Book Bits | 7.14.2012

Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America
By Martin Gilens
Summary via publisher, Princeton University Press
Can a country be a democracy if its government only responds to the preferences of the rich? In an ideal democracy, all citizens should have equal influence on government policy–but as this book demonstrates, America’s policymakers respond almost exclusively to the preferences of the economically advantaged. Affluence and Influence definitively explores how political inequality in the United States has evolved over the last several decades and how this growing disparity has been shaped by interest groups, parties, and elections. With sharp analysis and an impressive range of data, Martin Gilens looks at thousands of proposed policy changes, and the degree of support for each among poor, middle-class, and affluent Americans. His findings are staggering: when preferences of low- or middle-income Americans diverge from those of the affluent, there is virtually no relationship between policy outcomes and the desires of less advantaged groups.

Octopus: Sam Israel, the Secret Market, and Wall Street’s Wildest Con
By Guy Lawson
Q&A with author via Jeff Glor/CBS News
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
Guy Lawson: When I first talked to Sam Israel in prison I thought I was working on a story about a Wall Street fraudster–at the time the biggest ever. But Israel started to tell me this entirely different story about a secret bond market and the CIA and how the Federal Reserve is running a Ponzi scheme. It was literally incredible–as in unbelievable. But those are the kinds of stories I’m drawn to–stories that prove how much stranger fact is than fiction.
Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back
By Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy
Review via Publishers Weekly
This intriguing, wide-ranging probe ponders the underlying principles behind whether complex systems of every sort—government, business, social, natural—function or fail. Zolli, director of the global innovation network PopTech, and financial and technology journalist Healy ask: since “[v]olatility of all sorts has become the new normal,” is it even possible to isolate causal factors in an ever more complex world? Their findings emphasize the importance of examining the importance of elemental interconnectedness in contrast to isolating and addressing features individually. To demonstrate deep linkages between apparently unrelated events, they cite the role Hurricane Katrina played leading up to the 2007 Mexican food riots. This is followed by analyses of international terrorism, the 2008 financial crisis, and the ad hoc international effort to assist Haiti following its catastrophic 2010 earthquakes.
The Fiscal Cliff: How America Can Avoid a Fall And Stay On Top
By Ayse Imrohoroglu and Selahattin Imrohoroglu
Reference in The New York Times
When news broke last week that the billionaire investor Joe Ricketts had considered financing a $10 million advertising effort linking President Obama with the fiery race-based rhetoric of his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Mr. Ricketts quickly distanced himself from the proposal and Mitt Romney’s campaign denounced it…. His political action group Ending Spending is financing a book by the husband and wife economists Ayse and Selahattin Imrohoroglu that in effect argues for an embrace of the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson debt reduction plan. (Called “The Fiscal Cliff: How America Can Avoid a Fall and Stay On Top” and due out late next month, it has a clinical, academic approach.)
The Consequences of the Global Financial Crisis: The Rhetoric of Reform and Regulation
Edited by Wyn Grant and Graham K. Wilson
Summary via publisher, Oxford University Press
The Global Financial Crisis is the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression, and although many have explored its causes, relatively few have focused on its consequences. Unlike earlier crises, no new paradigm seems yet to have come forward to challenge existing ways of thinking and neo-liberalism has emerged relatively unscathed. This crisis, characterized by a remarkable policy stability, has lacked a coherent and innovative intellectual response. This book, however, systematically explores the consequences of the crisis, focusing primarily on its impact on policy and politics. It asks how governments responded to the challenges that the crisis has posed, and the policy and political impact of the combination of both the Global Financial Crisis itself and these responses.
The Biobased Economy: Biofuels, Materials and Chemicals in the Post-oil Era
Edited by Hans Langeveld, Johan Sanders, and Marieke Meeusen
Summary via publisher, Routledge
The impending threats of catastrophic climate change and peak oil are driving our society towards increased use of biomass for energy, chemical compounds and other materials – the beginnings of a biobased economy. As alternative development models for the biobased economy emerge, we need to determine potential applications, their perspectives and possible impacts as well as policies that can steer technological and market development in such a way that our objectives are met. Currently, it is still far from clear what will be the most sustainable routes to follow, which technologies should be included, and how their development will affect, and be affected by, research, public opinion and policy and market forces.