Book Bits | 3 March 2018

The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything
By Michael J. Casey and Paul Vigna
Summary via publisher (St. Martin’s Press)
Big banks have grown bigger and more entrenched. Privacy exists only until the next hack. Credit card fraud is a fact of life. Many of the “legacy systems” once designed to make our lives easier and our economy more efficient are no longer up to the task. Yet there is a way past all this—a new kind of operating system with the potential to revolutionize vast swaths of our economy: the blockchain. In The Truth Machine, Michael J. Casey and Paul Vigna demystify the blockchain and explain why it can restore personal control over our data, assets, and identities; grant billions of excluded people access to the global economy; and shift the balance of power to revive society’s faith in itself. They reveal the disruption it promises for industries including finance, tech, legal, and shipping.

We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights
By Benjamin C. Waterhouse
Review via The Washington Post
In a recent class on American business history, I asked my students what they thought a corporation was. A hand in the front row quickly shot up, and a woman answered, “Not people!” Although we eventually got around to a more formal definition — an entity with a legal existence that is distinct from the people who own or control it — the students’ top concern was political. At the heart of the matter about corporate identity is a question of power: What role should private businesses play in public life?
In his new book, “We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights,” Adam Winkler puts corporate power center stage. Beginning with the story of how corporations — legal creations of governments — came to be seen as consummately “private” economic actors in the first place, he methodically charts how they gained political privileges that today mirror those held by flesh-and-blood citizens.

Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World
By Joshua B. Freeman
Review via The Pacific Standard
When the Bolsheviks emerged victorious after the Russian Revolution, they fought intensely about the best and least cruel way to modernize and prosper. It was a complex question. Factories were not simply a means of production, but also a means of remaking society. Henry Ford didn’t just build cars—he built a whole era of Capitalism. How the Bolsheviks ran their factories would be a major determinative factor in the shape of their empire. As historian Joshua B. Freeman shows in his new book, Behemoth: The History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World, the questions that obsessed the Bolsheviks have enduring relevance, even for those who aren’t building a communist empire. At the heart of these questions is an imperative to achieve a level of production that satisfies society’s need for cheap goods without commensurate mass human suffering—and without violent resistance to collective bargaining from above. In other words, is it the profit-seeking of factory operators that creates dangerous environments, or does the volume of production demanded by the populace require an inherently cruel management style? Freeman’s answer is complicated.

Politics at Work: How Companies Turn Their Workers into Lobbyists
By Alexander Hertel-Fernandez
Summary via publisher (Oxford University Press)
Employers are increasingly recruiting their workers into politics to change elections and public policy-sometimes in coercive ways. Using a diverse array of evidence, including national surveys of workers and employers, as well as in-depth interviews with top corporate managers, Alexander Hertel-Fernandez’s Politics at Work explains why mobilization of workers has become an appealing corporate political strategy in recent decades. The book also assesses the effect of employer mobilization on the political process more broadly, including its consequences for electoral contests, policy debates, and political representation.

Necessary Evil: How to Fix Finance by Saving Human Rights
By David Kinley
Review via Kirkus Review
Finance, writes Kinley (Chair, Human Rights Law/Univ. of Sydney; Civilising Globalisation: Human Rights and the Global Economy, 2009, etc.) is not in itself the font of evil that some critics make it out to be. In fact, it has “helped liberate individuals and peoples alike by providing them with greater independence, freedom, security and self-respect.” Yet, as an instrument of predatory capitalism, finance has become a means of oppression, as rich states and individuals use it to control markets and impose their will by means of “odious debt” and as the mechanisms of state power increasingly favor a tiny class of oligarchs at the top of the heap. The author aims to find ways to reclaim finance as a means of doing good by aligning it with the humanitarian goal of improving the lives of everyone.

Marketcraft: How Governments Make Markets Work
By Steven K. Vogel
Summary via publisher (Oxford University Press)
Modern-day markets do not arise spontaneously or evolve naturally. Rather they are crafted by individuals, firms, and most of all, by governments. Thus “marketcraft” represents a core function of government comparable to statecraft and requires considerable artistry to govern markets effectively. Just as real-world statecraft can be masterful or muddled, so it is with marketcraft.

We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights
By Adam Winkler
Essay by author via The LA Times
The most high-profile case the Supreme Court will decide this term involves a Colorado bakery that refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. is hardly the first for-profit corporation to claim a constitutional right to refuse to do business with unwanted customers. But in the era of Citizens United, with the Supreme Court increasingly sympathetic to claims of corporate “personhood,” the bakery has a much better chance of winning than it would have had in the past.
The long history of corporations claiming the same constitutional rights as “We the People” stretches back over two centuries. The court has sometimes resisted, but in fits and starts, business’s persistence has paid off. Today companies have almost the same rights as you and me, and they use those rights to challenge laws regulating business and the economy.

Reinventing Capitalism in the Age of Big Data
By Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Thomas Ramge
Review via Kirkus Review
Expect “a fundamental reorganization of our economy, one that will be arguably as momentous as the Industrial Revolution,” write Mayer-Schönberger (Internet Governance and Regulation/Univ. of Oxford; Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, 2009, etc.) and Economist contributing editor Ramge. In this thoughtful, provocative account of the coming impact of big data on human transactions, the authors note that economic activity has long been coordinated by markets and firms, with price serving as a convenient way to distill information about the value of goods and services. In the process, valuable details were lost.

“We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now”: The Global Uprising Against Poverty Wages
By Annelise Orleck
Summary via publisher (Beacon Press)
Tracing a new labor movement sparked and sustained by low-wage workers from across the globe, “We Are All Fast-Food Workers Now” is an urgent, illuminating look at globalization as seen through the eyes of workers-activists: small farmers, fast-food servers, retail workers, hotel housekeepers, home-healthcare aides, airport workers, and adjunct professors who are fighting for respect, safety, and a living wage. With original photographs by Liz Cooke and drawing on interviews with activists in many US cities and countries around the world, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Mexico, South Africa, and the Philippines, it features stories of resistance and rebellion, as well as reflections on hope and change as it rises from the bottom up.

The Structural Foundations of Monetary Policy
By Michael D. Bordo, et al.
Summary via publisher (Hoover Institution Press)
In The Structural Foundations of Monetary Policy, Michael D. Bordo, John H. Cochrane, and Amit Seru bring together discussions and presentations from the Hoover Institution’s annual monetary policy conference. The conference participants discuss long-run monetary issues facing the world economy, with an emphasis on deep, unresolved structural questions. They explore vital issues affecting the Federal Reserve, the United States’ central bank. They voice concern over the Fed’s independence, governance, and ability to withstand future shocks and analyze the effects of its monetary policies and growing balance sheet in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.