Book Bits | 28 May 2016

What They Do With Your Money:
How the Financial System Fails Us and How to Fix It

By Stephen Davis, et al.
Summary via publisher (Yale University Press)
Each year we pay billions in fees to those who run our financial system. The money comes from our bank accounts, our pensions, our borrowing, and often we aren’t told that the money has been taken. These billions may be justified if the finance industry does a good job, but as this book shows, it too often fails us. Financial institutions regularly place their business interests first, charging for advice that does nothing to improve performance, employing short-term buying strategies that are corrosive to building long-term value, and sometimes even concealing both their practices and their investment strategies from investors.

Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines
By Thomas H. Davenport and Julia Kirby
Review via FT
An IBM executive told a recent conference that when supercomputer Deep Blue was halfway through its 1997 chess match with Garry Kasparov, it made a random move, due to a software bug. Assuming the machine was smarter than it was, Kasparov later made a strategic error that helped hand Deep Blue victory in the match.
Thomas Davenport and Julia Kirby warn that humans could, like Kasparov, cede the future to machines too easily. “Many knowledge workers are fearful,” they write. “We should be concerned, given the potential for these unprecedented tools to make us redundant. But we should not feel helpless in the midst of the large-scale change unfolding around us.”

Who Needs the Fed?: What Taylor Swift, Uber, and Robots Tell Us About Money, Credit, and Why We Should Abolish America’s Central Bank
By John Tamny
Summary via publisher (Encounter Books)
The Federal Reserve is one of the most disliked entities in the United States at present, right alongside the IRS. Americans despise the Fed, but they’re also generally a bit confused as to why they distrust our central bank. Their animus is reasonable, though, because the Fed’s most famous function—targeting the Fed funds rate—is totally backwards. John Tamny explains this backwardness in terms of a Taylor Swift concert followed by a ride home with Uber.

Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance
By Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna
Summary via publisher (Bloomsbury)
Age of Discovery explores a world on the brink of a new Renaissance and asks: How do we share more widely the benefits of unprecedented progress? How do we endure the inevitable tumult generated by accelerating change? How do we each thrive through this tangled, uncertain time? In Age of Discovery, Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna show how we can draw courage, wisdom and inspiration from the days of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci in order to fashion our own Golden Age. – See more at:

Breaking Rockefeller: The Incredible Story of the Ambitious Rivals Who Toppled an Oil Empire
By Peter B. Doran
Review via The Wall Street Journal
As late as the 1880s, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil commanded fully 80% of the world’s petroleum market. The most serious threats to his hegemony were already in his boardroom, having capitulated to mergers. Or so it seemed until Royal Dutch and Shell, a pair of relative latecomers to Big Oil, appeared from nowhere to challenge Rockefeller’s near-monopoly.
This is the story that Peter B. Doran tells in “Breaking Rockefeller: The Incredible Story of the Ambitious Rivals Who Toppled an Oil Empire.” His heroes are Marcus Samuel Jr., the English merchant who founded Shell Oil, and Henri Deterding, an early executive at the Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., which would eventually merge with Shell. His villain is Rockefeller, whose cutthroat tactics Mr. Doran clearly despises.

Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy
By Stephen Moore and Kathleen Hartnett White
Summary via publisher (Regnery)
In Fueling Freedom, energy experts Stephen Moore and Kathleen Hartnett White make an unapologetic case for fossil fuels, turning around progressives’ protestations to prove that if fossil fuel energy is supplanted by “green” alternatives for political reasons, humanity will take a giant step backwards and the planet will be less safe, less clean, and less free.

Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking
By Matthew E. May
Summary via publisher (McGraw-Hill)
Science confirms the distinction between the biological brain and the conscious mind. Each day, a game of mind versus matter plays out on a field defined by the problems we must solve. Most are routine, and don’t demand a more mindful approach. It’s when we’re faced with more difficult challenges that our thinking becomes vulnerable to brain patterns that can lead us astray. We leap to solutions that simply don’t work. We fixate on old mindsets that keep us stuck in neutral. We overthink problems and make them worse. We kill the ideas of others, as well as our own. Worse, we keep doing these things, over and over again, naturally and instinctively. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In Winning the Brain Game, author and creative strategist Matthew E. May explains these and other “fatal flaws” of thinking, catalogued over the course of ten years and hundreds of interactive creative sessions in which he gave more than 100,000 professionals a thought challenge based on a real case far less complex than their everyday problems.

The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens
By Samuel Bowles
Summary via publisher (Yale University Press)
Should the idea of economic man—the amoral and self-interested Homo economicus—determine how we expect people to respond to monetary rewards, punishments, and other incentives? Samuel Bowles answers with a resounding “no.” Policies that follow from this paradigm, he shows, may “crowd out” ethical and generous motives and thus backfire.

Chronicles: On Our Political and Economic Crisis
By Thomas Piketty
Review via The Guardian
Piketty’s work from the last decade, collected in Chronicles: On Our Troubled Times, throws into doubt democracy’s redeeming and most essential quality: the ability to acknowledge mistakes and reform.
He will be remembered, of course, for his masterpiece, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which among its many virtues explained in encyclopedic detail why the need for reform was urgent. The limited equality of the mid-20th century was an aberration, Piketty demonstrated to the satisfaction of all except the wilfully blind. It was the product of progressive taxation and, somewhat less cosily, the destruction of the fortunes of the wealthy brought about by revolution and world wars. We are now living in a new gilded age. Not only do the children of the rich have the same advantages they possessed in the 19th century, but, in a modern twist, a new but equally undeserving class of “super managers” extract opulent “rewards” from their companies, which bear no discernible relationship to their less-than-super productivity or performance.