Book Bits | 4.28.2012

End This Depression Now!
By Paul Krugman
Adapted excerpt via The New York Times
When the financial crisis struck in 2008, many economists took comfort in at least one aspect of the situation: the best possible person, Ben Bernanke, was in place as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Bernanke was and is a fine economist. More than that, before joining the Fed, he wrote extensively, in academic studies of both the Great Depression and modern Japan, about the exact problems he would confront at the end of 2008. He argued forcefully for an aggressive response, castigating the Bank of Japan, the Fed’s counterpart, for its passivity. Presumably, the Fed under his leadership would be different. Instead, while the Fed went to great lengths to rescue the financial system, it has done far less to rescue workers. The U.S. economy remains deeply depressed, with long-term unemployment in particular still disastrously high, a point Bernanke himself has recently emphasized. Yet the Fed isn’t taking strong action to rectify the situation.

The Little Book of Emerging Markets: How To Make Money in the Worlds Fastest Growing Markets
By Mark Mobius
Summary via publisher, Wiley
The world’s economies are in a state of flux. The traditional dominance of the G7 countries is being challenged by emerging market nations like Brazil and India, and while investment opportunities in these countries abound, the risks can be extremely high. In this Little Book, Mark Mobius, an internationally-renowned expert on emerging market funds, explains the ins and outs of emerging market investment, providing practical guidance on picking industries and companies likely to win, and explaining why policies and regulations matter as much as balance sheets, how to recognize global contenders, techniques for managing risk, and how to get out at the right time.
Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society
By Jim Manzi
Review via The New Republic
Did Obama’s Stimulus increase employment, or would employment have risen even without it? Will the Affordable Care Act increase health insurance coverage without causing medical costs to skyrocket? Would national testing of children improve education or worsen it? Most urgent questions of public policy turn on empirical imponderables, and so policymakers fall back on ideological predispositions or muddle through. Is there a better way? Maybe government could do a better job at finding the facts. Jim Manzi proposes that policymakers rely on better empirical research. The gold standard for empirical research is the randomized field trial (RFT). Suppose that a pharmaceutical company claims that a new drug will cure baldness. The best way to test this claim is to randomly select two groups of bald men, and give the drug to members of one group and a placebo to members of another group. If the men in the first group sprout hair, while those in the second do not, we obtain strong evidence that the drug functions as advertised.
Gold Bubble: Profiting From Gold’s Impending Collapse
By Yoni Jacobs
Interview with author via Yahoo/The Daily Ticker
For the past decade, gold has been an incredible investment, rising from under $300 per ounce to as high as $1,900 per ounce before retreating to around $1,650 in recent trading. For the bulls, gold’s recent drop is nothing more than a temporary setback on its inexorable march toward $2,000 and beyond. The case for gold rests primarily on factors familiar to anyone who’s even remotely familiar with the metal: easy money from central banks around the world and rising demand from emerging economies, notably China and India. But all good things must come to an end and Yoni Jacobs, chief investment strategist at Chart Prophet, believes gold’s best days are behind it. In fact, Yoni believes there’s a bubble in precious metals that’s about to collapse as detailed in his book, Gold Bubble: Profiting from Gold’s Impending Collapse.
Earth Wars: The Battle for Global Resources
By Geoff Hiscock
Summary via publisher, Wiley
The global competition for scarce natural resources that pits the West against the super-hot economies of China and India, plus a clutch of other contenders including Russia, Brazil, and Indonesia, has become one of the biggest issues facing the world today. Whether it is the rare metal lithium found in salt pans in the Andes, gas from the Caspian Sea, oil off the coast of Brazil, coal from Africa’s Zambezi River, or uranium from Kazakhstan, China and India are desperate to ensure the security of their future energy supplies. The same goes for food and water, as contamination and over-use take their toll, the need to provide continued access for the next generation and beyond has increased exponentially. In Earth Wars: The Battle for Global Resources, international business journalist Geoff Hiscock explores the problems, potential solutions, and inevitable tensions in this ongoing scramble for finite natural resources.
What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
By Michael Sandel
Review via The Daily Beast/Newsweek
The book takes on what Sandel calls the “imperialism” of economic ideas. He thinks we’re in thrall to markets and use them to answer questions that markets aren’t meant to answer. “We are in the grip of a way of looking at the world and social life and even personal relations that is dominated by economic ways of thinking. That’s an impoverished way of looking at the world,” he says. One would expect Wall Street to figure prominently in this book, but What Money Can’t Buy says almost nothing about it. Instead, he challenges all of us to look at how we’ve allowed markets to pervade our public life. He argues that the spread of market philosophy has created what he calls “a consumerist idea of freedom,” in which we think our highest freedom is what we consume. Our obsession with consumption limits our freedom to engage in a full civic life.
The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do about It
By Timothy Noah
Interview with author via NPR
Thirty years ago, CEOs of America’s largest businesses earned an estimated 42 times as much as their average employee. These days, that number has jumped to more than 200 times as much, by many counts. Since the economic crisis of 2008, there has been much more focus on income inequality, not just from economists and social scientists, but also from politicians and from protesters who occupied Wall Street. While there’s no argument about what happened, there’s plenty of debate about why and what — if anything — should be done to correct it. In a new book, The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It, journalist Timothy Noah traces the causes of the growth in inequality and prescribes some solutions that may or may not prove politically palatable.
Compassion, Inc.: How Corporate America Blurs the Line between What We Buy, Who We Are, and Those We Help
By Mara Einstein
Summary via publisher, University of California Press
Pink ribbons, red dresses, and greenwashing—American corporations are scrambling to tug at consumer heartstrings through cause-related marketing, corporate social responsibility, and ethical branding, tactics that can increase sales by as much as 74%. Harmless? Marketing insider Mara Einstein demonstrates in this penetrating analysis why the answer is a resounding “No!” In Compassion, Inc. she outlines how cause-related marketing desensitizes the public by putting a pleasant face on complex problems. She takes us through the unseen ways in which large sums of consumer dollars go into corporate coffers rather than helping the less fortunate. She also discusses companies that truly do make the world a better place, and those that just pretend to.