Book Bits | 6.2.2012

The Unfair Trade: How Our Broken Global Financial System Destroys the Middle Class
By Michael J. Casey
Summary via publisher, Random House
A wake-up call for middle class Americans who feel trapped in a post-crisis economic slump, The Unfair Trade is a riveting exposé of the vast global financial system whose flaws are the source of our economic malaise. Our livelihoods are now, more than ever, beholden to the workings of its imbalances and inequities. The trillions of dollars that make up the flow of international finance—money that is often steered away from the people who deserve it the most—have not just undermined the lives of working and middle class Americans. It is a world-wide phenomenon that is changing the culture of Argentina; destroying the factory system in Northern Mexico, enabling drug cartels to recruit thousands of young men into their gangs; that has taken down the economies of Iceland, Ireland, Spain, Greece, and possibly Italy; and is driving American companies such as a 60-year-old family owned manufacturer of printed circuit boards to shutter all but one of its factories. Veteran journalist Michael Casey has traveled the world—from China to Iceland, Spain to Argentina, Indonesia to Australia—recounting extraordinary stories about ordinary people from one continent to another whose lives are inextricably linked.

Living Economics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
By Peter Boettke
Review via Laissez-Faire Books
The phrase “living economics” means two things: 1) economics is part of life whether we recognize it or not, and 2) economics is a living discipline, rooted in universal principles but always changing in nuance and application.Professor Boettke’s purpose is to provide a guided tour through the profession as it is now and how he would like to see it changed. He does this by first explaining what got him interested in the science. It turns out that he remembers the gas lines of the 1970s and recalls being amazed to discover that they were wholly manufactured by Washington policy. It was the price control of oil combined with inflationary pressures from bad monetary policy. Contrary to what the media mavens and politicians were saying at the time, it had nothing to do with producer greed, secret price manipulation or financial speculation. That’s what did it for him. He realized that economics is woven into every aspect of our lives. It is inescapable. When the market is allowed to work, beauty and growth results. Humanity flourishes. When markets are truncated and hobbled, people suffer. Then he realized how little public understanding there is of economics. And he realized that he could play a role in changing this. He has. His students are now teaching other students in six different Ph.D.-granting institutions, among dozens more institutions.
The Alpha Masters: Unlocking the Genius of the World’s Top Hedge Funds
By Maneet Ahuja
Excerpt via CNNMoney/Fortune
Maneet Ahuja, also known as “Wall Street Maneet” on Twitter, has one of the most powerful Rolodexes in business. The 27-year-old CNBC producer regularly coaxes the world’s most successful and reclusive investing stars on the network’s flagship show, Squawk Box. She also got them to talk for a series of extended interviews that she has turned into a new book of profiles, The Alpha Masters: Unlocking the Genius of the World’s Top Hedge Funds. As the title implies, the book is hardly critical of her subjects (most of whom Ahuja was also able to draw to her star-studded book party, held last week in midtown Manhattan). But it offers their stories from their own perspective and some entertaining unvarnished comments.
The Fundamental Rules of Risk Management
By Nigel Da Costa Lewis
Summary via publisher, CRC Press
The consequences of taking on risk can be ruinous to personal finances, professional careers, corporate survivability, and even nation states. Yet many risk managers do not have a clear understanding of the basics. Requiring no statistical or mathematical background, The Fundamental Rules of Risk Management gives you the knowledge to successfully handle risk in your organization. The book begins with a deep investigation into the behavioral roots of risk. Using both historical and contemporary contexts, author Nigel Da Costa Lewis carefully details the indisputable truths surrounding many of the behavioral biases that induce risk. He exposes the fallacy of the wisdom of experts, explains why you cannot rely on regulators, outlines the characteristics of the “glad game,” and demonstrates how high intelligence or lack thereof can lead to loss of hard-earned wealth. He also discusses the weaknesses and failures of modern risk management.
Cognitive Capitalism
By Yann Moulier-Boutang
Summary via publisher, Wiley/Polity
We live in a time of transition, argues Yann Moulier Boutang. But the irony is that this is not a transition to a new type of society called ‘socialism’, as many on the Left had assumed; rather, it is a transition to a new type of capitalism. Socialism has been left behind by a new revolution in our midst. ‘Globalization’ effectively corresponds to the emergence, since 1975, of a third kind of capitalism. It does not have much to do with the industrial capitalism which, at the point of its birth (1750-1820), broke with earlier forms of mercantile capitalism. The aim of this book is to describe and explain the characteristics of this third age of capitalism.
So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America
By Peter Edelman
Interview with author via The Takeaway/Public Radio International/WNYC
Poverty is one of the most pressing and divisive issues of our day, and Democrats and Republicans have staked out largely different approaches to the increasing divide between the poorest members of the United States and the richest. With the economy central to the November elections, the wealth gap will likely only become even more talked about in the months to come. Peter Edelman is one of the most outspoken antipoverty advocates in the country. Edelman became a household name in 1996 after resigning from his post at the Department of Health and Human Services in protest of President Clinton’s signing of the welfare reform bill.
Wars of Plunder: Conflicts, Profits and the Politics of Resources
By Philippe le Billon
Summary via publisher, Columbia University Press
From Iraq and Angola to Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, resource-rich countries with high incidences of poverty are prone to devastating outbreaks of war. These conflicts are highly idiosyncratic, and the response of the international community to their occurrences is fascinatingly complex. Philippe Le Billon traces the specific burden of owning the world’s most precious resources and the effects of resource politics on the development of war. He focuses on three key resources––oil, diamonds, and timber––and the circumstances linking their abundance to war. He discusses the role of resource revenue in financing belligerent forces, a trend that has grown more conspicuous with the withdrawal of Cold War foreign sponsorship.
The Land Grabbers: The New Fight over Who Owns the Earth
By Fred Pearce
Excerpt via The Guardian
Vast swaths of Africa are being bought up by oligarchs, sheikhs and agribusiness corporations. But, as this extract from The Land Grabbers explains, centuries of history are being destroyed.
How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism
By Roger Scruton
Summary via publisher, Oxford University Press
The environment has long been the undisputed territory of the political Left, which casts international capitalism, consumerism, and the over-exploitation of natural resources as the principle threats to the planet, and sees top-down interventions as the most effective solution. In How to Think Seriously About the Planet, Roger Scruton rejects this view and offers a fresh approach to tackling the most important political problem of our time. The environmental movement, he contends, is philosophically confused and has unrealistic agendas. Its sights are directed at the largescale events and the confrontation between international politics and multinational business. But Scruton argues that no large-scale environmental project, however well-intentioned, will succeed if it is not rooted in small-scale practical reasoning.