Book Bits: 5 June 2021

The Profit Paradox: How Thriving Firms Threaten the Future of Work
Jan Eeckhout
Review via NPR
While it’s had some ups and downs, the stock market has soared to historic heights in recent years. For many, that’s great news: It’s a sign the economy and their retirement accounts are doing really well. For Jan Eeckhout, however, the booming stock market is a sign there’s something deeply wrong with the economy.
Sure, the economist says, he has a retirement account with stocks, and he personally benefits from the ongoing bonanza on stock exchanges. But the rocket ride of the stock market is powered by the exploding profits of increasingly powerful corporations. Their increasingly ridiculous profits, he says, are eating the income of the vast bulk of workers and hurting the overall economy. That notion is the central thesis of his forthcoming book, The Profit Paradox: How Thriving Firms Threaten the Future of Work.

Cyber Crisis: Protecting Your Business from Real Threats in the Virtual World
Eric Cole
Review via Publishers Weekly
Cybersecurity attacks happen every minute of every day and people aren’t worried enough, warns Cole (Hacker Beware), former McAfee chief technology officer, in this sobering treatise. Despite the frequency of breaches, he writes, most people assume that they’ll never be targeted and that the applications they use are secure; neither is true. He urges readers to assume that cybertheft is happening and to put precautions in place to protect themselves, their family, and their business. He gives advice on how business owners can best ensure security, providing a list of questions an organization’s IT team needs to be able to answer (“is our critical data encrypted?”), urging businesses to ensure security teams are involved in contract-signing because “almost all contracts today involve data-storage security,” and outlining the dangers of cloud storage.

Labor in the Age of Finance: Pensions, Politics, and Corporations from Deindustrialization to Dodd-Frank
Sanford M. Jacoby
Summary via publisher (Princeton U. Press)
Since the 1970s, American unions have shrunk dramatically, as has their economic clout. Labor in the Age of Finance traces the search for new sources of power, showing how unions turned financialization to their advantage. Sanford Jacoby catalogs the array of allies and finance-based tactics labor deployed to stanch membership losses in the private sector. By leveraging pension capital, unions restructured corporate governance around issues like executive pay and accountability. In Congress, they drew on their political influence to press for corporate reforms in the wake of business scandals and the financial crisis. The effort restrained imperial CEOs but could not bridge the divide between workers and owners. Wages lagged behind investor returns, feeding the inequality identified by Occupy Wall Street. And labor’s slide continued.

Post Growth: Life after Capitalism
Tim Jackson
Review via The Guardian
Shortly after the release of Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth (2009) – a landmark text of the “degrowther” movement, praised by sustainability advocates from Prince Charles to Noam Chomsky – the author was summoned to meet with a senior adviser at the Treasury. Jackson explained his basic arguments to the spad: our addiction to ever-increasing GDP is destroying the planet; it is difficult to decouple economic growth from unsustainable practices; hence, we must supplant consumerism with a non-material conception of prosperity based on creativity and care work. The adviser listened carefully before posing a simple question: “What would it be like for Treasury officials to turn up at G7 meetings knowing that the UK’s GDP had slipped down the rankings?” Jackson was, he writes, “dumbstruck” by this response. “How could I have missed that the politics of the playground is evidently still in action, even in the highest echelons of power?” The scholar made his excuses and left early.

Wasted: How We Squander Time, Money, and Natural Resources-and What We Can Do About It
Byron Reese and Scott Hoffman
Excerpt via publisher (Currency/Penguin Random House)
In a million years, humanity as we know it will be long gone. No matter your philosophy, cosmology, or theology, we won’t be here. We might have evolved into Homo somethingelsius, uploaded ourselves to computers, or augmented ourselves into androids. We might have succumbed to an ecological catastrophe, blown ourselves into oblivion, or been hit by an asteroid; we might have been wiped out by Wolf-­Rayet star WR 104, which will have gone supernova by then, or abandoned this planet and gone to the stars ourselves. Or we might have been overthrown by a band of intelligent apes with a charismatic leader named Caesar, or any of a hundred other outcomes. But rest assured, we won’t be here in any way that resembles our lives today.
However, the polystyrene foam cup you drank hot coffee from this morning will still be here, buried somewhere, probably still quite recognizable, even usable.

Money and the Rule of Law: Generality and Predictability in Monetary Institutions
Peter J. Boettke, et al.
Summary via publisher (Cambridge U. Press)
Contemporary monetary institutions are flawed at a foundational level. The reigning paradigm in monetary policy holds up constrained discretion as the preferred operating framework for central banks. But no matter how smart or well-intentioned are central bankers, discretionary policy contains information and incentive problems that make macroeconomic stability systematically unlikely. Furthermore, central bank discretion implicitly violates the basic jurisprudential norms of liberal democracy. Drawing on a wide body of scholarship, this volume presents a novel argument in favor of embedding monetary institutions into a rule of law framework. The authors argue for general, predictable rules to provide a sturdier foundation for economic growth and prosperity.

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