Book Bits | 25 February 2017

The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy
By Peter Temin
Summary via publisher (MIT Press)
The United States is becoming a nation of rich and poor, with few families in the middle. In this book, MIT economist Peter Temin offers an illuminating way to look at the vanishing middle class. Temin argues that American history and politics, particularly slavery and its aftermath, play an important part in the widening gap between rich and poor. Temin employs a well-known, simple model of a dual economy to examine the dynamics of the rich/poor divide in America, and outlines ways to work toward greater equality so that America will no longer have one economy for the rich and one for the poor.

The Code Economy: A Forty-Thousand Year History
By Philip Auerswald
Review via Publishers Weekly
Auerswald, associate professor of public policy at George Mason University, ambitiously provides a 40,000-year history of human productivity, from the simple to the complex, in his sophisticated study. He calls this progression “the advance of code” and focuses on how abstract concepts—code—are turned into actual things. Auerswald asserts that we cannot “understand the dynamics of the economy—its past or its future—without an understanding of code.” His interpretation of code ranges from the obvious (computer code) to the less so (cooking recipes). He seeks to even out the imbalance in the way economics is currently taught, focusing on “code and production” as well as “choice and consumption.”

Read My Lips: Why Americans Are Proud to Pay Taxes
By Vanessa S. Williamson
Summary via publisher (Princeton University Press)
Conventional wisdom holds that Americans hate taxes. But the conventional wisdom is wrong. Bringing together national survey data with in-depth interviews, Read My Lips presents a surprising picture of tax attitudes in the United States. Vanessa Williamson demonstrates that Americans view taxpaying as a civic responsibility and a moral obligation. But they worry that others are shirking their duties, in part because the experience of taxpaying misleads Americans about who pays taxes and how much. Perceived “loopholes” convince many income tax filers that a flat tax might actually raise taxes on the rich, and the relative invisibility of the sales and payroll taxes encourages many to underestimate the sizable tax contributions made by poor and working people.

Brahmin Capitalism:
Frontiers of Wealth and Populism in America’s First Gilded Age

By Noam Maggor
Summary via publisher (Harvard University Press)
Tracking the movement of finance capital toward far-flung investment frontiers, Noam Maggor reconceives the emergence of modern capitalism in the United States. Brahmin Capitalism reveals the decisive role of established wealth in the transformation of the American economy in the decades after the Civil War, leading the way to the nationally integrated corporate capitalism of the twentieth century.

Captured: The Corporate Infiltration of American Democracy
By Senator Sheldon Whitehouse with Melanie Wachtell Stinnett
Summary via publisher (The New Press)
Americans know something is wrong in their government. Senator Whitehouse combines history, legal scholarship, and personal experiences to provide the first comprehensive explanation of what’s gone wrong, exposing multiple avenues through which our government has been infiltrated and disabled by corporate powers. Captured reveals an original oversight by the Founders, and shows how and why corporate power has exploited that vulnerability: to strike fear in elected representatives who don’t “get right,” by threatening million-dollar “dark money” election attacks (a threat more effective and less expensive than the actual attack); to stack the judiciary—even the Supreme Court— in “business-friendly” ways; to “capture” the administrative agencies meant to regulate corporate behavior; to undermine the civil jury, the Constitution’s last bastion for ordinary citizens; and to create a corporate “alternate reality” on public health and safety issues like climate change.

Buddhist Economics: An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science
By Clair Brown
Summary via publisher (Bloomsbury)
Clair Brown, an economics professor at U.C. Berkeley and a practicing Buddhist, has developed a holistic model, one based on the notion that quality of life should be measured by more than national income. Brown advocates an approach to organizing the economy that embraces rather than skirts questions of values, sustainability, and equity. Complementing the award-winning work of Jeffrey Sachs and Bill McKibben, and the paradigm-breaking spirit of Amartya Sen, Robert Reich, and Thomas Piketty, Brown incorporates the Buddhist emphasis on interdependence, shared prosperity, and happiness into her vision for a sustainable and compassionate world.