Book Bits | 7 March 2020

The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business
By Nelson D. Schwartz
Review via Vox
This is the opening scene of Nelson D. Schwartz’s new book The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business, which explains how everything Americans purchase — travel, leisure, education, and health care — suddenly got really good for the wealthy and a lot worse for the rest of us.
Income inequality has risen since the 1970s, and at the same time, companies have begun to cater to the only demographic whose prospects are growing. Fancy new sports stadiums with separate doors for box seat holders, VIP airport terminals, Uber Copters, and the privatization of everything from high school sports to firefighter squads are all examples of what Schwartz dubs the “velvet rope economy.”

The American Dream Is Not Dead: (But Populism Could Kill It)
By Michael R. Strain
Summary via publisher (Templeton Press)
Populists on both sides of the political aisle routinely announce that the American Dream is dead. According to them, the game has been rigged by elites, workers can’t get ahead, wages have been stagnant for decades, and the middle class is dying. Michael R. Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, disputes this rhetoric as both wrong and dangerous. In this succinctly argued volume, he shows that, on measures of economic opportunity and quality of life, there has never been a better time to be alive in America. He backs his argument with overwhelming—and underreported—data to show how the facts favor realistic optimism.

The Power of Experiments: Decision Making in a Data-Driven World
By Michael Luca and Max H. Bazerman
Summary via publisher (MIT Press)
Have you logged into Facebook recently? Searched for something on Google? Chosen a movie on Netflix? If so, you’ve probably been an unwitting participant in a variety of experiments—also known as randomized controlled trials—designed to test the impact of different online experiences. Once an esoteric tool for academic research, the randomized controlled trial has gone mainstream. No tech company worth its salt (or its share price) would dare make major changes to its platform without first running experiments to understand how they would influence user behavior. In this book, Michael Luca and Max Bazerman explain the importance of experiments for decision making in a data-driven world.

Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen
By Dan Heath
Review via Publishers Weekly
Heath (The Power of Moments, coauthor), a senior fellow at Duke’s CASE Knowledge Center, urges a preventive, rather than reactive, problem-solving approach in his eloquent manifesto. With the frenetic pace of modern life, Heath observes, it’s easy to become accustomed to putting out fires instead of looking for the spark that’s igniting them. His examples of proactive, “upstream” thinking include a domestic violence prevention task force which, by bringing together police officers, victims’ advocates, health-care workers, and others, has eliminated intimate partner-perpetrated murders in the Massachusetts communities it has served for 14 years running. His takeaways include the need to “unite the right people” (as the domestic violence task force demonstrates), pay attention to early warnings, and find the right point of “leverage” to solve a problem.

The Case for Climate Capitalism: Economic Solutions for a Planet in Crisis
By Tom Rand
Review via Publishers Weekly
Capitalism can save a burning planet—if the left and right can bury the hatchet long enough to acknowledge that humanity needs both robust business and regulation, cautions investor Rand (Waking the Frog) in his thoughtful treatise. With climate disruption threatening social upheaval, he believes humans need “a pragmatic response to a messy problem.” Rand looks at how the current ideological impasse arose, warning that adherence to dogmas—either staunchly pro– or anti–free market—will prevent building the new economy that might solve the problem.

Not to Scale: How the Small Becomes Large, the Large Becomes Unthinkable, and the Unthinkable Becomes Possible
By Jamer Hunt
Review via The Wall Street Journal
‘Does it scale?” This is almost the first question anyone asks about anything new—startups, technologies, ideas. It’s OK to start small, but bigger is almost always assumed to be better, or at least more profitable. “Scale” comes from the Latin “scala,” which means “ladder,” and we all know it’s better to climb up than to move down in the world. Yet lost in this formulation is a sense of what’s appropriate, of what actually works. That feeling of balance is what Jamer Hunt seeks to restore in “Not to Scale: How the Small Becomes Large, the Large Becomes Unthinkable, and the Unthinkable Becomes Possible.”

Watchdog: How Protecting Consumers Can Save Our Families, Our Economy, and Our Democracy
By Richard Cordray
Review via The American Banker
Days before the Supreme Court will hear arguments about how easily the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can be fired, the former head of the agency is claiming that he in fact came quite close to getting axed.
Former CFPB Director Richard Cordray — an Obama appointee — writes in a forthcoming book that he believes President Trump was on the verge of forcing him out at the beginning of November 2017.
“I received an unscheduled call from the White House, and a secretary asked me to hold to speak with the president, but then the call was abruptly terminated,” Cordray writes in “Watchdog: How Protecting Consumers Can Save Our Families, Our Economy, and Our Democracy,” which is due out Monday.

Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West
By Justin Farrell
Summary via publisher (Princeton U. Press)
Billionaire Wilderness takes you inside the exclusive world of the ultra-wealthy, showing how today’s richest people are using the natural environment to solve the existential dilemmas they face. Justin Farrell spent five years in Teton County, Wyoming, the richest county in the United States, and a community where income inequality is the worst in the nation. He conducted hundreds of in-depth interviews, gaining unprecedented access to tech CEOs, Wall Street financiers, oil magnates, and other prominent figures in business and politics.

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