Book Bits | 4.05.14

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
By Michael Lewis
Review via The Guardian
The US stock market is rigged in favour of high-speed electronic trading firms, which use their advantages to extract billions from investors, according to the acclaimed author Michael Lewis.
In his new book Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, Lewis says that firms are using their speed advantage to profit at the expense of other market participants to the tune of tens of billions of dollars.
“They are able to identify your desire to buy shares in Microsoft and buy them in front of you and sell them back to you at a higher price,” Lewis, whose book is available on Monday, said on the television program 60 Minutes on Sunday.

Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism
By David Harvey
Summary via publisher, Oxford University Press
To modern Western society, capitalism is the air we breathe, and most people rarely think to question it, for good or for ill. But knowing what makes capitalism work–and what makes it fail–is crucial to understanding its long-term health, and the vast implications for the global economy that go along with it. In Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, the eminent scholar David Harvey, author of A Brief History of Neoliberalism, examines the internal contradictions within the flow of capital that have precipitated recent crises. He contends that while the contradictions have made capitalism flexible and resilient, they also contain the seeds of systemic catastrophe. Many of the contradictions are manageable, but some are fatal: the stress on endless compound growth, the necessity to exploit nature to its limits, and tendency toward universal alienation.

America’s Fiscal Constitution: Its Triumph and Collapse
By Bill White
Q&A with author via The Rivard Report
Bill White‘s book, “America’s Fiscal Constitution: Its Triumph and Collapse“ delves into history to demonstrate that carrying a national deficit is not the norm. Growing the debt year after year to cover normal operating expenses is unprecedented.
In the book – which is surprisingly readable, despite being dense with information. White examines periods in American history when the government went into debt. Using these examples, he elucidates part of an unwritten constitution, the American Fiscal Tradition, that guided how the government spent money, levied taxes, and borrowed money.

The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism
By Jeremy Rifkin
Interview with author via CBC News
Economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin says the capitalist era is passing and we are on the verge of a new economic paradigm. His new book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet Of Things, The Collaborative Commons, And The Eclipse Of Capitalism argues most goods and services will soon be created almost for free. Rifkin says a collaborative economy is rising that will challenge old-school capitalism and the kind of companies it formed. Instead, we will have workerless factories, virtual retailing and a culture of barter.

Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality
Edited by David Cay Johnston
Summary via publisher, The New Press
Divided collects the writings of leading scholars, activists, and journalists to provide an illuminating, multifaceted look at inequality in America, exploring its devastating implications in areas as diverse as education, justice, health care, social mobility, and political representation. Provocative and eminently readable, here is an essential resource for anyone who cares about the future of America—and compelling evidence that inequality can be ignored only at the nation’s peril.

Toward a Future Beyond Employment
By Mehmet Cangul
Essay by author via Economics and Ethics
The recent Congressional Budget Office Report, revealing Obamacare would cause more than 2 million job losses, has caused much stir. Republicans have been quick to point out that they were right all along about Obamacare’s cost on jobs and business. But the White House defended the result, arguing that much of the job loss will come from people choosing not to work and instead focus on their “dreams.” Their reasoning is that healthcare subsidies for the lower ladder of the income scale would enable workers to “escape” jobs that they would otherwise stay in only to keep their healthcare coverage. Some on the right have been quick to ridicule this argument about expanded choice, framing it as a last-ditch political effort to make the best of an embarrassing revelation.
However, we should take a pause from politics and ask this intuitive question: does it make sense that people would continue to work at jobs they would rather quit just so they can have affordable healthcare? This is in fact a severe distortion that prevents the full realization of what the American economy has already inherently achieved, more choice.
This is one of the core ideas of the book I wrote, Toward a Future Beyond Employment, that will be published by Palgrave this April. My main argument is that the Western economies that have been able to incorporate their technological progress structurally to their economic production should be able to afford more free time for their workers. Due to certain economic inefficiencies and cultural biases, however, the system is not able to fully internalize this opportunity. If Obamacare will give workers more choice, and ultimately more time, this should be welcomed, not attacked on the basis of a dogmatic cling to political correctness about job loss.