Book Bits For Saturday: 1.28.2012

The Benefit and The Burden: Tax Reform-Why We Need It and What It Will Take
By Bruce Bartlett
Review via The Financial Times
America’s tax system is a mess. It is unfair, poorly understood and riddled with loopholes. It is ill-equipped to raise the revenues needed to deal with the debt crisis, still less the future needs of an ageing population. It is now over 25 years since it last underwent much reform. An overhaul is long overdue. The case for change is presented in The Benefit and the Burden, a succinct, lucid book by Bruce Bartlett, an economist who spent many years in government working for Republican congressmen and in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. In Mr Bartlett’s view, higher tax revenues are needed to stabilise the US’s finances; one of the goals of tax reform should be to make the higher tax burden more bearable. But it will not happen unless there is a much better public understanding of how the tax system works.

Paper Promises: Debt, Money, and the New World Order
By Philip Coggan
Lecture by author via London School of Economics
The world is drowning in debt. Greece is on the verge of default. In Britain, the coalition government is pushing through an austerity programme in the face of economic weakness. The US government almost shut down in August because of a dispute over the size of government debt. Our latest crisis may seem to have started in 2007, with the collapse of the American housing market. But as Philip Coggan shows in this new book, Paper Promises: Money, Debt and the new World Order which he will talk about in this lecture, the crisis is part of an age-old battle between creditors and borrowers. And that battle has been fought over the nature of money. Creditors always want sound money to ensure that they are paid back in full; borrowers want easy money to reduce the burden of repaying their debts. Money was once linked to gold, a commodity in limited supply; now central banks can create it with the click of a computer mouse.
Financial Turmoil in Europe and the United States: Essays
By George Soros
Summary via publisher, Public Affairs
Financial Turmoil in Europe and the United States shows George Soros responding in real time to a rippling earthquake of financial instability. In this collection of essays written since the aftermath of the Crash of 2008, he addresses the urgent need for the U.S. to restructure its banking and financial system. He anticipates the globalization of the crisis and, in particular, its perilous second phase in Europe; and finally he calls for concerted international action.
The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money
By Carl Richards
Review via Minyanville
In his new book, Richards, also a blogger for the New York Times and Morningstar Advisor, explains why most financial “gurus” on TV can’t offer you any meaningful advice because they lack knowledge of your personal situation and cannot forecast the future of the markets. Richards teaches his readers how to think on their own about investing — ignore the herd, make realistic plans for your own financial future and hire an objective financial advisor, he says… Richards is a certified financial planner and founder of Prasada Capital Management. He works closely with like-minded individuals and families to help them not lose their money and enjoy their lives. Richards himself gained valuable insights about the consequences of listening to the “experts” when he bet too big on a new home — almost losing his business and putting enormous stress on his family — during the financial crash of 2008.
Illicit Trade and the Global Economy
Edited by Cláudia Costa Storti and Paul De Grauwe
Summary via publisher, MIT Press
As international trade has expanded dramatically in the postwar period–an expansion accelerated by the opening of China, Russia, India, and Eastern Europe–illicit international trade has grown in tandem with it. This volume uses the economist’s toolkit to examine the economic, political, and social problems resulting from such illicit activities as illegal drug trade, smuggling, and organized crime.
Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room
By David Weinberger
Review via Publisher’s Weekly
Weinberger (Everything is Miscellaneous), a senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, engagingly examines the production, dissemination, and accessibility of knowledge in the Internet era. The fundamental and pertinent question Weinberger pursues is how the new surplus of knowledge afforded by the Internet affects our “basic strategy of knowing”… While occasionally tending towards the philosophical, Weinberger’s book is full of relevant and thought-provoking, insights that make making it a must-read for anyone concerned with knowledge in the digital age.
Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power
By Zbigniew Brzezinski
Excerpt via MSNBC
The world is now interactive and interdependent. It is also, for the first time, a world in which the problems of human survival have begun to overshadow more traditional international conflicts. Unfortunately, the major powers have yet to undertake globally cooperative responses to the new and increasingly grave challenges to human well-being—environmental, climatic, socioeconomic, nutritional, or demographic. And without basic geopolitical stability, any effort to achieve the necessary global cooperation will falter.
Indeed, the changing distribution of global power and the new phenomenon of massive political awakening intensify, each in its own way, the volatility of contemporary international relations. As China’s influence grows and as other emerging powers — Russia or India or Brazil for example — compete with each other for resources, security, and economic advantage, the potential for miscalculation and conflict increases. Accordingly, the United States must seek to shape a broader geopolitical foundation for constructive cooperation in the global arena, while accommodating the rising aspirations of an increasingly restless global population.