Book Bits |3 December 2016

The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics
By John Judis
Review via The Economist
The Western intelligentsia, snug in its echo-chamber, has done a dismal job of understanding what is going on, either dismissing populists as cranks or demonising them as racists. John Judis, an American author and journalist, is an admirable exception. “The Populist Explosion” is an extended think-tank report rather than an airport bestseller. It’s also an excellent read: well-written and well-researched, powerfully argued and perfectly timed.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds
By Michael Lewis
Summary via publisher (W.W. Norton)
Forty years ago, Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky wrote a series of breathtakingly original studies undoing our assumptions about the decision-making process. Their papers showed the ways in which the human mind erred, systematically, when forced to make judgments in uncertain situations. Their work created the field of behavioral economics, revolutionized Big Data studies, advanced evidence-based medicine, led to a new approach to government regulation, and made much of Michael Lewis’s own work possible. Kahneman and Tversky are more responsible than anybody for the powerful trend to mistrust human intuition and defer to algorithms.

Brother, Can You Spare a Billion?: The United States, the IMF, and the International Lender of Last Resort
By Daniel McDowell
Summary via publisher (Oxford University Press)
When financial crises occur, economic theory maintains that national economies need a lender of last resort to stabilize markets. In today’s financial system, crises are rarely confined to one country-they often go global. Yet, there is no formal international lender of last resort (ILLR) to perform this function for the world economy. Conventional wisdom says that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has emerged as the de facto ILLR. However, that premise is incomplete.

Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations
By Thomas Friedman
Review via Bloomberg
At various points, Friedman makes the case for changed policies to respond to the accelerations he chronicles. For the U.S., he prescribes liberal immigration policies to attract technologists from abroad; increased government investment in infrastructure, including repairing bridges and expanding bandwidth; and additional public support for scientific research. It’s difficult to contest this sensible, center-left agenda, but at the same time, Friedman doesn’t offer much practical advice on how to achieve it.

How Will Capitalism End?: Essays on a Failing System
By Wolfgang Streeck
Summary via publisher (Verso)
The provocative political thinker asks if it will be with a bang or a whimper? After years of ill health, capitalism is now in a critical condition. Growth has given way to stagnation; inequality is leading to instability; and confidence in the money economy has all but evaporated. In How Will Capitalism End?, the acclaimed analyst of contemporary politics and economics Wolfgang Streeck argues that the world is about to change. The marriage between democracy and capitalism, ill-suited partners brought together in the shadow of World War Two, is coming to an end. The regulatory institutions that once restrained the financial sector’s excesses have collapsed and, after the final victory of capitalism at the end of the Cold War, there is no political agency capable of rolling back the liberalization of the markets.

The People’s Money: How China Is Building a Global Currency
By Paola Subacchi
Summary via publisher (Columbia University Press)
Many of the world’s major economies boast dominant international currencies. Not so for China. Its renminbi has lagged far behind the pound, the euro, and the dollar in global circulation—and for good reason. China has long privileged economic policies that have fueled development at the expense of the renminbi’s growth, and it has become clear that the underpowered currency is threatening China’s future. The nation’s leaders now face the daunting task of strengthening the currency without losing control of the nation’s economy or risking total collapse.

The Enduring Advisory Firm: How to Serve Your Clients More Effectively and Operate More Efficiently
By Mark C. Tibergien and Kimberly G. Dellarocca
Summary via publisher (Wiley)
The Enduring Advisory Firm is a book for the forward-thinking financial advisor. Financial advisement is traditionally a hands-on field, so few in the industry feel threatened by the shifting social and technological landscape. In this book, Mark Tibergien—routinely named one of the most influential people in the financial services world—and Kim Dellarocca make a compelling case for taking a closer look at technology and other big-deal industry trends in order to move the business of financial advice into the next stage of its evolution.

The Politics of Loophole: The Improbable Prospects for U.S. Tax Reform
By John F. Witte
Summary via publisher (Praeger)
What are the implications and likelihood of reform of the income tax system in the United States—specifically, the expansion and scope of the tax “expenditure” (loophole) system embedded in the income tax codes? This book details the tax system that now provides for more than 200 tax expenditures, highlighting the potential lost tax dollars.