Book Bits | 4.27.13

Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea
By Mark Blyth
Summary via publisher, Oxford University Press
Governments today in both Europe and the United States have succeeded in casting government spending as reckless wastefulness that has made the economy worse. In contrast, they have advanced a policy of draconian budget cuts–austerity–to solve the financial crisis. We are told that we have all lived beyond our means and now need to tighten our belts. This view conveniently forgets where all that debt came from. Not from an orgy of government spending, but as the direct result of bailing out, recapitalizing, and adding liquidity to the broken banking system. Through these actions private debt was rechristened as government debt while those responsible for generating it walked away scot free, placing the blame on the state, and the burden on the taxpayer. That burden now takes the form of a global turn to austerity, the policy of reducing domestic wages and prices to restore competitiveness and balance the budget. The problem, according to political economist Mark Blyth, is that austerity is a very dangerous idea. First of all, it doesn’t work. As the past four years and countless historical examples from the last 100 years show, while it makes sense for any one state to try and cut its way to growth, it simply cannot work when all states try it simultaneously: all we do is shrink the economy.

The Lost Continent: The BBC’s Europe Editor on Europe’s Darkest Hour Since World War Two
By Gavin Hewitt
Summary via publisher, Hodder & Stoughton
In The Lost Continent BBC Europe Editor Gavin Hewitt tells the story of a flawed dream, a noble vision that turned dangerous, and which led Europe into its gravest crisis since World War Two – a crisis for which it was totally unprepared. A pillar of the post-war European dream was a shared currency, and with it came easy money, seducing some countries into a wild spending binge. After the financial crash in the United States, Europe caught the cold and was left with a debt crisis that came to threaten the entire European project.
End of The Good Life: How the Financial Crisis Threatens a Lost Generation–and What We Can Do About It
By Riva Froymovich
Review via New York Journal of Books
In a series of vignettes, Ms. Froymovich, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires, relates the devastating and global impact of the economic meltdown.
She profiles American, European, and Asian individuals struggling to make ends meet in these new hard times. College educated but saddled with student loan debt, paying for the mishaps of deregulatory mania in the financial sector and hopping from one short-term contract to another, if employment is found at all, these individuals show the human faces of the Great Recession. (Whoever coined the term Great Recession had a gift for understatement.)
Seven Elements That Have Changed the World: Iron, Carbon, Gold, Silver, Uranium, Titanium, Silicon
By John Browne
Summary via publisher, Hachette
Humans have put the Earth’s resources to extraordinary use. Carbon provides us with heat, light and mobility at the flick of a switch. From silver came photography, the preservation of memories, and a task which for centuries was confined to painters, sketchers and our imaginations. Silver in turn was eventually replaced by silicon, an element which enables us to communicate and transmit information across the globe in an instant. But our use of the Earth’s resources is not always for the benefit of humankind. Our relationship with the elements is one of great ambivalence.
Big Data and Business Analytics
Edited by Jay Liebowitz
Essay by author via SAS/Knowledge Exchange
Most everyone now has heard one of the hottest terms today—big data. Big data is a big deal, especially in such data-intensive industries as cybersecurity, finance, healthcare, marketing, transportation, energy, and others. And, many of us are already familiar with the 3V’s of big data—volume, velocity, and variety of data. But, the key question is, “How do we extract big knowledge from big data?”
The answer to this question is partly through analytics, which is also a growing field within various sectors. Some people look at data analytics, in terms of educating future “data scientists,” and still others are exploring business analytics through educating a new kind of “business analyst.” The new breed of analytics specialists need to have a combination of skills including statistical techniques, applied mathematical methods, advanced machine learning algorithms, data visualization, and business and communications skills.