Book Bits | 27 May 2017

Grave New World: The End of Globalization, the Return of History
Review via Prospect
Stephen King, a Senior Economic Adviser to HSBC, has written a timely book called Grave New World, which is an excellent guide to this new global landscape. The combination of up to the minute economic analysis with a long look back at the lessons of economic history is written in an easy to follow and (mostly) jargon free manner.
King argues that the globalisation of the past few decades could easily be reversed. The division of the spoils from globalisation, both within and between countries, has been far from equal.

The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return
By Mihir Desai
Review via Publishers Weekly
In this slender but erudite treatise, law and finance professor Desai (International Finance: A Casebook) proposes that humanity, rather than the hot-button issue of income inequality, lies at the center of finance. To do this, he calls upon none other than Jane Austen and John Milton, among others. Desai gives humanists explanations of basic financial principles, such as value creation and leverage, with nary a numeral. For number crunchers, Desai provides a fresh way of viewing basic ideas.

Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes
By Richard Clarke
Interview with author via WBUR
Former top White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke joins us to talk Russia, cyber security, more threats headed our way – and what we can do to stop them. Richard Clarke, the nation’s former counter terrorism czar, warned the White House about the grave threat posed by Al Qaeda before 9/11…and was ignored. Now he’s back with a new warning. In a new book he explains: experts he calls ‘Cassandras’ are sounding the alarm about a new host of existential threats from cyberattacks to climate change. And they’re getting ignored. This hour On Point, heeding warnings in a dangerous world

Discovering Prices: Auction Design in Markets with Complex Constraints
By Paul Milgrom
Summary via publisher (Columbia University Press)
Traditional economic theory studies idealized markets in which prices alone can guide efficient allocation, with no need for central organization. Such models build from Adam Smith’s famous concept of an invisible hand, which guides markets and renders regulation or interference largely unnecessary. Yet for many markets, prices alone are not enough to guide feasible and efficient outcomes, and regulation alone is not enough, either. Consider air traffic control at major airports. While prices could encourage airlines to take off and land at less congested times, prices alone do just part of the job; an air traffic control system is still indispensable to avoid disastrous consequences. With just an air traffic controller, however, limited resources can be wasted or poorly used. What’s needed in this and many other real-world cases is an auction system that can effectively reveal prices while still maintaining enough direct control to ensure that complex constraints are satisfied. In Discovering Prices, Paul Milgrom—the world’s most frequently cited academic expert on auction design—describes how auctions can be used to discover prices and guide efficient resource allocations, even when resources are diverse, constraints are critical, and market-clearing prices may not even exist.

Beating the Odds: Jump-Starting Developing Countries
By Justin Yifu Lin and Célestin Monga
Summary via publisher (Princeton University Press)
Contrary to conventional wisdom, countries that ignite a process of rapid economic growth almost always do so while lacking what experts say are the essential preconditions for development, such as good infrastructure and institutions. In Beating the Odds, two of the world’s leading development economists begin with this paradox to explain what is wrong with mainstream development thinking—and to offer a practical blueprint for moving poor countries out of the low-income trap regardless of their circumstances.