Book Bits: 25 May 2024

Shock Values: Prices and Inflation in American Democracy
Carola Binder
Interview with author via
The word “inflation” is everywhere today, and it continues to shape how people feel about the economy. That’s the case despite the pace of inflation retreating from its high of June 2022, when prices were up nearly 9% from the year before, as measured by the consumer price index. Last month, prices were up only 3.4% on an annual basis. While it’s easy to think those feelings are unique, inflation has long been a top concern for Americans, going back to the founding of the country. One key thing that’s changed is how the government has intervened in the movement of prices… In her book, “Shock Values: Prices and Inflation in American Democracy,” Binder looks back at the long history of politics, inflation and how the government has tried to respond, at times through fiscal policy like price controls, at others with monetary policy.

Plastic Capitalism: Banks, Credit Cards, and the End of Financial Control
Sean H. Vanatta
Summary via publisher (Yale U. Books)
American households are awash in expensive credit card debt. But where did all this debt come from? In this history of the rise of postwar American finance, Sean H. Vanatta shows how bankers created our credit card economy and, with it, the indebted nation we know today. America’s consumer debt machine was not inevitable. In the years after World War II, state and federal regulations ensured that many Americans enjoyed safe banks and inexpensive credit. Bankers, though, grew restless amid restrictive rules that made profits scarce. They experimented with new services and new technologies. They settled on credit cards, and in the 1960s mailed out reams of high-interest plastic to build a debt industry from scratch. In the 1960s and ’70s consumers fought back, using federal and state policy to make credit cards safer and more affordable. But bankers found ways to work around local rules. Beginning in 1980, Citibank and its peers relocated their card plans to South Dakota and Delaware, states with the weakest consumer regulations, creating “on-shore” financial havens and drawing consumers into an exploitative credit economy over which they had little control. We live in the world these bankers made.

Money Capital: New Monetary Principles for a More Prosperous Society
Patrick Bolton and Haizhou Huang
Summary via publisher (Princeton U. Press)
A conventional economic theory, monetarism, holds that inflation is a monetary phenomenon driven by changes in the supply of money. Yet recent experience—including the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008 and the economic development of China—contradict this basic prediction. In this book, leading economists Patrick Bolton and Haizhou Huang offer a novel perspective, viewing monetary economics through the lens of corporate finance. They propose a richer theory, where money can be seen as the equity capital of a nation, playing a similar role as stocks for a company. This innovative framework integrates the real and monetary sides of the economy, with a banking sector and debt at its core.

The Adaptive Markets Hypothesis: An Evolutionary Approach to Understanding Financial System Dynamics
Andrew W. Lo and Ruixun Zhang
Summary via publisher (Oxford U. Press)
The Adaptive Markets Hypothesis (AMH) presents a formal and systematic exposition of a new narrative about financial markets that reconciles rational investor behaviour with periods of temporary financial insanity. In this narrative, intelligent but fallible investors learn from and adapt to randomly shifting environments. Financial markets may not always be efficient, but they are highly competitive, innovative, and adaptive, varying in their degree of efficiency as investor populations and the financial landscape change over time.

Inside Thatcher’s Monetarism Experiment: The Promise, the Failure, the Legacy
Tim Lankester
Summary via publisher Policy Press/Bristol U. Press
In 1979, Margaret Thatcher’s new government was faced with rampant double-digit inflation, rising unemployment and flatlining economic growth. In response, Thatcher pursued an economic policy which rejected the old orthodoxies and was promoted by only a minority of economists: a policy based on the doctrine of monetarism. Tim Lankester was the private secretary for economic affairs to Thatcher during the early years of her government. His insider’s account explains her attitudes and decisions and those of the other main players in this deeply damaging experiment in economic policy making, which promised much but completely failed to deliver.

The Event-Driven Edge in Investing: Six Special Situation Strategies to Outperform the Market
Asif Suria
Summary via publisher (Harriman House)
Every investor wants a dependable advantage that enables them to beat the market. Every investor wants an edge. One such edge, long thought to be accessible only to institutional investors, can be found in event-driven investing strategies. These strategies allow you to recognize and take advantage of the effect of corporate events on the price of stocks—events including mergers and acquisitions, stock buybacks, and spin-offs. Now, in The Event-Driven Edge in Investing, accomplished multi-strategy investor Asif Suria provides a simple, in-depth introduction to these highly profitable strategies, making them available to all investors.

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