Book Bits | 8 September 2018

Blaming China: It Might Feel Good but It Won’t Fix America’s Economy
By Benjamin Shobert
Excerpt via International Policy Digest
Given how Donald Trump has spoken about China, it would seem Americans wish China had stayed poor, isolated and powerless. To elites in DC during the run up to the last election, this was all noise; but to politically disenfranchised and economically dislocated Americans, blaming China for our economic problems was embraced as truth. As the American economy has struggled to create wins for more than the wealthiest, politicians have become increasingly willing to point towards China as the cause. Now trade is perceived to be a zero-sum game, where China’s win is America’s loss. This leads to an important question: is America’s frustration with China nothing more than a distraction from profound insecurities we have about our economy, global status and domestic politics?

Rents: How Marketing Causes Inequality
By Gerrit De Geest
Review via The Source
The dramatic rise of income inequality since 1970 has largely been caused by advances in marketing, says a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Marketers have become better at creating and exploiting market distortions in legal ways,” said Gerrit De Geest, the Charles F. Nagel Professor of International and Comparative Law in the School of Law.
“The legal system, in principle, prevents the deliberate creation of market failures, but it has not evolved at the same speed.”

Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most
By Steven Johnson
Adapted excerpt via The New York Times
The most striking finding in Professor Nutt’s research was this: Only 15 percent of the decisions he studied involved a stage where the decision makers actively sought out a new option beyond the initial choices on the table. In a later study, he found that only 29 percent of organizational decision makers contemplated more than one alternative.
This turns out to be a bad strategy. Over the years, Professor Nutt and other researchers have demonstrated a strong correlation between the number of alternatives deliberated and the ultimate success of the decision itself. In one of his studies, Professor Nutt found that participants who considered only one alternative ultimately judged their decision a failure more than 50 percent of the time, while decisions that involved contemplating at least two alternatives were felt to be successes two-thirds of the time.

None of My Business
By P. J. O’Rourke
Summary via publisher (Grove Atlantic)
After decades covering war and disaster, bestselling author and acclaimed satirist P. J. O’Rourke takes on his scariest subjects yet—business, investment, finance, and the political chicanery behind them. Want to get rich overnight for free in three easy steps with no risk? Then don’t buy this book. (Actually, if you believe there’s a book that can do that, you shouldn’t buy any books because you probably can’t read.) P. J.’s approach to business, investment, and finance is different. He takes the risks for you in his chapter “How I Learned Economics by Watching People Try to Kill Each Other.” He offers a brief history of economic transitions before exploring the world of high tech innovation with a chapter on “Unnovations,” which includes ideas for new products like “an app that gets rid of all apps, a no-app app, call it a ‘napp.’” He is baffled by bitcoin, which seems “like a weird scam invented by strange geeks with weaponized slide rules in the high school Evil Math Club.” He closes with a fanciful short story about the morning that P.J. wakes up and finds that all the world’s goods and services are free! This is P.J. at his finest, a book not to be missed.

The Power of Zero, Revised and Updated: How to Get to the 0% Tax Bracket and Transform Your Retirement
By David McKnight
Summary via publisher Currency/Penguin Random House
The United States Government has made trillions of dollars in unfunded promises for programs like Social Security and Medicare–and the only way to deliver on these promises is to raise taxes. Some experts have even suggested that tax rates will need to double, just to keep our country solvent. Unfortunately, if you’re like most Americans, you’ve saved the majority of your retirement assets in tax-deferred vehicles like 401(k)s and IRAs. If tax rates go up, how much of your hard-earned money will you really get to keep? In The Power of Zero, McKnight provides a concise, step-by-step roadmap on how to get to the 0% tax bracket by the time you retire, effectively eliminating tax rate risk from your retirement picture.

In Defense of Openness: Why Global Freedom Is the Humane Solution to Global Poverty
By Bas van der Vossen and Jason Brennan
Summary via publisher (Oxford University Press)
In Defense of Openness illuminates the problem of global justice by stressing that that there is overwhelming evidence that economic rights and freedom are necessary for development, and that global redistribution tends to hurt more than it helps. Bas van der Vossen and Jason Brennan instead ask what a theory of global justice would look like if it were informed by the facts that mainstream development and institutional economics have brought to light. They conceptualize global justice as global freedom and insist we can help the poor-and help ourselves at the same time-by implementing open borders, free trade, the strong protection of individual freedom, and economic rights and property for all around the world. In short, they work from empirical, consequentialist grounds to advocate for the market society as a model for global justice.

The Investment State: Charting the Future of Social Policy
By David Stoesz
Summary via publisher (Oxford University Press)
Historically, the welfare state of the 20th century, which was built on the foundation of an industrial economy, seems poorly adapted to a 21st-century information age. Socially, profound demographic shifts–especially an aging population, increasing numbers of women in the labor force, and surging immigration–pose challenges for traditional programs. Economically, the legacy of social entitlements, which has been addressed through deficit spending, is untenable insofar as they squeeze out essential discretionary programs. Politically, the demise of the Left, signified by Brexit, the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, and less successful populist movements in Europe and Australia, continues a conservative vector in social policy. The confluence of these factors increases the likelihood of reform of a nation’s social infrastructure.

Beyond Blood Oil: Philosophy, Policy, and the Future
By Leif Wenar
Summary via publisher (Rowman & Littlefield)
Leif Wenar’s 2016 book Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules that Run the World argues that much of the conflict, suffering, and injustice in the world is driven by an archaic rule in global trade that forces consumers to fund oppression and corruption. This oil curse is a major threat to global peace and stability. Wenar sets out Clean Trade policies to lift the oil curse through national legislation that affirms democratic principles. In Beyond Blood Oil, Wenar summarizes and extends his views, setting the stage for five essays from first-class critics from the fields of political theory, philosophy, and energy politics.