Book Bits: 29 May 2021

Trading at the Speed of Light: How Ultrafast Algorithms Are Transforming Financial Markets
Donald MacKenzie
Summary via publisher (Princeton U. Press)
In today’s financial markets, trading floors on which brokers buy and sell shares face-to-face have increasingly been replaced by lightning-fast electronic systems that use algorithms to execute astounding volumes of transactions. Trading at the Speed of Light tells the story of this epic transformation. Donald MacKenzie shows how in the 1990s, in what were then the disreputable margins of the US financial system, a new approach to trading—automated high-frequency trading or HFT—began and then spread throughout the world. HFT has brought new efficiency to global trading, but has also created an unrelenting race for speed, leading to a systematic, subterranean battle among HFT algorithms.

Value(s): Building a Better World for All
Mark Carney
Review via Reuters
In “Value(s): Building a Better World For All” the former Goldman Sachs banker who went on to lead two major central banks dissects a trio of global crises to show all that market prices can fail to capture, to society’s detriment. He starts with an overview of economic history that traces how social and political priorities gradually became subsumed by the market. As Carney puts it, the “price of everything is becoming the value of everything”. This lays the foundations for a scathing critique of how policymakers and society can be led astray by excessive faith in the ability of markets to price risks accurately and deliver the best outcomes.

Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell
Jason L Riley
Interview with author via
“I was still a Marxist after taking Milton Friedman’s course [at the University of Chicago],” says free market economist and social critic Thomas Sowell. “One summer in the government was enough to let me say government is really not the answer.” Known for provocative and best-selling books such as Knowledge and Decisions, A Conflict of Visions, and last year’s Charter Schools and Their Enemies, the internationally renowned scholar is the subject of a new documentary and biography, both authored by Jason L. Riley, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and Wall Street Journal columnist. Beyond the breadth and depth of his interests, what sets Sowell apart is that he “puts truth above popularity and doesn’t concern himself with being politically correct,” Riley tells Reason’s Nick Gillespie. “It’s an adherence to empiricism, to facts and logic and putting that ahead of theory. [Sowell] is much more interested in how an idea has panned out…rather than simply what the intent is.”

The Tyranny of Nations: How the Last 500 Years Shaped Today’s Global Economy
Palak Patel
Summary via publisher (Bifocal Press)
The Tyranny of Nations places the ground-shaking political and economic events of modern times in context. Palak Patel draws on his experience investing in government bond markets to demonstrate how the present fits a specific historical pattern that has defined the past 500 years. Modern-day trade liberalization and financial expansion all share distinct parallels with similar events in the 1600s and 1800s. Likewise, China’s economic trajectory matches that of 19th-century Prussia and 17th-century France. And a certain British Prime Minister, foreshadowing Donald Trump’s populism 150 years later, launched a similar attack on globalization after the financial crisis of 1866.

Debt, Tenth Anniversary Edition: The First 5,000 Years
David Graeber
Summary via publisher (Melville House)
Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter systems—to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There’s not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods—that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era, Graeber argues, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors.

The Tolls of Uncertainty: How Privilege and the Guilt Gap Shape Unemployment in America
Sarah Damaske
Summary via publisher (Princeton U. Press)
Through the intimate stories of those seeking work, The Tolls of Uncertainty offers a startling look at the nation’s unemployment system—who it helps, who it hurts, and what, if anything, we can do to make it fair. Drawing on interviews with one hundred men and women who have lost jobs across Pennsylvania, Sarah Damaske examines the ways unemployment shapes families, finances, health, and the job hunt. Damaske demonstrates that commonly held views of unemployment are either incomplete or just plain wrong. Shaped by a person’s gender and class, unemployment generates new inequalities that cast uncertainties on the search for work and on life chances beyond the world of work, threatening opportunity in America.

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