Book Bits: 6 November 2021

The Drift: Stopping America’s Slide to Socialism
Kevin A. Hassett
Q&A with author via The Washington Post
Q: Let’s start with the premise of your book, that America’s on a path to socialism. I’d like you to just give us what you see as the evidence of that. From what I read, we still have what sure looks like the most dynamic capitalist economy in the world. Our growth has been above 6 percent recently. Interest rates are low. Investment seems to be picking up. That looks like a pretty resilient capitalist economy to me. But you’re obviously concerned. Explain why.
A: Yeah, that’s right. And you know, we certainly aren’t all the way there yet. But I think that the key observation is that, you know, Joseph Schumpeter back at the 20s, looked forward to America he was writing about it in the 70s or 80s, where he basically saw an America in the future that would be very prosperous but that would sow the seeds of its own–the destruction of its capitalist system. And if you look at–and I go to this quite a bit in the book–if you look at Schumpeter’s idea of what the world would look like, you know, it very, very much looks like the world of today…basically, what he said was, as we get richer and richer, that Americans are going to send their kids to colleges and universities much more, and colleges and universities are going to be hotbeds of socialism.

The Wolf at the Door: The Menace of Economic Insecurity and How to Fight It
Michael Graetz and Ian Shapiro
Summary via publisher (Harvard U. Press)
This is an age of crisis. That much we can agree on. But a crisis of what? And how do we get out of it? Many on the right call for tax cuts and deregulation. Others on the left rage against the top 1 percent and demand wholesale economic change. Voices on both sides line up against globalization: restrict trade to protect jobs. In The Wolf at the Door, two leading political analysts argue that these views are badly mistaken. The authors focus on what really worries people: not what the rich are making but rather their own insecurity and that of people close to them. Americans are concerned about losing what they have, whether jobs, status, or safe communities. They fear the wolf at the door. The solution is not protectionism or class warfare but a return to the hard work of building coalitions around realistic goals and pursuing them doggedly through the political system.

One Fair Wage: Ending Subminimum Pay in America
Saru Jayaraman
Summary via publisher (The New Press)
Before the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the country, more than six million people earned their living as tipped workers in the service industry. They served us in cafes and restaurants, they delivered food to our homes, they drove us wherever we wanted to go, and they worked in nail salons for as little as $2.13 an hour—the federal tipped minimum wage since 1991—leaving them with next to nothing to get by. These workers, unsurprisingly, were among the most vulnerable workers during the pandemic. As businesses across the country closed down or drastically scaled back their services, hundreds of thousands lost their jobs. As in many other areas, the pandemic exposed the inadequacies of the nation’s social safety net and minimum-wage standards.

There’s No Free Lunch: 250 Economic Truths
David L. Bahnsen
Summary via publisher (Simon & Schuster/Post Hill Press)
What David Bahnsen does here is pull from the masters—the great economic voices of the past and the present—to remind readers of the basic economic truths that must serve as our foundation in understanding the challenges of today. In 250 vital points, he combines pearls of wisdom from economic legends with his own careful commentary to provide readers the perspective, information, and reaffirmation they need in order to see economics for what it is. It will empower you and equip you with the truth—250 truths—that are crucially needed to keep the lights on in civilization and advance the cause of human flourishing.

The All-Consuming Nation: Chasing the American Dream Since World War II
Mark H. Lytle
Summary via publisher (Oxford U. Press)
In some ways, The All-Consuming Nation is an autobiography of the baby boom generation since it highlights the consumer culture and rising environmental consciousness that have been central to that generation’s lived experience. This focus should appeal to a wide audience of regular readers. Those who are sensitive to such current issues as wealth inequality, climate change, and the environmental consequences of mass consumerism will also find the book as a way to see how the United States reached its contemporary crisis points, as well as possible ways to curb current excesses.

Crimes Against Nature: capitalism and global heating
Jeff Sparrow
Excerpt via The Guardian
The IMF’s paper simply assumes that, without price signals, people will exterminate whales, with human behaviour determined by rational profit maximisation and nothing else. It treats markets as more natural than nature itself; it considers the ocean’s inability to evolve an adequate pricing measure a failing that benevolent economists must carefully amend.
Such is the profound strangeness of our current moment, a strangeness that often escapes our recognition. If you or I encountered a whale stranded on the beach, we wouldn’t construct a market to reward its potential saviour. We would do our best to push it back into the sea.

Ultrasocial: The Evolution of Human Nature and the Quest for a Sustainable Future
John M. Gowdy
Summary via publisher (Cambridge U. Press)
Ultrasocial argues that rather than environmental destruction and extreme inequality being due to human nature, they are the result of the adoption of agriculture by our ancestors. Human economy has become an ultrasocial superorganism (similar to an ant or termite colony), with the requirements of superorganism taking precedence over the individuals within it. Human society is now an autonomous, highly integrated network of technologies, institutions, and belief systems dedicated to the expansion of economic production. Recognizing this allows a radically new interpretation of free market and neoliberal ideology which – far from advocating personal freedom – leads to sacrificing the well-being of individuals for the benefit of the global market. Ultrasocial is a fascinating exploration of what this means for the future direction of the humanity: can we forge a better, more egalitarian, and sustainable future by changing this socio-economic – and ultimately destructive – path? Gowdy explores how this might be achieved.

Flywheels: How Cities Are Creating Their Own Futures
Tom Alberg
Excerpt via GeekWire
he most dynamic way to think about the economic flywheels of Seattle and Silicon Valley is that creative people combined with innovation to beget startups.
Those small startups—including not only Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Facebook but also less famous ones—grew into successful companies that attracted talented people who generated new wealth. Many of those creative types, in turn, came up with innovations and launched new startups such as Netflix, Instagram, Redfin, and Rover—an ever-expanding constellation of companies.
The flywheels kept spinning, faster and faster, such that both regions are now home to hundreds of technology startups—most with names you’ve never heard of—adding millions of dollars to the tax base, alongside their Amazons and Googles.

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