Book Bits: 23 October 2021

The Digital Silk Road: China’s Quest to Wire the World and Win the Future
Jonathan E. Hillman
Summary via publisher (Harper Business)
From the ocean floor to outer space, China’s Digital Silk Road aims to wire the world and rewrite the global order. Taking readers on a journey inside China’s surveillance state, rural America, and Africa’s megacities, Jonathan Hillman reveals what China’s expanding digital footprint looks like on the ground and explores the economic and strategic consequences of a future in which all routers lead to Beijing. If China becomes the world’s chief network operator, it could reap a commercial and strategic windfall, including many advantages currently enjoyed by the United States.

The Warehouse: Workers and Robots at Amazon
Alessandro Delfanti
Review via Vox
When the tech industry has come up in the 2020 Democratic presidential debates, the most important discussion topic hasn’t been about breaking up the tech giants; it’s been about the automation of jobs and the massive impact this is expected to have on the US labor force.
At the center of this debate is Amazon, a company that employees hundreds of thousands of employees in its massive warehouse network, which is also a company whose investment in robots and other automation technologies means it could one day be a huge job eliminator, too.

The Decarbonization Imperative: Transforming the Global Economy by 2050
Michael Lenox
Summary via publisher (Stanford U. Press)
Time is of the essence. Climate change looms as a malignant force that will reshape our economy and society for generations to come. If we are going to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we are going to need to effectively “decarbonize” the global economy by 2050. This doesn’t mean a modest, or even a drastic, improvement in fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. It means 100 percent of the cars on the road being battery-powered or powered by some other non-carbon-emitting powertrain. It means 100 percent of our global electricity needs being met by renewables and other non-carbon-emitting sources such as nuclear power. It means electrifying the global industrials sector and replacing carbon-intensive chemical processes with green alternatives, eliminating scope-one emissions—emissions in production—across all industries, particularly steel, cement, petrochemicals, which are the backbone of the global economy. It means sustainable farming while still feeding a growing global population.

Mother of Invention: How Good Ideas Get Ignored in an Economy Built for Men
Katrine Marcal
Review via The Times of London
Forget the perspiration. Set aside the inspiration too. The story of invention, the Swedish journalist Katrine Marçal explains, has for too long been mired in the myth of individual human excellence — and for “human” read “male”, because our beliefs about genius are intimately tangled up with our ideas of gender. That has implications at the most existential level for life on earth, but we’ll come to that later.
Marçal starts with something simpler: the suitcase. For centuries humans have been moving things around in suitcases. And for centuries we were picking them up by the handles and relying on upper-body strength. This was of course extremely inconvenient and led to sore hands and smashed ankles. It could also have been easily solved: the wheel

The Economist’s View of the World: And the Quest for Well-Being
Steven E. Rhoads
Summary via publisher (Cambridge U. Press)
Released in 1984, Steven E. Rhoads’ classic was considered by many to be among the best introductions to the economic way of thinking and its applications. This anniversary edition has been updated to account for political and economic developments – from the greater interest in redistributing income and the ascendancy of behaviorism to the Trump presidency. Rhoads explores opportunity cost, marginalism, and economic incentives and explains why mainstream economists – even those well to the left – still value free markets. He critiques economics for its unbalanced emphasis on narrow self-interest as controlling motive and route to happiness, highlighting philosophers and positive psychologists’ findings that happiness is far more dependent on friends and family than on income or wealth. This thought-provoking tour of the economist’s mind is a must read for our times, providing a clear, lively, non-technical insight into how economists think and why they shouldn’t be ignored.

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