Book Bits | 3.9.13

The Locust and the Bee: Predators and Creators in Capitalism’s Future
By Geoff Mulgan
Review via New Statesman
“Capitalism,” writes Geoff Mulgan, “is not so much an aberration as a step on an evolutionary path, and one that contains within it some of the answers to its own contradictions.” In thinking of capitalism in this way, Mulgan voices a contemporary consensus. As advances in biology and genetics have promoted the belief that economic and political development can be understood in evolutionary terms, hundreds if not thousands of books have appeared in recent years claiming to explain the rise and development of capitalism as part of an ongoing process of social evolution.

Financial Crisis: The United States in the Early Twenty-First Century
By Jill M. Hendrickson
Summary via publisher, Palgrave Macmillan
The 2007-2009 financial crisis caught many by surprise. When the dust began to settle, people began looking around and asking how this could have happened and why we did not see it coming. Criticism fell heavily on the economics profession because there was a feeling that the models and theories of economics had failed to properly warn and prepare us for a significant crisis. This book carefully analyses existing theories of financial crisis to determine if they are still appropriate for understanding modern financial crises. This is an important endeavour because financial crisis theory has largely been ignored for many years. Indeed, it has been almost twenty years since economists have seriously reconsidered financial crisis theory. This book fills that gap and offers insight into the current debate regarding the efficacy of economic models and theories relevant to understanding financial distress.
Beggar Thy Neighbor: A History of Usury and Debt
By Charles R. Geisst
Summary via publisher, University of Pennsylvania Press
In Beggar Thy Neighbor, financial historian Charles R. Geisst tracks the changing perceptions of usury and debt from the time of Cicero to the most recent financial crises. This comprehensive economic history looks at humanity’s attempts to curb the abuse of debt while reaping the benefits of credit. Beggar Thy Neighbor examines the major debt revolutions of the past, demonstrating that extensive leverage and debt were behind most financial market crashes from the Renaissance to the present day. Geisst argues that usury prohibitions, as part of the natural law tradition in Western and Islamic societies, continue to play a key role in banking regulation despite modern advances in finance. From the Roman Empire to the recent Dodd-Frank financial reforms, usury ceilings still occupy a central place in notions of free markets and economic justice.
Firm Commitment: Why the corporation is failing us and how to restore trust in it
By Colin Mayer
Review via Publishers Weekly
Given today’s distrust of big companies, it’s easy to overlook the importance of the corporation-as-institution in American daily life. Economist Mayer, former dean of Oxford University’s Said Business School, shines a light both approving and critical on the institution, exposing its the real impact on the American public. As he writes: “The corporation is becoming a creature that threatens to consume us in its own avaricious ambitions.” Mayer discusses how we arrived at our current state, how we’re now being failed by the corporate structure, and what can be done about it—including suggestions for policy makers. His approach is remarkably even-tempered, noting that if markets fail, we need more regulations and state engagement, but when state organizations fail, then privatization and more liberal markets are required.
With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give
By Ken Stern
Review via
“There is little credible evidence that many charitable organizations produce lasting social value,” Ken Stern declares at the outset of “With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give ” It’s a damning verdict, one that questions one of the most sacrosanct domains of American life: We are a nation that helps others, primarily through our 1.4 million registered charities.
Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think
By by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier
Excerpt via NPR
The fruits of the information society are easy to see, with a cellphone in every pocket, a computer in every backpack, and big information technology systems in back offices everywhere. But less noticeable is the information itself. Half a century after computers entered mainstream society, the data has begun to accumulate to the point where something new and special is taking place. Not only is the world awash with more information than ever before, but that information is growing faster. The change of scale has led to a change of state. The quantitative change has led to a qualitative one. The sciences like astronomy and genomics, which first experienced the explosion in the 2000s, coined the term “big data.” The concept is now migrating to all areas of human endeavor.