-presentation in the digital age. In doing so, Nora Draper looks at the revealing two-decade history of efforts by the consumer privacy industry to give individuals control over their digital image through the sale of privacy protection and reputation management as a service.

Global Algorithmic Capital Markets: High Frequency Trading, Dark Pools, and Regulatory Challenges
Edited by Walter Mattli
Summary via publisher (Oxford University Press)
Global capital markets have undergone fundamental transformations in recent years and, as a result, have become extraordinarily complex and opaque. Trading space is no longer measured in minutes or seconds but in time units beyond human perception: milliseconds, microseconds, and even nanoseconds. Technological advances have thus scaled up imperceptible and previously irrelevant time differences into operationally manageable and enormously profitable business opportunities for those with the proper high-tech trading tools. These tools include the fastest private communication and trading lines, the most powerful computers and sophisticated algorithms capable of speedily analysing incoming news and trading data and determining optimal trading strategies in microseconds, as well as the possession of gigantic collections of historic and real-time market data.

Minsky’s Moment: An Insider’s View on the Economics of Hyman Minsky
By Piero Ferri
Summary via publisher (Edward Elgar)
Based upon his life-long collaboration with Hyman Minsky, Piero Ferri explores and reconsiders Minsky’s moments in the aftermath of the ‘Great Recession’ of 2008. He sets out the analytical and methodological foundations of Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis, offering insightful comments from a unique insider’s perspective. This book stresses the necessity of including what has been recently discovered about Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis into his lifelong research program, in order to obtain a more complete picture of both his vision and his analytical apparatus. It seeks to move beyond a discussion of Minsky’s original ideas, to verify how they are capable of meeting the challenges derived from the modern evolution of the economy. Developing a meta-model based on regime switching, Piero Ferri examines how the different financial instability hypotheses can be accounted for.