Book Bits: 4 June 2022

Direct: The Rise of the Middleman Economy and the Power of Going to the Source
Kathryn Judge
Review via The Economist
In 2011 there was an outbreak of E. coli in Germany. Thousands of people fell ill. The authorities suspected that salad ingredients were to blame, but did not know which ones were contaminated with the bacteria. Their initial guess was Spanish cucumbers—and so European consumers avoided that country’s fresh produce. Only later did the authorities find that salad sprouts grown in Germany were to blame.
The reason for the confusion, argues Kathryn Judge, a professor at Columbia Law School, was the complex supply chains that have developed in the global economy. It is not easy for regulators, let alone consumers, to know where goods come from. She draws a parallel with the subprime-mortgage crisis of 2007: loans had been repackaged so many times that investors were far from sure which financial products, and which banks, were safe. So they avoided them all, thereby exacerbating the panic.

Oil, the State, and War: The Foreign Policies of Petrostates
Emma Ashford
Summary via publisher (Georgetown U. Press)
In a world where oil-rich states are more likely to start war than their oil-dependent counterparts, it’s surprising how little attention is still paid to these so-called petrostates. These states’ wealth props up the global arms trade, provides diplomatic leverage, and allows them to support violent and nonviolent proxies. In Oil, the State, and War, Emma Ashford explores the many potential links between domestic oil production and foreign policy behavior and how oil production influences global politics. Not all petrostates have the same characteristics or capabilities. To help us conceptualize these differences, Ashford creates an original classification of three types of petrostates: oil-dependent states (those weakened by the resource curse), oil-wealthy states (those made rich by oil exports), and super-producer states (those that form the backbone of the global oil market).

Finding Satoshi: The Real Story Behind Mysterious Bitcoin Creator Satoshi Nakamoto
Ivy McLemore
Summary via book’s website
The cryptic trail of Satoshi Nakamoto’s discovery begins with a confidential ad and covert communications with an anonymous proxy. Its stranger-than-fiction story weaves a remarkable tapestry of pain, anger, fear, guilt, staggering loss, contemplated suicide, and unconditional forgiveness. Finding Satoshi explores 40 potential candidates and introduces you to a little-known, under-the-radar suspect with stunning, previously untold secrets only Bitcoin’s creator could reveal. It tells you why Satoshi’s bitcoins once worth $68 billion haven’t moved, how the proximity of two Southern California neighbors led to the origin of the surname Nakamoto, and divulges the controversial motives for his return. Mystery lovers with a FOMO on the real story behind Satoshi Nakamoto will find clues hidden in every chapter. A surprising twist is that encryptions not only are fundamental to Bitcoin’s success, but also hold the key to solving the most sensational identity riddle of our time.

Behavioral Economics
Arthur O’Sullivan
Summary via publisher (Oxford U. Press)
Behavioral Economics extends standard neoclassical economics models to incorporate features that are consistent with observed human behavior. The text explores (i) pro-social behavior such as cooperation, trust, reciprocity, and voluntary contributions to public goods, (ii) intertemporal choice that may be distorted by present bias, and (iii) choice in uncertain environments that are influenced by decreasing sensitivity and relatively painful loss. It also explores the role of natural selection in shaping human behavior, highlighting the co-evolution of genes and culture.

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