Book Bits | 9 November 2019

How Money Became Dangerous: The Inside Story of Our Turbulent Relationship with Modern Finance
By Christopher Varelas and Dan Stone
Review via Kirkus Review
Varelas charts the evolution—or, more, accurately, devolution—of the modern financial sector, noting that when banking firms went public there was no longer a personal stake in the game but instead only “employees looking to maximize annual compensation” without sufficient concern for risk, one of what Walt Disney called “the hard facts that have created America.” Other negatives in the system, writes the author, are time-sensitive algorithms whose speed divorces prices from “reality” and a corporate culture that turns the financial-sector worker into “merely a cog in a global delivery mechanism.” The author’s exercise in forensic accounting as he examines a case of government bankruptcy is particularly fascinating.

The Finance Curse: How Global Finance is Making Us All Poorer
By Nicholas Shaxson
Review via London School of Economics and Political Science
For Nicholas Shaxson… there is a deep curse shaped by modern finance which needs to be understood and effectively repelled to save society and our ecosystem. The ingredients of this curse include powerful elites, complex financial markets and institutions, extreme greed and capitalism, the economics and finance academy and its theories as well as false narratives like ‘competitiveness’ and ‘light-touch regulation’ as a social good and banking or financial markets as job and wealth creators. Making shareholders the primary focus of corporations and capital markets leads to deep distortions in the measurement of business performance and the culture of its people and services. Shaxson challenges the fundamental notion of ‘investment’ in modern finance, showing that what is really happening under its guise is the extraction of wealth, rather than its replenishment or wider distribution.

Don’t Be Evil: How Big Tech Betrayed Its Founding Principles — and All of Us
By Rana Foroohar
Summary via publisher (Currency/Penguin)
A penetrating indictment of how today’s largest tech companies are hijacking our data, our livelihoods, our social fabric, and our minds—from an acclaimed Financial Times columnist and CNN analyst. “Don’t be evil” was enshrined as Google’s original corporate mantra back in its early days, when the company’s cheerful logo still conveyed the utopian vision for a future in which technology would inevitably make the world better, safer, and more prosperous. Unfortunately, it’s been quite a while since Google, or the majority of the Big Tech companies, lived up to this founding philosophy. Today, the utopia they sought to create is looking more dystopian than ever: from digital surveillance and the loss of privacy to the spreading of misinformation and hate speech to predatory algorithms targeting the weak and vulnerable to products that have been engineered to manipulate our desires.

Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America
By Scott Adams
Summary via publisher (Portfolio/Penguin)
From the creator of Dilbert and author of Win Bigly, a guide to spotting and avoiding loserthink: sneaky mental habits trapping victims in their own bubbles of reality. If you’ve been on social media lately, or turned on your TV, you may have noticed a lot of dumb ideas floating around. If we’re not careful, loserthink would have us believe that every Trump supporter is a bigoted racist, addicts should be responsible for fixing the opioid epidemic, and that your relationship fell apart simply because you chewed with your mouth open.

Meeting Globalization’s Challenges: Policies to Make Trade Work for All
By Luís Catão and Maurice Obstfeld
Summary via publisher (Princeton University Press)
Globalization has expanded economic opportunities throughout the world, but it has also left many people feeling dispossessed, disenfranchised, and angry. Luís Catão and Maurice Obstfeld bring together some of today’s top economists to assess the benefits, costs, and daunting policy challenges of globalization. This timely and accessible book combines incisive analyses of the anatomy of globalization with innovative and practical policy ideas that can help to make it work better for everyone.