Book Bits For Saturday: 7.23.2011

The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
By Frédéric Bastiat
Review via The Wall Street Journal
Bastiat’s short essays, which he grouped under the title “Economic Sophisms,” are beloved by friends of laissez-faire. Late in the 19th century, small-government Democrats quoted him on the floor of the House against the high-tariff schemes of the GOP. The Republicans groaned when they heard Bastiat’s name. Unable to answer his arguments against government economic intervention, they charged him with being French. Familiar though Bastiat’s economic writings may be, his letters, until now, have been available only in their original language. “The Man and the Statesman,” the first in a projected English-language edition of Bastiat’s collected works, encompasses 209 letters as well as a sampler of his political essays and notes and a helpful glossary from the editors (Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean and David M. Hart). But the letters are the thing. Through them shines the most charming economist you have ever met.

The Role of Policymakers in Business Cycle Fluctuations
By Jim Granato and M. C. Sunny Wong
Summary via publisher, Cambridge University Press
This book’s central theme is that a policymaker’s role is to enhance the public’s ability to coordinate their price information, price expectations, and economic activities. This role is fulfilled when policymakers maintain inflation stability. Inflation persists less when an implicit or explicit inflation target is met. Granato and Wong argue that inflation persistence is reduced when the public substitutes the prespecified inflation target for past inflation. A by-product of this co-ordination process is greater economic stability. In particular, inflation stability contributes to greater economic output stability, including the potential for the simultaneous reduction of both inflation and output variability – inflation-output co-stabilization (IOCS). Granato and Wong use historical, formal, and applied statistical analysis of business-cycle performance in the United States for the 1960 to 2000 period. They find that during periods when policymakers emphasize inflation stability, inflation uncertainty and persistence were reduced.
Invisible Wealth: The Hidden Story of How Markets Work
By Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz
Summary via Amazon
The discipline of economics is not what it used to be. Over the last few decades, economists have begun a revolutionary reorientation in how we look at the world, and this has major implications for politics, policy, and our everyday lives. For years, conventional economists told us an incomplete story that leaned on the comfortable precision of mathematical abstraction and ignored the complexity of the real world with all of its uncertainties, unknowns, and ongoing evolution. What economists left out of the story were the positive forces of creativity, innovation, and advancing technology that propel economies forward. Economists did not describe the dynamic process that leads to new pharmaceuticals, cell phones, Web-based information services-forces that fundamentally alter how we live our daily lives. Economists also left out the negative forces that can hold economies back: bad governance, counterproductive social practices, and patterns of taking wealth instead of creating it. They took for granted secure property rights, honest public servants, and the willingness of individuals to experiment and adapt to novelty.
Modern Political Economics: Making Sense of the Post-2008 World
By By Yanis Varoufakis, Joseph Halevi, Nicholas J. Theocarakis
Summary via publisher, Routledge
Once in a while the world astonishes itself. Anxious incredulity replaces intellectual torpor and a puzzled public strains its antennae in every possible direction, desperately seeking explanations for the causes and nature of what just hit it. 2008 was such a moment. Not only did the financial system collapse, and send the real economy into a tailspin, but it also revealed the great gulf separating economics from a very real capitalism. Modern Political Economics has a single aim: To help readers make sense of how 2008 came about and what the post-2008 world has in store.
The History of the Future: The Shape of the World to Come Is Visible Today
By Max Singer
Summary via The Hudson Institute
Human character has always been shaped by struggles against poverty, tyranny, and war. Hudson Institute co-founder and Senior Fellow Max Singer’s new book, The History of the Future: The Shape of the World to Come Is Visible Today (Lexington Books), argues that poverty, tyranny, and war will be largely eliminated in the future. Without the struggles that have plagued humanity throughout history, Singer says we will have to find new ways to shape character. In this work which continues the research into the future that Singer began with Herman Kahn a half-century ago, Singer asks the important question: will people really be better off when the whole world has become wealthy, free, and peaceful? Professor Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of New York University praises The History of the Future by stating that “anyone who wants to understand where the world of politics, economics, and freedom is headed must read this book.”
Debt: The First 5,000 Years
By David Graeber
Summary via publisher, Melville House Publishing
Every economics textbook says the same thing: Money was invented to replace onerous and complicated barter system–to relieve ancient people from having to haul their goods to market. The problem with this version of history? There’s not a shred of evidence to support it. Here anthropologist David Graeber presents a stunning reversal of conventional wisdom. He shows that for more than 5,000 years, since the beginning of the agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems. It is in this era, Graeber shows, that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors.