Book Bits For Saturday: 1.21.2012

First Principles: Five Keys to Restoring America’s Prosperity
By John Taylor
Summary via publisher, W.W. Norton
Leading economist John B. Taylor’s straightforward plan to rebuild America’s economic future by returning to its founding principles. America’s economic future is uncertain. Mired in a long crippling economic slump and hamstrung by bitter partisan debate over the growing debt and the role of government, the nation faces substantial challenges, exacerbated by a dearth of vision and common sense among its leaders. Prominent Stanford economist John B. Taylor brings his steady voice of reason to the discussion with a natural solution: start with the country’s founding principles of economic and political freedom-limited government, rule of law, strong incentives, reliance on markets, a predictable policy framework-and reconstruct its economic foundation from these proven principles.

A Nation of Moochers: America’s Addiction to Getting Something for Nothing
By Charles J. Sykes
Review via Publishers Weekly
Sykes (A Nation of Victims) argues that hardworking, tax-paying Americans are being turned into the nation’s piggy bank by freeloading “moochers,” both individual and corporate, who have given in to a culture of dependence and free lunch. He lays all this squarely at the feet of “elite” liberals, whose “Assumption of Incompetence”—the default position of assuming that most Americans are incapable and thus must be cared for—has cultivated an atmosphere where people are no longer required to fend for themselves. He points to Katrina victims misusing benefits, homeowners who walk away from underwater mortgages, unemployment benefits fraudsters, adult children living with their parents, big businesses accepting bailouts, and, somewhat less persuasively, food stamps and free school lunches. Though he doesn’t make an especially strong case that “Obamacare” is to blame, his argument is sobering: we’ve set up a system in which dependency begins at birth and extends through people’s entire lives, which has brought us to a tipping point in which more Americans are relying on the efforts of others rather than their own. Interestingly, his cure is less systemic than social: he suggests “dismantling Moocher Nation” by restoring some of the stigma of accepting a handout. Though at times verging on the purely mean-spirited (recall the school lunches), his call for a return to personal responsibility is on point and persuasive.
Money Well Spent?: The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History
By Michael Grabell
Review via Kirkus Reviews
ProPublica reporter Grabell began the book after hearing Joe Biden present a speech seven months after Congressional Democrats approved the law without a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives and nearly zero support in the Senate. Because the stimulus involved so much money scattered over so many government programs, Grabell decided to go broad instead of deep in the narrative. He does, however, dig deep in regards to three portions of the stimulus package: providing new jobs in Elkhart, Ind., after the collapse of industry there; the cleanup of an aging nuclear power plant in Aiken, S.C.; and the manufacturing of solar panels in Fremont, Calif., as part of a concerted effort to reduce air pollution across the nation. Some of Grabell’s saga is necessarily grounded in previously reported partisan politics, as the newly elected president realized his Republican opposition seemed to be placing his hoped-for election defeat in 2012 above any nonpartisanship that might create new jobs and save existing ones.
The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics
By Thomas Byrne Edsall
Q&A with author via The American Prospect
Edsall: Scarcity trumps culture, but it would be a mistake to view culture and the economy as inhabiting discrete spheres. Diminishing resources tend to push people in a conservative direction by increasing pressure to protect one’s own interests while simultaneously lessening generosity of spirit. Scarcity sharpens survival instincts, leading to a dog-eat-dog worldview that stresses a distinction between the “undeserving” and “deserving” poor, at the expense of structural analyses of poverty. A belief that the pie is shrinking has led to the conclusion in Washington that the debt and deficit must be reduced. If income is shrinking, cut expenses: It’s a debate inherently favorable to conservatism, which has long held the goal of shrinking the size of government (a commitment that generally ignores defense spending to focus on domestic programs).
The Psychology of Wealth: Understand Your Relationship with Money and Achieve Prosperity
By Charles Richards
Summary via publisher, McGraw-Hill
Why do some people feel a perpetual state of lack and fear about money, while others feel genuinely prosperous, regardless of the size of their bank accounts? Why do some people shudder with dread when it comes to setting financial goals, while others embrace it with enthusiasm and confidence? What makes the difference? Could it be in their relationship with money itself? People who enjoy a healthy relationship with money share common habits and traits. So, how do they think, and what do they do differently? Are these behaviors hardwired in an individual’s psyche, or can they be learned? In this provocative book, psychotherapist Dr. Charles Richards provides unexpected and encouraging answers to these questions. Based on his research and expert interviews, Dr. Richards shows how each of us can develop a thriving relationship with money and create a rich and rewarding life.
Birth of a Market: The U.S. Treasury Securities Market from the Great War to the Great Depression
By Kenneth D. Garbade
Summary via publisher, MIT Press
The market for U.S. Treasury securities is a marvel of modern finance. In 2009 the Treasury auctioned $8.2 trillion of new securities, ranging from 4-day bills to 30-year bonds, in 283 offerings on 171 different days. By contrast, in the decade before World War I, there was only about $1 billion of interest-bearing Treasury debt outstanding, spread out over just six issues. New offerings were rare, and the debt was narrowly held, most of it owned by national banks. In Birth of a Market, Kenneth Garbade traces the development of the Treasury market from a financial backwater in the years before World War I to a multibillion dollar market on the eve of World War II. Garbade focuses on Treasury debt management policies, describing the origins of several pillars of modern Treasury practice, including “regular and predictable” auction offerings and the integration of debt and cash management. He recounts the actions of Secretaries of the Treasury, from William McAdoo in the Wilson administration to Henry Morgenthau in the Roosevelt administration, and their responses to economic conditions. Garbade’s account covers the Treasury market in the two decades before World War I, how the Treasury financed the Great War, how it managed the postwar refinancing and paydowns, and how it financed the chronic deficits of the Great Depression. He concludes with an examination of aspects of modern Treasury debt management that grew out of developments from 1917 to 1939.