Book Bits: 24 June 2023

Winner Sells All: Amazon, Walmart, and the Battle for Our Wallets
Jason Del Rey
Interview with author via Wired podcast
Amazon and Walmart are obviously different in many ways, but the two companies are also surprisingly similar. This becomes particularly evident when you chart the history of their rivalry, as they race to compete for online shopping gains, or when they battle it out to acquire the same companies. Journalist and author Jason Del Ray writes about the dueling giants in his new book, Winner Sells All: Amazon, Walmart, and the Battle for Our Wallets, which traces the moves both companies have made in their decades-long slugfest.

Retirement Guardrails: How Proactive Fiduciaries Can Improve Plan Outcomes
Ian Ayres and Quinn Curtis
Summary via publisher (Cambridge U. Press)
Scores of lawsuits have pushed retirement plan sponsors to shorter, easier-to-navigate menus, but – as Ian Ayres and Quinn Curtis argue in this work – we’ve only scratched the surface of retirement plan design. Using participant-level plan data and straightforward tests, Ayres and Curtis show how plan sponsors can monitor plans for likely allocation mistakes and adapt menus to encourage success. Beginning with an overview of the problem of high costs and the first empirical evidence on retirement plan fee lawsuits, they offer an overview of the current plan landscape. They then show, based on reforms to a real plan, how streamlining menus, eliminating pitfalls, and adopting static and dynamic limits on participant allocations to certain risky assets or ‘guardrails’ can reduce mistakes and lead to better retirement outcomes. Focusing on plausible, easy-to-implement interventions, Retirement Guardrails shows that fiduciaries need not be limited to screening out funds but can design menus to actively promote good choices.

Sovereign Funds: How the Communist Party of China Finances Its Global Ambitions
Zongyuan Zoe Liu
Summary via publisher (Belknap/Harvard U. Press)
The first in-depth account of the sudden growth of China’s sovereign wealth funds and their transformative impact on global markets, domestic and multinational businesses, and international politics. One of the keys to China’s global rise has been its strategy of deploying sovereign wealth on behalf of state power. Since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013, China has doubled down on financial statecraft, making shrewd investments with the sovereign funds it has built up by leveraging its foreign exchange reserves. Sovereign Funds tells the story of how the Communist Party of China (CPC) became a global financier of surpassing ambition. Zongyuan Zoe Liu offers a comprehensive and up-to-date analysis of the evolution of China’s sovereign funds, including the China Investment Corporation, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, and Central Huijin Investment. Liu shows how these institutions have become mechanisms not only for transforming low-reward foreign exchange reserves into investment capital but also for power projection.

Union Booms and Busts: The Ongoing Fight Over the U.S. Labor Movement
Judith Stepan-Norris and Jasmine Kerrissey
Summary via publisher (Oxford U. Press)
Union Booms and Busts takes a bird’s eye view of the shifting fortunes of U.S. workers and their unions on the one hand, and employers and their organizations on the other. Using detailed data, this book analyses union density across 11 industries and 115 years, contrasting the organizing and union building successes and failures across decades. With attention to historical developments and the economic, political, and legal contexts of each period, it highlights workers’ and their unions’ actions, including strikes, union elections, and organizing strategies as well those of employers, who aimed to disrupt union organizing using legal maneuvers, workforce-based strategies, and race and gender divisions. By demonstrating how workers used strikes, elections, and other strategies to win power and employers used legal maneuvers, workforce-based strategies, and race and gender divisions to disrupt unions, the authors reveal data-driven truths about the ongoing history of unionization.

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