Book Bits | 6 May 2017

Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis?
By Steve Keen
Review via NakedCapitalism
At first glance this book seems too small-sized at 147 pages. But like a well-made atom-bomb, it is compactly designed for maximum reverberation to blow up its intended target.
Explaining why today’s debt residue has turned the United States, Britain and southern Europe into zombie economies, Steve Keen shows how ignoring debt is the blind spot of neoliberal economics – basically the old neoclassical just-pretend view of the world. Its glib mathiness is a gloss for its unscientific “don’t worry about debt” message. Blame for today’s U.S., British and southern European inability to achieve economic recovery thus rests on the economic mainstream and its refusal to recognize that debt matters.

Making It: Why Manufacturing Still Matters
By Louis Uchitelle
Review via Publishers Weekly
Manufacturing in the United States “is not dying,” Uchitelle (The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences) argues in this slim, fact-packed book about how factories have declined but not disappeared in the U.S. Reports of manufacturing’s demise may be somewhat exaggerated, but there’s no question that the sector has shrunk dramatically as a share of the U.S. economy, displacing generations of high school graduates who depended on industrial jobs for middle-class lifestyles. Uchitelle convincingly debunks explanations that blame supposedly unskilled workers for their own plight, instead pointing to the rise of multinational corporations, a lack of federal government subsidies, and destructive competition among U.S. cities to attract factories that haphazardly relocate jobs from point A to point B.

Financial Crisis in American Households: The Basic Expenses That Bankrupt the Middle Class
By Joseph Nathan Cohen
Summary via publisher (Praeger)
More than one-third of Americans could not sustain a basic livelihood without government assistance. Almost 60 percent of seniors are dependent on the government. Why is this? This book examines how the U.S. economy’s failure to deliver high-quality, universally accessible basic necessities is creating acute financial insecurity among the American middle class.

The Corruption of Capitalism: Why Rentiers Thrive and Work Does Not Pay
By Guy Standing
Review via The Guardian
he time would come, Marx and Engels thought, when there would be only two classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and all people would align their interests with them. The economist Guy Standing is known for his descriptions of a different kind of class – the “precariat”, defined by the insecurity and instability of the work it performs. Its members are diverse: immigrant Uber drivers and millennial interns, part-time lecturers and the cleaners and couriers of the “gig economy”, the old working class forced into temporary and casual labour. The capaciousness of the idea has been criticised, but that’s also part of its appeal. The precariat is, potentially, the democratic majority. In his new book, Standing says such workers are increasingly conscious of themselves as a class, in part because they see clearly what they’re not: rentiers.
Rentiers get their income not from labour but from rent on assets that they own or control. The global elite profits not just from desirable property or money moved offshore, but also from “intangible assets”: financial instruments such as stocks, derivatives and securities, or intellectual property, including brands and patents. While economists such as Thomas Piketty see capitalism necessarily tending towards rising inequality because of its own “fundamental laws”, Standing blames inequality on the “rentier capitalism” that has flourished since the 1970s. This, he argues, has corrupted the dream of the free market. If capitalism is to work for the many not the few, what’s needed is what Keynes called the “euthanasia of the rentier”.

The Wisdom of Money
By Pascal Bruckner
Summary via publisher (Harvard University Press)
Money is an evil that does good, and a good that does evil. It inspires hymns to the prosperity it enables, manifestos about the poor it leaves behind, and diatribes for its corrosion of morality. In The Wisdom of Money, one of the world’s great essayists guides us through the rich commentary that money has generated since ancient times—both the passions and the resentments—as he builds an unfashionable defense of the worldly wisdom of the bourgeoisie.

Rogues of Wall Street: How to Manage Risk in the Cognitive Era
By Andrew Waxman
Summary via publisher (Wiley)
Rogues of Wall Street analyzes the recent risk failures and errors that have overwhelmed Wall Street for the past decade. Written by a veteran risk, compliance, and governance specialist, this book helps bank leaders and consultants identify the tools they need to effectively manage operational risk. Citing different types of risk events such as: Rogue and Insider Trading, cyber security, AML, the Mortgage Crisis, and other major events, chapters in the first half of the book detail each operational risk type along with its causative and contributing factors. The second half of the book takes an overarching approach to the tools and solutions available to financial institutions to manage such events in the future. From technology, to culture, to governance, and more, this book does more than simply identify the problem—it provides real-world solutions with actionable insight.

Capitalists Arise!: End Economic Inequality, Grow the Middle Class, Heal the Nation
By Peter Georgescu with David Dorsey
Summary via publisher (Berrett-Koehler)
Marshaling deeply sobering statistics, Georgescu depicts the stark reality of America today: a nation with greater wealth inequality and lower social mobility than just about any other country in the developed world. But the problem isn’t that free-market capitalism no longer works—it’s that it’s been hijacked by shareholder primacy. Where once our business leaders looked to the needs and interests of a variety of stakeholders—employees, community members, the business itself—now they’re myopically focused on maximizing their shareholders’ quarterly returns. Capitalists Arise! shows how the short-term thinking spawned by shareholder primacy lies at the root of our current economic malaise and social breakdown.

American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road
By Nick Bilton
Summary via publisher (Portfolio)
In 2011, a twenty-six-year-old libertarian programmer named Ross Ulbricht launched the ultimate free market: the Silk Road, a clandestine Web site hosted on the Dark Web where anyone could trade anything—drugs, hacking software, forged passports, counterfeit cash, poisons—free of the government’s watchful eye. It wasn’t long before the media got wind of the new Web site where anyone—not just teenagers and weed dealers but terrorists and black hat hackers—could buy and sell contraband detection-free. Spurred by a public outcry, the federal government launched an epic two-year manhunt for the site’s elusive proprietor, with no leads, no witnesses, and no clear jurisdiction.

We Are Data: Algorithms and The Making of Our Digital Selves
By John Cheney-Lippold
Summary via publisher (NYU Press)
Algorithms are everywhere, organizing the near limitless data that exists in our world. Derived from our every search, like, click, and purchase, algorithms determine the news we get, the ads we see, the information accessible to us and even who our friends are. These complex configurations not only form knowledge and social relationships in the digital and physical world, but also determine who we are and who we can be, both on and offline.