Book Bits | 23 May 2020

Trade Wars Are Class Wars: How Rising Inequality Distorts the Global Economy and Threatens International Peace
Matthew C. Klein
Excerpt via Barron’s
The open global trading system has been in trouble for years. The coronavirus could push it over the edge, and if we’re not careful, the world could see a breakdown of the international economic and financial order, as happened in the 1930s.
The most obvious impact of the virus on trade is that Covid-19 has forced governments, businesses, and consumers to appreciate the vulnerabilities created by global supply chains. Shortages of everything from meat to disinfectant wipes and face masks have been exacerbated by export controls imposed by China, Europe, and other producers.

Slowdown: The End of the Great Acceleration―and Why It’s Good for the Planet, the Economy, and Our Lives
Danny Dorling
Interview with author via The Prospect
As the world slows down, many of us are thinking—what comes next? Oxford geographer Danny Dorling joins the Prospect Interview to discuss what a decelerated world might look like. His latest book, Slowdown: The End of the Great Acceleration–and Why It’s Good for the Planet, the Economy, and Our Lives was written long before Covid-19 forced much of the world to stop, but many of his reflections on what a post-growth society might look like feel ever more relevant today. He talks to editor Tom Clark about why economies and technologies are slowing down everywhere, and why that might even be good news.

In The Combat Zone of Finance: An insider’s account of the financial crisis
Øygard Harald Svein
Summary via publisher (LID Publishing)
The former Governor for the Central Bank of Iceland provides an exclusive insider’s account of the 2008 Financial Crisis. The author, Svein Harald Øygard, was offered the job of Central Bank Governor of Iceland just as the crisis struck. He saw how institutions and leaders behaved from inside the system in its deepest crisis. Some made billions; others got burned. Their behaviour, strengths and weaknesses were revealed as in no other country. Øygard analyses these events in the context of financial risks facing the world in 2020; knowledge of which is becoming increasingly relevant.

The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes
Zachary D. Carter
Review via The New York Times
Do you hear that? It’s the sound of the money printer whirring — trillions of dollars getting pumped into a collapsing economy, making the bailouts following the 2008 financial crisis look like small change.
“The Price of Peace,” Zachary D. Carter’s outstanding new intellectual biography of John Maynard Keynes, offers a resonant guide to our current moment, even if he finished writing it in the time before Covid-19. It’s rare for a 600-page economic history to move swiftly along currents of lucidity and wit, and this happens to be one of them. (Carter pays tribute to Robert Skidelsky’s three-volume biography of Keynes in the acknowledgments.) Carter begins with a love story, and ends with an elegant explanation of a credit default swap; even readers without a background in high finance will learn how to appreciate the drama of both.

Revenge Capitalism: The Ghosts of Empire, the Demons of Capital, and the Settling of Unpayable Debts
Max Haiven
Summary via publisher (Pluto Press)
Capitalism is in a profound state of crisis. Beyond the mere dispassionate cruelty of ‘ordinary’ structural violence, it appears today as a global system bent on reckless economic revenge; its expression found in mass incarceration, climate chaos, unpayable debt, pharmaceutical violence and the relentless degradation of common life. In Revenge Capitalism, Max Haiven argues that this economic vengeance helps us explain the culture and politics of revenge we see in society more broadly. Moving from the history of colonialism and its continuing effects today, he examines the opioid crisis in the US, the growth of ‘surplus populations’ worldwide and unpacks the central paradigm of unpayable debts – both as reparations owed, and as a methodology of oppression.

How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom
Matt Ridley
Review via Scientific American
The 18th-century Englishwoman Lady Mary Wortley Montagu did not invent inoculation, the practice of exposing people to disease to generate immunity. But after she learned about it on a trip to Constantinople, the smallpox-scarred writer championed its adoption in the Western world. With stories like Montagu’s, journalist Ridley focuses less on the invention of a new concept and more on “the long struggle to get an idea to catch on, usually by combining it with other ideas.” By tracing this struggle for a variety of concepts, from public health techniques to creations such as the steam engine and the computer, Ridley constructs a fascinating theory of innovation, including its prehistoric roots, how it will shape the future and what makes it successful. Sheer dumb luck may help.

Valuing Nature: A Handbook for Impact Investing
William J. Ginn
Excerpt via Conservation Finance Network
The more we value nature, the more likely we are to protect it, but what we each value is not the same. For some of us, nature is our cultural identity; for others, it is beauty and emotional connections; for others still, it is a recreational paradise. These values have been and will continue to be important drivers in supporting the environmental movement across the world. The concept of valuing also has an economic element, and when we begin to think of nature as an economic asset, with tangible financial value—as natural capital— things become far more complicated.

How We Change: (And Ten Reasons Why We Don’t)
Ross Ellenhorn
Summary via publisher (Harper Collins)
How is it that we are able to so radically and rapidly change our daily behavior in order to follow the social distancing and stay-at-home policies during the pandemic, and yet–pandemic or not–we typically find it difficult, if not impossible, to reach smaller personal goals like dieting, getting organized or changing destructive habits? Ross Ellenhorn’s book, How we Change (and the Ten Reasons Why We Don’t) gives a fascinating answer. A clinician and thought leader in the mental health and addiction fields, he suggests that we’re often looking in the wrong direction when we try to decipher the factors that support human change. He suggests that it’s much more fruitful to look at why we don’t change, than figure out why we do.

Strategies for Monetary Policy
Edited by John H. Cochrane and John B. Taylor
Summary via publisher (Hoover Press)
As the Federal Reserve System conducts its latest review of the strategies, tools, and communication practices it deploys to pursue its dual-mandate goals of maximum employment and price stability, Strategies for Monetary Policy—drawn from the 2019 Monetary Policy Conference at the Hoover Institution—emerges as an especially timely volume. The book’s expert contributors examine key policy issues, offering their perspectives on US monetary policy tools and instruments and the interaction between Fed policies and financial markets.