Book Bits: 7 January 2023

The Market Power of Technology: Understanding the Second Gilded Age
Mordecai Kurz
Summary via publisher (Columbia U. Press)
Kurz demonstrates that technological market power tends to rise, increasing inequality of income and wealth. Unchecked inequality threatens the foundations of democracy: public policy is the only counterbalancing force that can restrain corporate power, attain more egalitarian distribution of wealth, and make democracy compatible with capitalism. Presenting a new paradigm for understanding today’s vast inequalities, this book offers detailed proposals to redress them by restricting corporate mergers and acquisitions, reforming patent law, improving the balance of power in the labor market, increasing taxation, promoting upward mobility, and stabilizing the middle class.

As Gods: A Moral History of the Genetic Age
Matthew Cobb
with author via
Q: The accusation one often hears is that scientists who work in genetic engineering and related fields are “playing God.” I know it’s hard to generalize, but have scientists done enough to be transparent about their research, and to keep the potential consequences in mind?
A: Yes and no. Overwhelmingly, yes, I think. That is, the scientists, the geneticists, have, from that period in the early ’70s, recognized that there are dangers in what they’re doing. And, at the very least, they need to ensure that anything that they do, if it does turn out to have unintended consequences, that it stays in the lab and can’t get out and can’t infect anybody, or can’t infect any other organisms.

A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Best Investment Guide That Money Can Buy
Burton G. Malkiel
Q&A with author via CNBC
This week, Princeton professor Burton Malkiel has published the updated, 50th anniversary edition of A Random Walk Down Wall Street: the Best Investment Guide that Money Can Buy. More than any other book, it popularized the idea of indexing as an investment strategy and why you can’t beat the market.
Q You recommended index funds 50 years ago even before index funds existed. Do you still believe that and what is the evidence?
A: I believe even more strongly than ever that index investing is an optimal strategy and that index funds should constitute the core of everyone’s portfolio. Standard & Poor’s publishes annual reports showing how actively managed funds compare with index funds. Each year about two-thirds of active managers underperform an index fund. And the one third who outperform in one year tend not to be the same as the one-third who outperform in the next. When you measure performance over a decade or more, 90 percent of active managers are outperformed by a broad-based index fund. On average, active managers underperform the market by about one percent per year.

Fighting Better: Constructive Conflicts in America
Louis Kriesberg
Summary via publisher (Oxford U. Press)
This original and wide-ranging book examines how conflicts may have been more or less constructively conducted and affected the changing class, status, and power inequality in America since 1945. Initially, it assesses how some conflicts destructively contributed to increasing class inequality, with its many unfortunate consequences. It also assesses other conflicts that contributed or might have contributed constructively to fostering less class inequality. The book then examines conflicts that contributed to some increases in status equality, notably of African Americans and women. Finally, it goes on to analyze many specific conflicts that yielded varied and uneven changes in power inequality for different kinds of people. This book indicates how the destructively conducted conflicts contributed to the many contemporary antagonistic divisions currently threatening US democracy.

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