Book Bits | 30 May 2015

Hubris: Why Economists Failed to Predict the Crisis
and How to Avoid the Next One

By Meghnad Desai
Review via Times Higher Education
Far from being finally tamed, as much of the economics profession liked to boast, boom and bust was just on hold for a while. As Desai argues, the idea of automatic equilibrium is a dangerous delusion. Disequilibrium, not equilibrium, is the natural order. “Capitalism is a dynamic system but it works through creating cycles and crises. It is a disequilibrium system.” In seeking an explanation for the post-2008 crisis, Desai turns to “long wave” theories, such as the one developed in the 1920s by the Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff, that predict periodic turbulence rather than equilibrium. He suggests that 2008 was at the tail end of the upswing phase of a 40-year-long Kondratieff cycle that began with a downswing lasting from the early 1970s to the early 1990s.

The Little Big Number: How GDP Came to Rule the World and What to Do about It
By Dirk Philipsen
Summary via publisher (Princeton Unviersity Press)
In one lifetime, GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, has ballooned from a narrow economic tool into a global article of faith. It is our universal yardstick of progress. As The Little Big Number demonstrates, this spells trouble. While economies and cultures measure their performance by it, GDP ignores central facts such as quality, costs, or purpose. It only measures output: more cars, more accidents; more lawyers, more trials; more extraction, more pollution—all count as success. Sustainability and quality of life are overlooked. Losses don’t count. GDP promotes a form of stupid growth and ignores real development.

My Side of the Street: Why Wolves, Flash Boys, Quants, and Masters of the Universe Don’t Represent the Real Wall Street
By Jason DeSena Trennert
Summary via publisher (Macmillan)
Part memoir, part love letter to an institution popularly viewed as a necessary (or as just plain) evil, My Side of the Street delivers the long-overdue defense of the investment banking industry critiqued by Michael Lewis and others, illuminating the ethical and decent majority who take the subway, worry about mortgages, and keep the entire enterprise on its feet. Introducing the general reader to captains of finance, famous on The Street but invisible to outsiders, Trennert lays on display the absurdity and unbridled joy of big business–a comic tale of unlikely success in America’s most notorious industry.

The Emotional Logic of Capitalism: What Progressives Have Missed
By Martijn Konings
Summary via publisher (Stanford University Press)
The capitalist market, progressives bemoan, is a cold monster: it disrupts social bonds, erodes emotional attachments, and imposes an abstract utilitarian rationality. But what if such hallowed critiques are completely misleading? This book argues that the production of new sources of faith and enchantment is crucial to the dynamics of the capitalist economy. Distinctively secular patterns of attraction and attachment give modern institutions a binding force that was not available to more traditional forms of rule. Elaborating his alternative approach through an engagement with the semiotics of money and the genealogy of economy, Martijn Konings uncovers capitalism’s emotional and theological content in order to understand the paradoxical sources of cohesion and legitimacy that it commands. In developing this perspective, he draws on pragmatist thought to rework and revitalize the Marxist critique of capitalism.

All You Can Pay: How Companies Use Our Data to Empty Our Wallets
By Anna Bernasek and D.T. Mongan
Essay by co-authors via The Guardian
Are you ready for a gas station to charge you more when you are running late or your tank is empty? Laws against price gouging typically apply in times of emergencies, for example after Hurricane Katrina. Most of the time there are no rules that limit price discrimination, and there are certainly no laws against customized products and terms of service. When you add that to the fact that federal privacy laws do a notoriously poor job of protecting our data, it’s clear that consumers are on their own.

Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money
By Nathaniel Popper
Interview with author via Motherboard
With some trepidation, New York Times reporter Nathaniel Popper decided now was the time to release Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money. It’s the definitive book on Bitcoin, and it came out earlier this week. It covers things like the fall of Mt. Gox and the enigmatic coder who may be Bitcoin’s creator.
In this episode of Radio Motherboard, we talked to Popper about the process of researching his book. We also spoke to Courtney Marie Warner, who loves Bitcoin, even though it put her boyfriend in prison. And we spoke to some random people at a park to see just how far we have to go before Bitcoin is truly mainstream.

Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry
By Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff
Excerpt via The Wall Street Journal
Mike Lazaridis was home on his treadmill when he saw the televised report about Apple Inc. ’s newest product. Research In Motion ’s founder soon forgot about exercise that day in January 2007. There was Steve Jobs on a San Francisco stage waving a small glass object, downloading music, videos and maps from the Internet onto a device he called the iPhone.
“How did they do that?” Mr. Lazaridis wondered. His curiosity turned to disbelief when Stanley Sigman, the chief executive of Cingular Wireless joined Mr. Jobs to announce a multiyear contract with Apple to sell iPhones. What was Cingular’s parent AT&T Inc. thinking? “It’s going to collapse the network,” Mr. Lazaridis thought.