Book Bits: 29 April 2023

These Are the Plunderers: How Private Equity Runs―and Wrecks―America
Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner
Review via Business Insider
According to the authors, private equity firms “buy companies and load them with debt while bleeding them of assets and profits,” only to, within a few years, “sell these same companies off to new owners … at a substantial gain.”
On its face, the idea that one could regularly flip unprofitable businesses drained of productive assets for spectacular gains just doesn’t make sense. Sure, you could find a few anecdotes in which an aggressive private equity firm successfully foisted an overleveraged company it had subjected to excessive cost-cutting onto an unsuspecting buyer. But is this credible as a strategy for deploying trillions of dollars of capital? No way.

The Decisive Decade: American Grand Strategy for Triumph Over China
Jonathan D.T. Ward
Interview with author via Maritime Executive podcast
As China’s global power and influence grow every day. Working from a deep sense of national identity, the Chinese Communist Party is leading its country toward what it deems “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation” and executing a long-term Grand Strategy to topple over its chief adversary, the United States. As China becomes increasingly repressive domestically and aggressive overseas, it threatens to upend America’s global dominance at every turn. Dr. Ward’s new book, The Decisive Decade, presents a unique toolkit for our triumph over China. We can succeed, but it won’t be easy; it will take our nation’s ingenuity, confidence, and willpower to win.

The Poverty Paradox: Understanding Economic Hardship Amid American Prosperity
Mark Robert Rank
Summary via publisher (Oxford U. Press)
The paradox of poverty amidst plenty has plagued the United States throughout the 21st century–why should the wealthiest country in the world also have the highest rates of poverty among the industrialized nations? Based on his decades-long research and scholarship, one of the nation’s leading authorities provides the answer. In The Poverty Paradox, Mark Robert Rank develops his unique perspective for understanding this puzzle. The approach is what he has defined over the years as structural vulnerability. Central to this new way of thinking is the distinction between those who lose out at the economic game versus why the game produces losers in the first place. Americans experiencing poverty tend to have certain characteristics placing them at a greater risk of impoverishment. Yet poverty results not from these factors, but rather from a lack of sufficient opportunities in society. In particular, the shortage of decent paying jobs and a strong safety net are paramount.

Pandora’s Gamble: Lab Leaks, Pandemics, and a World at Risk
Alison Young
Essay by author via The Guardian
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the search for the origin of the virus has been distorted by politics on many fronts: from China’s restrictions on the release of scientific information and refusal to cooperate with international investigations, to former president Donald Trump’s “China virus” and “kung flu” slurs, to the unfounded and continued branding of the lab-leak hypothesis as a fringe conspiracy theory by influential news organizations and high-profile scientists – including some with financial and research ties to the Wuhan labs at the center of the lab-leak hypothesis.
Meanwhile in Congress, investigations and hearings that might be able to unearth information related to the origin of the pandemic – including from US funding agencies and those involved in academic scientific collaborations on potentially risky research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology – have overwhelmingly been conducted by Republicans, with little engagement from Democrats.

Capitalist Punishment: How Wall Street Is Using Your Money to Create a Country You Didn’t Vote For
Vivek Ramaswamy
Summary via publisher (Harper Collins)
Three Wall Street firms have quietly amassed more money than Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Andrew Carnegie, and John Rockefeller combined. But the money isn’t even theirs. These asset managers have accumulated all their power through “passive funds,” as most investors no longer believe anyone can reliably pick stocks. Yet the Big Three have decided that they can reliably pick the right social policies instead. As entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy reveals, the results are all bad—and working their way into every corner of the economy.

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