Book Bits: 4 February 2023

The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism
Martin Wolf
Review via The Economist
For anyone old enough to remember the fall of communism, recent history has been something of a shock. The triumph of liberal political and economic systems has been spoilt: by rich-country blunders, the rise of authoritarian China, and ultimately by a distressing loss of faith in democracy itself in what was once called the free world. This crisis of democracy looks less dire than it did a year or two ago, thanks to political change in America and missteps by China and Russia. But the danger has not passed, and the need to understand democracy’s retreat remains urgent.

Invisible Trillions: How Financial Secrecy Is Imperiling Capitalism and Democracy and the Way to Renew Our Broken System
Raymond W. Baker
Summary via publisher (Penguin/Berrett-Koehler)
Over the last half century, capitalism has created the means for trillions of dollars, euros, pounds, and other stores of wealth to move invisibly—beyond the control of central bankers, law enforcement agents, and international institutions. With an entire financial secrecy system now dominating capitalist operations, riches flow inexorably upward and accelerate economic inequality. And rising inequality is directly imperiling—weakening, obstructing, and degrading—democracy. This book is not a screed against capitalism—it is a call for capitalism to return to its roots, reenergizing its synergies with democracy.

Risky Business: Why Insurance Markets Fail and What to Do About It
Liran Einav, et al.
Podcast with co-author via
Want to impress your friends at your next neighborhood cookout? Not only tell them that you saved money on your insurance, but also humblebrag that you listened to today’s show and actually understand WHY you made better decisions. MIT professor Amy Finkelstein joins us with stories about insurances gone wrong, sharing details so you better understand how the system works. We’ll talk about, among other things, why health insurers want to know if you go to the gym (not the reason you think), what American Airlines has to do with insurance nightmares, and why your company only offers “open enrollment” once per year.

Fixing American Cybersecurity: Creating a Strategic Public-Private Partnership
Larry Clinton, ed
Summary via publisher (Georgetown U. Press)
Cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the United States are extensive, affecting everything from national security and democratic elections to critical infrastructure and economy. In the past decade, the number of cyberattacks against American targets has increased exponentially, and their impact has been more costly than ever before. A successful cyber-defense can only be mounted with the cooperation of both the government and the private sector, and only when individual corporate leaders integrate cybersecurity strategy throughout their organizations.

Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives
Siddharth Kara
Review via The New York Times
Cobalt, a mineral essential to the batteries of smart devices and electric vehicles — and therefore to the future — is haunted by a past of slavery and colonialism. The phone in your hand contains several grams of this element; some of it, as Siddharth Kara shows in “Cobalt Red,” was likely mined by people hacking away in toxic pits for subsistence wages.
Used as a source of blue pigment since antiquity, cobalt has joined blood diamonds and forced-labor shrimp as the latest bête noire of critics of globalization. Nearly half of the world’s reserves are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a conflict-stricken country that has long been the site of a geopolitical scramble for strategic resources.

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