Book Bits: 27 May 2023

We Need to Talk About Inflation: 14 Urgent Lessons from the Last 2,000 Years
Stephen D. King
Review via Financial Times
Economic history is rarely taught in universities these days. This is a pity, since it is a better guide to policymaking than Nobel Prize winning theses in economic theory. As a result, every two generations or so we are destined to repeat serious policy mistakes. In Britain the Truss government failed to study the Barber Boom of 1972-73 and arguably the world’s central banks too have failed to learn from the oil price shocks of 1973 and 1980.
Stephen D King’s highly readable and informative book provides a welcome antidote… King’s canter through 2,000 years of inflationary history — from Emperor Diocletian’s debasement of the coinage through to the Federal Reserve’s decision in 2021 to allow inflation to run at above the 2 per cent “central target” — is instructive. Money matters.

What I Learned About Investing from Darwin
Pulak Prasad
Summary via publisher (Columbia U. Press)
The investment profession is in a state of crisis. The vast majority of equity fund managers are unable to beat the market over the long term, which has led to massive outflows from active funds to passive funds. Where should investors turn in search of a new approach? Pulak Prasad offers a philosophy of patient long-term investing based on an unexpected source: evolutionary biology. He draws key lessons from core Darwinian concepts, mixing vivid examples from the natural world with compelling stories of good and bad investing decisions—including his own.

The Chile Project: The Story of the Chicago Boys and the Downfall of Neoliberalism
Sebastian Edwards
Review via The New Republic
In 1970, the Socialist Salvador Allende was elected president, promising a democratic and legal path to socialism—Chilean-style, a socialism “with red wine and empanadas.” Three years later, he was ousted by a military coup. The dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet murdered and exiled many of its opponents—and worked to remake the relationship between state, economy, and society. To do the latter, it followed the advice of a group of economists known as the “Chicago Boys,” for most of them had trained at the University of Chicago, where their teachers included Milton Friedman (who became the most famous) and his colleague Al Harberger (who cared most about Chilean development). But Chicago’s economics department was not just any program. Its tendency was to trust markets and to mistrust regulation. The Chicago Boys extended the reach of market logic as deeply as they could: slashing state employment, dismantling unions, and creating a privatized pension system. By the time the regime left power in 1990, Chile was considered among the most “neoliberal” societies on Earth.

Country Capitalism: How Corporations from the American South Remade Our Economy and the Planet
Bart Elmore
Summary via publisher (U. of North Carolina Press)
The rural roads that led to our planet-changing global economy ran through the American South. That region’s impact on the interconnected histories of business and ecological change is narrated here by acclaimed scholar Bart Elmore, who uses the histories of five southern firms—Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Walmart, FedEx, and Bank of America—to investigate the environmental impact of our have-it-now, fly-by-night, buy-on-credit economy. Elmore reveals a fundamental challenge: Our lives are built around businesses that connect far-flung rural places to urban centers and global destinations. This “country capitalism” that proved successful in the US South has made it possible to satisfy our demands at the click of a button, but each click comes with hidden environmental costs.

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