Book Bits For Saturday: 8.13.2011

Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It
By Don Peck
Interview with author via Marketplace/NPR
Author Don Peck examines how the Great Recession has affected individual Americans financially and psychologically, and discusses what impact those changes will have on American society overall…
“…the average duration of unemployment now is over nine months. And millions of people have been unemployed for a year or two years or more. And I think that what Gus’s story shows is not just the financial loss that results from unemployment, but the psychological loss. Happiness researchers have shown that being out of work for six months or more is really the worst thing that can happen to you psychologically. It’s the psychological equivalent of losing a spouse. So today in the U.S. we have millions of people who are in exactly that situation, and millions more with each year that goes by before we find recovery. And one of the big questions for the U.S., I think, is not just how do we recover, but even once we recover, what are we going to do to get these people — people have become chronically unemployed, whose behaviors have changes, whose skill have eroded — what are we going to do to get them back into the workplace?”

One Illness Away: Why People Become Poor and How They Escape Poverty
By Anirudh Krishna
Interview with author via India Real TIme/The Wall Street Journal
Duke public policy professor Anirudh Krishna and a team of researchers spent the last decade talking to over 35,000 families in India, Kenya, Peru, Uganda and the U.S. to answer this question: Why are people poor?
IRT: One of the findings you stress is that many poor people are “first-generation” poor. How many?
Krishna: Our results show as many as one-third of all poor people were not born poor. They became poor within their lifetimes on account of factors that could have been prevented. It’s ironic that even as governments and donors and others are doing a lot to pull people out of poverty, very little is done to prevent people from falling into poverty so the pool of people in poverty keeps growing even as many people come out.
Dynamic Economic Decision Making: Strategies for Financial Risk, Capital Markets, and Monetary Policy
By John Silvia
Excerpt via publisher, Wiley
Completion of the first transcontinental railroad across the United States, ably told by Steven Ambrose, is a story of a very imperfect success, with numerous changes in how, where, and by whom the railroad was built. While imperfect, the railroad’s completion is also a study in the flexibility of decision making where the paradigm of how, where, and by whom was always modified to fit the realities of building the road. Choices were constantly made and then modified on issues of where the track would go, how it would be financed, the construction, and, not to be overlooked, what political strings were to be pulled to get the railroad finished at a profit. Other than completing the railroad, there was not a set of proscribed rules; instead, a framework for decision making was set up, modified with new information, then choices were made and a new model put in place.
Successful decision making is a process, not an event, with constant modifications and interactions among the moving parts that evolve over time. In sports, many franchises win a championship once in a while. Yet repeat championships are driven by a model of decision making that generates winners. The focus remains on the correct process that can be replicated over time and across circumstances rather than on a one-off correct decision that is more a matter of luck than skill. Good decision making must be replicable.
Capital and Affects: The Politics of the Language Economy
Christian Marazzi
Summary via publisher, MIT Press
Communication as work: we have recently experienced a profound transformation in the processes of production. While the assembly line (invented by Henry Ford at the beginning of the last century) excluded any form of linguistic productivity, today, there is no production without communication. The new technologies are linguistic machines. This revolution has produced a new kind of worker who is not a specialist but is versatile and infinitely adaptable. If standardized mass production was dominant in the past, today we produce an array of different goods corresponding to specific consumer niches. This is the post-Fordist model described by Christian Marazzi in Capital and Affects (first published in 1994 as Il posto dei calzini [The place for the socks]). Tracing the development of this new model of labor from Toyota plants in Japan to the most recent innovations, Marazzi’s critique goes beyond political economy to encompass issues related to social life, political engagement, democratic institutions, interpersonal relations, and the role of language in liberal democracies. This translation at long last makes Marazzi’s first book available to English readers. Capital and Affects stands not only as the foundation to Marazzi’s subsequent work, but as foundational work in post-Fordist literature, with an analysis startlingly relevant to today’s troubled economic times.
The Oil Kings: How the U.S., Iran, and Saudi Arabia Changed the Balance of Power in the Middle East
By Andrew Scott Cooper
Review via Publishers Weekly
The petro-politics of the 1970s caused world-historical upheavals–and an international melodrama of statecraft–in this scintillating diplomatic history. Historian Cooper untangles the foreign policy conundrum arising from America’s support for the reliably anticommunist Shah of Iran, whom Richard Nixon encouraged to raise oil prices so he could afford to buy U.S. weapons. This dynamic, the author contends, created a monster: to support his wild overspending on arms and pharaonic development projects, the Shah demanded huge OPEC price hikes that crippled the world economy–and provoked an American rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, whose flooding of markets with cheap oil ruined Iran’s finances and sped the Shah’s downfall. Cooper gives a lucid analysis of shifting oil markets and unearths revelations–including American-Iranian planning for invasions of Arab countries–from meticulous research. But this is a saga of not-so-great men and their wranglings. Its centerpiece is Cooper’s superb, lacerating portrait of Henry Kissinger. As the super-diplomat’s obsession with great-power rivalries founders in a new world of global economics that he can’t fathom, Cooper gives us both a vivid study in sycophancy and backstabbing and a shrewd critique of Kissingerian geo-strategy