Book Bits: 23 September 2023

The Trade Trap: How To Stop Doing Business with Dictators
Mathias Döpfner
Adaptation via The Wall Street Journal
Creating a new trade architecture and redefining our relationship with autocracies wouldn’t simply be a form of damage limitation. It would also help us to avoid one of the biggest perils of our time: progressive and dangerously escalating deglobalization, and with it, a new and lasting rise of nationalism. Only when we proactively and jointly change our economic behavior will democracies truly prevail. The U.S. cannot go solo. If we let it happen or leave things up to the autocracies, we will either lose democracy, have to decouple unilaterally or be the ones being decoupled abruptly. In all cases the damage will be fundamental.
If we want to save democracy, we need a renaissance of truly free trade and a rebirth of “liberalism” in the spirit of Adam Smith. This is an American-European project. It can only be achieved together.

The Capitalist Manifesto: Why The Global Free Market Will Save The World
Johan Norberg
Review via Finanical Times
Central to capitalism, according to Norberg, is its “Socratic wisdom” — or the notion that markets do not presume to know what is best, compared to say an all-powerful government choosing what to produce. In this way, the freedom of buyers to choose products across a competitive marketplace allocates resources more effectively, while profit motivates continual innovation. But Norberg is not solely focused on growth, he articulates how free markets can be a powerful force for justice and anti-discrimination too.
Many of the ills of capitalism, he argues, are due to market distortions introduced by regulation, like immigration restrictions, subsidies and tariffs. Sure, capitalism is certainly not flawless, but as rhetoric over introducing trade barriers, reshoring, and technology restrictions grows ever louder, Norberg’s latest book is a timely reminder of the benefits of free and open trade.

Astor: The Rise and Fall of an American Fortune
Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe
Summary via publisher (HarperCollins)
The story of the Astors is a quintessentially American story—of ambition, invention, destruction, and reinvention. From 1783, when German immigrant John Jacob Astor first arrived in the United States, until 2009, when Brooke Astor’s son, Anthony Marshall, was convicted of defrauding his elderly mother, the Astor name occupied a unique place in American society. The family fortune, first made by a beaver trapping business that grew into an empire, was then amplified by holdings in Manhattan real estate. Over the ensuing generations, Astors ruled Gilded Age New York society and inserted themselves into political and cultural life, but also suffered the most famous loss on the Titanic, one of many shocking and unexpected twists in the family’s story.

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