Book Bits: 6 March 2021

Engine of Inequality: The Fed and the Future of Wealth in America
Karen Petrou
Interview with author via Marketplace.org
In the post-2008 financial crisis economy, the Federal Reserve has received plenty of criticism for its quantitative easing approach, cited as one factor behind widening economic inequality in the U.S.
Previous central bank chairs, past and present, have defended their policies and said their main goals do not necessarily include inequality reduction.
Karen Petrou, co-founder of Federal Financial Analytics, believes that the central bank not only contributed to the growing inequality among Americans, but also that it has the ability to reverse that inequality through targeted policies that stay within its mandates of maximum employment, price stability and long-term moderate interest rates.

Morbid Symptoms: An Anatomy of a
World in Crisis

Donald Sassoon
Summary via publisher (Verso)
Sassoon paints an unforgettable picture of our galloping descent into political barbarism, mixing blunt exposé and classical references with an astonishing array of data. Why does the United States proportionately have more civilians owning guns than Yemen, where there is a war on? Why did the UK enter the pandemic with fewer doctors than any EU country except Poland and Romania? In Morbid Symptoms he refuses to abandon what Antonio Gramsci termed the optimism of the will, instead recalling a line from Machiavelli’s Istorie fiorentine: “do not impute past disorders to the nature of the men, but to the times, which, being changed, give reasonable ground to hope that, with better government, our city will have better fortune in the future.”
Anthill Economics: Animal Ecosystems and the Human Economy
Nathanial Gronewold
Summary via publisher (Prometheus/Rowman & Littlefield)
Does modern economic theory violate the basic laws of nature and physics? That is the question that award-winning environmental and energy writer Nathanial Gronewold sets out to answer in Anthill Economics. Drawing from the nascent field of biophysical economics, Anthill Economics puts forth a radical new way of thinking: as 21st-century citizens, the global economy truly is our human ecosystem. It is where raw materials are sourced, goods are supplied, energy is converted, and capital is exchanged. Shouldn’t it stand to reason that the same principles that affect animal ecosystems (like population density, habitation patterns, and energy return on investment) similarly apply to our –albeit more complex –human ecosystem, too?
Capitalism and Democracy: Prosperity, Justice, and the Good Society
Thomas A. Spragens Jr.
Summary via publisher (Notre Dame Press)
In recent years, the ideological battles between advocates of free markets and minimal government, on the one hand, and adherents of greater democratic equality and some form of the welfare state, on the other hand, have returned in full force. Anyone who wants to make sense of contemporary American politics and policy battles needs to have some understanding of the divergent beliefs and goals that animate this debate. In Capitalism and Democracy, Thomas A. Spragens, Jr., examines the opposing sides of the free market versus welfare state debate through the lenses of political economy, moral philosophy, and political theory. He asks: Do unchecked markets maximize prosperity, or do they at times produce wasteful and damaging outcomes?
Bank Investing: A Practitioner’s Field Guide
Suhail Chandy and Weison Ding
Summary via publisher (Wiley)
Bank Investing: A Practitioner’s Field Guide offers you the essential toolkit to become a successful bank investor. It packages practical lessons, theoretical knowledge, and historical context, all into one compelling and hopefully entertaining book. The book includes conversations with investors and management teams. Investors include activists, financials specialists, credit investors, and multibillion-dollar asset managers. Management teams have a broad representation from the c-suite of a broad spectrum of participants ranging from a fintech to a bank with over $30bn in assets.
Interest Rate Risk Management of Municipal Bonds
Andrew J Kalotay
Summary via Amazon
It is an oft-repeated mantra that “munis are different” and that standard analytical tools are irrelevant to managing them. Andrew Kalotay certainly agrees that munis are different. In fact, they are more complex than just about any other bond category. Munis are rich in options, their pricing is tax-dependent, the benchmark curves are comprised of callable bond yields … and the list goes on.
Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX
Eric Berger
Review via Space.com
Long before SpaceX’s self-landing rockets, Tesla-riding space mannequin or Starship prototype tests for future Mars missions, the California company was already doing daring things in space exploration.
Veteran Houston-based space reporter Eric Berger, now of Ars Technica and formerly of The Houston Chronicle, tackles the early years of SpaceX in his new book “Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX” (William Morrow, 2021). The book, while focusing heavily on SpaceX’s early years, shows the roots of the daring steps the now-famous company is taking into even newer frontiers: human missions and Mars exploration.
A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload
Cal Newport
Excerpt via FastCompany.com
In early 2016, I published an article with a purposefully provocative title, ‘A Modest Proposal: Eliminate Email.’ Though I’d been writing about the unique miseries of this technology on my blog, this piece was one of my first mainstream essays on the ideas that would eventually coalesce into my book, A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload. At the halfway point of the article, after I’d reviewed the issues caused by the hyperactive hive mind workflow, I delivered my big conclusion: “There’s great advantage for those organizations willing to end the reign of the unstructured workflow and replace it with something designed from scratch with the specific goal of maximizing value production and employee satisfaction.”
Useful Delusions: The Power and Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain
Shankar Vedantam and Bill Mesler
Summary via publisher (Norton)
Self-deception does terrible harm to us, to our communities, and to the planet. But if it is so bad for us, why is it ubiquitous? In Useful Delusions, Shankar Vedantam and Bill Mesler argue that, paradoxically, self-deception can also play a vital role in our success and well-being.
News and How to Use It: What to Believe in a Fake News World
Alan Rusbridger
Review via The Guardian
Rusbridger wonders whether the pandemic has led the public to seek a return to mediated journalism, to professionals who can help navigate what is news and what’s not. “As with much else in Brexit-sundered Britain, it is not immediately clear whether the unavoidably shared national experience of the Covid-19 crisis … will restore a sense of mutual respect and forbearance between government and the political press, and between the media and anxious voters desperate for reliable guidance through the catastrophe.”

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