Book Bits For Saturday: 11.26.2011

Zombie Banks: How Broken Banks and Debtor Nations Are Crippling the Global Economy
By Yalman Onaran
Q&A with author via PLFNews
Everyone is afraid that the world economy is about to go into a second recession. Why are we heading in that direction?
That’s because we haven’t fixed the problems that had caused the one in 2008. Leaders in the U.S. and Europe patched up the troubled spots, printed lots of money and avoided the underlying issues. Especially the banking system, which blew up to bring the world economy down a few years ago, is still fragile, too wounded to support a recovery and filled with even more risk. That’s why I call the banks zombies. They will make the next blowup more spectacular.

Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, the Environment, and Your Soul
By James Livingston
Review via Bloomberg
Livingston is a lively, argumentative writer. He assails the “pathetic” thinking of Republicans, Democrats, economists, philosophers, and journalists while sounding like the guy at a dinner party who dominates the salad, entrée, and dessert conversation with a stubborn will to prove everyone but him is bananas. Which does not necessarily mean he’s wrong. Livingston reserves his harshest abuse for the “new Puritans” among economists, government leaders, and commentators who regularly admonish us to stop being slaves to consumerism and recommend practicing austerity on an individual level. Though others have made similar arguments, Livingston modestly compares his theory to Galileo’s heresies in 1610. “Practically speaking,” Livingston writes, “the facts and figures I will cite to demonstrate my case are invisible to most economists, just as invisible as the moons and phases Galileo measured were to most mathematicians and physicists of his time. They’re invisible because in theory, they’re preposterous, even impossible.”
Pricing the Future: Finance, Physics, and the 300-year Journey to the Black-Scholes Equation
By George G. Szpiro
Summary via publisher, Basic Books
Options have been traded for hundreds of years, but investment decisions were based on gut feelings until the Nobel Prize–winning discovery of the Black-Scholes options pricing model in 1973 ushered in the era of the “quants.” Wall Street would never be the same. In Pricing the Future, financial economist George G. Szpiro tells the fascinating stories of the pioneers of mathematical finance who conducted the search for the elusive options pricing formula. From the broker’s assistant who published the first mathematical explanation of financial markets to Albert Einstein and other scientists who looked for a way to explain the movement of atoms and molecules, Pricing the Future retraces the historical and intellectual developments that ultimately led to the widespread use of mathematical models to drive investment strategies on Wall Street.
Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy
By Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
Review via Kurzweil AI
In Race Against the Machine, Brynjolfsson and McAfee bring together a range of statistics, examples, and arguments to show that technological progress is accelerating, and that this trend has deep consequences for skills, wages, and jobs. The book makes the case that employment prospects are grim for many today not because there’s been technology has stagnated, but instead because we humans and our organizations aren’t keeping up.
The Moral Foundation of Economic Behavior
By David C. Rose
Summary via publisher, Oxford University Press
his book explains why moral beliefs can and likely do play an important role in the development and operation of market economies. It provides new arguments for why it is important that people genuinely trust others-even those whom they know don’t particularly care about them-because in key circumstances institutions are incapable of combating opportunism. It then identifies specific characteristics that moral beliefs must have for the people who possess them to be regarded as trustworthy. When such moral beliefs are held with sufficient conviction by a sufficiently high proportion of the population, a high trust society emerges that supports maximum cooperation and creativity while permitting honest competition at the same time. Such moral beliefs are not tied to any particular religion and have nothing to do with moral earnestness or the set of moral values-what matters is how they affect the way people think about morality. Such moral beliefs are based on abstract ideas that must be learned so they are matters of culture, not genes, and are therefore able to explain differences in economic performance across societies.