Book Bits | 6 December 2014

Basic Economics (5th ed.)
By Thomas Sowell
Summary via publisher (Basic Books)
In this fifth edition of Basic Economics, Thomas Sowell revises and updates his popular book on common sense economics, bringing the world into clearer focus through a basic understanding of the fundamental economic principles and how they explain our lives. Drawing on lively examples from around the world and from centuries of history, Sowell explains basic economic principles for the general public in plain English. Basic Economics, which has now been translated into six languages and has additional material online, remains true to its core principle: that the fundamental facts and principles of economics do not require jargon, graphs, or equations, and can be learned in a relaxed and even enjoyable way.

Stock Message Boards: A Quantitative Approach to Measuring Investor Sentiment
By Ying Zhang
Summary via publisher (Palgrave Macmillan)
Stock Message Boards provides empirical data to reveal how online communication not only impacts stock returns, but also volatility, trading volume, and liquidity, as well as a firm’s value and reputation. Zhang demonstrates the long-term value of stock market message boards by using simple mathematics and statistics to show readers how to measure message board activities. This work argues that online message boards are more effective for small capitalization stocks than large capitalization stocks, and more prominent for financially-distressed firms than financially-sound firms.

Europe’s path to crisis: Disintegration via monetary union
By Tom Gallagher
Summary via publisher (Manchester University Press)
The EU’s single currency crisis and the ensuing human costs have led to Europe’s biggest disaster since 1945. This book examines each of its stages and the political and social impact, and reveals the longer-term origins of the crisis, particularly the failure of elites to promote a genuine European partnership grounded in democratic values and a desire to co-exist with a national outlook. The author defends an orderly retreat from the existing model of monetary union, arguing that an alternative is needed in order for countries enduring a prolonged slump to recover, and recommending that EU chiefs should also treat the nation-state as a partner in a common emergency that needs to be overcome.

Labor in the Global Digital Economy: The Cybertariat Comes of Age
By Ursula Huws
Review via Monthly Review Press
For every person who reads this text on the printed page, many more will read it on a computer screen or mobile device. It’s a situation that we increasingly take for granted in our digital era, and while it is indicative of the novelty of twenty-first-century capitalism, it is also the key to understanding its driving force: the relentless impulse to commodify our lives in every aspect.
Ursula Huws ties together disparate economic, cultural, and political phenomena of the last few decades to form a provocative narrative about the shape of the global capitalist economy at present. She examines the way that advanced information and communications technology has opened up new fields of capital accumulation: in culture and the arts, in the privatization of public services, and in the commodification of human sociality by way of mobile devices and social networking. These trends are in turn accompanied by the dramatic restructuring of work arrangements, opening the way for new contradictions and new forms of labor solidarity and struggle around the planet.

Consumer Credit and the American Economy
By Thomas A. Durkin, et al.
Review via Library of Law and Liberty
A common theme running through the book is that debtors are often wiser than they’re typically given credit for. In the introduction, the authors observe that “a significant component of the underlying, basic economic demand motivation for consumer credit is the desire by consumers to change both the size and timing of their resource inflows and outflows.”
It is sometimes reasonable, they point out, to obtain credit even when a consumer has the assets to cover a large purchase. For example, someone with more than $35,000 on hand may still want to borrow that amount to purchase a vehicle in order to “avoid some combination of not buying the car or truck now, not giving up some other current purchases either, not paying taxes and penalties for liquidating assets held in retirement accounts, and not reducing reserves stored in other financial assets.”

Carbon Nation: Fossil Fuels in the Making of American Culture
By Bob Johnson
Summary via publisher (University of Kansas Press)
Combining historical ecology with cultural criticism, this book reveals the profound depths of our dependencies on carbon and the long repressed cultural history of our evasion and neglect of those dependencies. The ecological roots of modern America are introduced in the first half of the book with the revolution in material growth generated by the move from limited organic soil resources to subsoil energies. In the works of Eugene O’Neill, Upton Sinclair, Sherwood Anderson, and Stephen Crane, the author exposes how our dependencies on coal are systematically suppressed in American culture, buried beneath modernist narratives of progress, consumption, and unbridled growth. In films like Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and George Stevens’s Giant we discover cinematic expressions of our deep-seated anxieties about living in a dizzying new world wrought by fossil fuels.