Book Bits: 3 February 2024

The War Below: Lithium, Copper, and the Global Battle to Power Our Lives
Ernest Scheyder
Review via Sierra
Transitioning away from fossil fuels is going to take a lot of metals. Global production of lithium and graphite—essential components of EV batteries—will have to ramp up by 4,000 percent by 2040 to meet the Paris Agreement climate goals. Renewable technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels could not exist without heavy doses of metals we know, like copper, and metals we may have never heard of, like neodymium, promethium, samarium, and europium.
To get those metals, we have to mine them. And there’s the rub. “The mines opposed by the environmental lobby in the near term are, paradoxically, necessary to battle climate change in the long term,” Ernest Scheyder writes in The War Below: Lithium, Copper, and the Global Battle to Power Our Lives (One Signal/Atria, 2024). “Recycling alone cannot provide the materials needed to fuel the global green energy transition.”

Money in the Twenty-First Century: Cheap, Mobile, and Digital
Richard Holden
Summary via publisher (U. of California Press)
Money is increasingly cheap, digital, and mobile. In Money in the Twenty-First Century, economist Richard Holden examines the virtues and risks of low interest rates, mobile money, and cryptocurrencies, and explains how these three elemental forces will continue to play out—in our wallets, on the blockchain, and throughout major economies—in the decades to come. Holden investigates the infrastructure that permits digital transactions, the currencies that underpin them, the race for control of those currencies, shifts in policy and the international monetary system, and the impact on our politics of money in the digital age. Ultimately, Money in the Twenty-First Century asks if governments can keep these three tectonic powers of low interest rates, mobile money, and decentralized finance under control.

The 100 Trillion Dollar Wealth Transfer: How the Handover from Boomers to Gen Z Will Revolutionize Capitalism
Ken Costa
Review via Financial Times
Over the next 25 years the world is set to become an “inheritocracy”. An estimated $100tn is currently being transferred from the baby boomer generation to their heirs and charities, according to veteran City financier Ken Costa. Almost all the assets from this wealthy cohort will pass down to people born after 1980.
In his new book, The 100 Trillion Dollar Wealth Transfer, Costa looks at the risks to the liberal capitalist system from concentrating money and power in the hands of a new generation with an “agenda” to save the planet from the climate crisis and make the system more “fair”.

You Always Hurt the One You Love: Central Banks and the Murder of Capitalism
Bernard Connolly
Review via Bloomberg
It’s worth reading on to nail down exactly why central bankers are almost entirely responsible for asset bubbles “unsupported by realistic expectations of future productivity,” along with recent financial crises and disruptive wealth inequality. Their mistakes have been more obvious than usual in the last few years – their failure to recognize that fast-rising money supply would, with the usual 12- to 18-month lag, lead to inflation looks increasingly bizarre to even non-experts, for example.
But for Connolly this is nothing but the icing on a huge cake of intellectual failure, one that has been on the go since the mid-1990s — with Alan Greenspan as the foundation villain, the first to use low interest rates to pull economic activity forward and create an “intertemporal dislocation.” There is much in here on the failings of central banks in general – negative real interest rates and the massive fiscal deficits they have forced are already having nasty consequences. But key to much of it has been their mission creep: It makes no sense, says Connolly, for the Fed “choose to reinterpret its mandate to take on sociopolitcal objectives – inclusive, green or whatever, admirable and necessary or not.

Default: The Landmark Court Battle over Argentina’s $100 Billion Debt Restructuring
Gregory Makoff
Summary via publisher (Georgetown U. Press)
The dramatic inside story of the most important case in the history of sovereign debt law. Unlike individuals or corporations that become insolvent, nations do not have access to bankruptcy protection from their creditors. When a country defaults on its debt, the international financial system is ill equipped to manage the crisis. Decisions by key individuals–from national leaders to those at the International Monetary Fund, from holdout creditors to judges–determine the fate of an entire national economy. A prime example is Argentina’s 2001 default on $100 billion in bonds, which stands out for its messy outcomes and outsized impact on sovereign debt markets, sovereign debt law, and IMF policy.

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