Book Bits | 4 August 2018

Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World
By Adam Tooze
Review via The Economist
Four big themes emerge from Mr Tooze’s account of the post-2008 era. The first was the immediate post-crisis response, in which the banks were rescued and both the monetary and fiscal taps were loosened. The second was the euro-zone crisis, which hit Greece and Ireland hardest, but also affected Portugal, Italy and Spain. The third was the shift in the developed world after 2010 to a more austere fiscal policy. The fourth was the rise of populist politics in Europe and America.

The Fed and Lehman Brothers: Setting the Record Straight on a Financial Disaster
By Laurence M. Ball
Review via The New York Times
What caused the financial crisis of 2008? Are policymakers ready to handle the next one?
These are key questions for anyone interested in economic history and policy. In the past decade, a conventional wisdom has developed about the answers.
Yet a new book questions that orthodoxy, offering a more disturbing perspective on the past and a less sanguine prognosis for the future.

Capitalism: A Conversation in Critical Theory
By Nancy Fraser and Rahel Jaeggi
Summary via publisher (Polity)
What is capitalism? How do we understand its relation to twenty-first century society? What does it mean to criticize capitalism? And what kinds of social conflict and struggle can we expect to find under capitalism?In this important new book, Nancy Fraser and Rahel Jaeggi take a fresh look at the big questions surrounding this peculiar social form known as “capitalism,” upending many of our commonly held assumptions about what capitalism is and how to subject it to critique. Jaeggi presses Fraser to develop her new, “expanded” view of capitalism, in which capitalism is more than an economic system but an “institutionalized social order” that encompasses multiple domains of society – including the state monopoly on violence, the organization of family life, and relations to the natural environment.

Money Well Spent: A Strategic Plan for Smart Philanthropy, Second Edition
By Paul Brest and Hal Harvey
Summary via publisher (Stanford University Press)
Philanthropy is a booming business, with hundreds of billions of dollars committed to the social sector each year. Money Well Spent, an award-winning guide on how to structure philanthropy so that it really makes a difference, offers a comprehensive and crucial resource for individual donors, foundations, non-profits, and scholars who focus on and teach others about this realm.

The Wealth Conspiracy: Avoid the Dark Side of Wall Street
By Curtis Hill
Summary via Amazon
Exposing the Wealth Conspiracy Wall Street has bombarded us for decades with marketing propaganda. Glittery ads and seemingly sage advice steer investors toward medicocre investments. It’s time to take control of your money. The Wealth Conspiracy reveals how advice from the financial industry is designed to baffle you into poor investments with higher fees.

Money Mayhem: The Bewildering Consequences of Cutting Money Free
By John Looby
Summary via Amazon
The world changed on 15 August 1971. After almost a quarter of a millennium broadly tied to gold, the money of the world was cut free. The consequences have been dramatic and far-reaching. The United States is now in the unprecedented position of being the issuer of an unanchored global reserve currency. By contrast, and however reluctantly, the rest of the world is now in the unenviable position of being the forced user of the unmoored US dollar. Developments as disparate and apparently unrelated as the outcome of the Cold War, the accelerating pattern of boom, bubble & bust, and the stunning rise of China stem directly from that historic, and historically recent, decision. Since that seminal night in the White House, we are all hostage to a compellingly incentivised and bewilderingly diverse money creation machine, effectively unhindered from exploiting a stacked heads I win / tails you lose relationship with the rest of society. Contrary to much conventional economic thinking, the accelerating pattern of boom, bubble & bust should be little surprise as the political and monetary authorities in whom we trust are little more than impotent accommodators of an unmoored monetary mayhem beyond their control; a mayhem, in truth, beyond any control.

Work in the Digital Age: Challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Edited by Max Neufeind, et al.
Review via The Enlightened Economist
This week I’ve been dipping in to Work in the Digital Age: Challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, edited by Neufeind, O’Reilly and Ranft. This is a collection of short essays brought togoether by Policy Network, the centre-left ‘progressive’ think tank. It’s a chunky book, starting with sections essays on prospects for employment and the character of work. These cover, for example, the likely impact of automation in destroying and creating jobs, and the nature of work in the ‘gig’ economy. A section on labour relations and the welfare state follows. There are then chapters on individual European countries, ordered according to the ‘digital density’: Scandinavia and the Netherlands are classed as high, the UK and Germany medium, France, Italy and Central and Eastern Europe as low. There are also chapters on the US, Canada and India. The comparisons between countries were at the heart of the project, and I admit to not having read these chapters.

Rethinking America’s Highways: A 21st-Century Vision for Better Infrastructure
By Robert W. Poole
Summary via publisher (University of Chicago Press)
Americans spend hours every day sitting in traffic. And the roads they idle on are often rough and potholed, their exits, tunnels, guardrails, and bridges in terrible disrepair. According to transportation expert Robert Poole, this congestion and deterioration are outcomes of the way America provides its highways. Our twentieth-century model overly politicizes highway investment decisions, short-changing maintenance and often investing in projects whose costs exceed their benefits.