Book Bits | 3 October 2015

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
By Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner
Review via Inverse
Phil Tetlock believes we can predict the future — we, us, anyone. In his new book, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, the Wharton management professor and psychologist makes the case that futurists are skilled, not special. Normal people can make boggling accurate predictions if they just know how to go about it right and how to practice.
Tetlock backs up his crystal ball populism with data: He’s spent the better part of the last decade testing the forecasting abilities of 20,000 ordinary Americans in The Good Judgment Project on topics ranging from melting glaciers to the stability of the Eurozone, only to find that the amateur predictions were more accurate — if not more so — than those of the pundits and so-called forecasting ‘experts’ the media so often defers to.

Other People’s Money: The Real Business of Finance
By John Kay
Review via The Economist
What is the finance sector for? This vital question is all too often forgotten in the debate about the debt crisis of 2008 and its aftermath; it certainly seemed to be forgotten by bankers in the build-up to the debacle. But if the world is to avoid future banking collapses, or at least limit their economic impact, people need to think clearly about the issue.
John Kay’s new book, “Other People’s Money”, does the job; it should be read by everyone concerned with preventing the next crisis. The early books after the crash, like Andrew Ross Sorkin’s “Too Big to Fail”, analysed how the collapse unfolded in minute detail; Mr Kay, an academic and columnist for the Financial Times, takes the longer and broader view.

Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong about the Global Economy
By Mark Weisbrot
Summary via publisher (Oxford University Press)
Why has the Eurozone ended up with an unemployment rate more than twice that of the United States more than six years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers? Why did the vast majority of low- and middle-income countries suffer a prolonged economic slowdown in the last two decades of the 20th century? What was the role of the International Monetary Fund in these economic failures? Why was Latin America able to achieve substantial poverty reduction in the 21st century after more than two decades without any progress? Failed analyzes these questions, explaining why these important economic developments of recent years have been widely misunderstood and in some cases almost completely ignored.

A Critical History of Financial Crises: Why Would Politicians and Regulators Spoil Financial Giants?
By Haim Kedar-Levy
Summary via publisher (Imperial College Press)
In clear and intuitive terms, this book explains how the economic environment has changed throughout ten of the most spectacular financial crises of the past century. On one hand, it shows that lack of effective regulation and adequate understanding of the economic environment were among the facilitators of crises. On the other hand, it highlights the role that ill-incentivized bankers and accountants, biased politicians, euphoric investors, greedy speculators, and corrupt managers played in the evolution of bubbles and crises.

The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens
By Gabriel Zucman
Summary via publisher (University of Chicago Press)
We are well aware of the rise of the 1% as the rapid growth of economic inequality has put the majority of the world’s wealth in the pockets of fewer and fewer. One much-discussed solution to this imbalance is to significantly increase the rate at which we tax the wealthy. But with an enormous amount of the world’s wealth hidden in tax havens—in countries like Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the Cayman Islands—this wealth cannot be fully accounted for and taxed fairly. No one, from economists to bankers to politicians, has been able to quantify exactly how much of the world’s assets are currently hidden—until now. Gabriel Zucman is the first economist to offer reliable insight into the actual extent of the world’s money held in tax havens. And it’s staggering.

Car Wars: The Rise, the Fall, and the Resurgence of the Electric Car
By John J. Fialka
Review via
Written by Climatewire founder and Wall Street Journal reporter John J. Fialka, Car Wars is both a EVangelist treatise and an informative background and look at current affairs for electrified vehicles. Fialka holds a very obvious EV-centric slant, but documents his reasoning well. Some of his futuristic predictions may be contended by industry insiders and journalists, but he makes compelling arguments for his forward thinking.
The most fascinating part of this book is the historical overview it offers. From the early days of automotive, electric cars have been both at the forefront and on the fringes. He skims over the earliest days and really gets down and dirty once the hybrid and EV technologies begin to unfold in the latter part of the 20th century.

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few
By Robert B. Reich
Essay by author via The New York Times
The real threat to capitalism is no longer communism or fascism but a steady undermining of the trust modern economies need for growth and stability. When most people stop believing they and their children have a fair chance to make it, while the rich and privileged are not held accountable for bad behavior, the tacit social contract societies rely on for voluntary cooperation begins to unravel. In its place comes subversion, large and small. Economic resources gradually shift from production to protection.