Book Bits For Saturday: 9.10.2011

That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back
By Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum
Review via The New York Times
“That Used to Be Us” is a morality play, in which responsible and irresponsible leaders contend against one another: the senator willing to make compromises against the senator who cravenly signs a no-tax pledge; the C.E.O. rebuilding a manufacturing plant against the banker engaged in paper manipulations; the governor who persuades teachers to rewrite their contract to end tenure for the incompetent against the politicians who dismiss today’s deficits as tomorrow’s problem.

Lost Decades: The Making of America’s Debt Crisis and the Long Recovery
By Menzie D. Chinn and Jeffry A. Frieden
Summary via publisher, W.W. Norton
Two acclaimed political economists explore the origins and long-term effects of the financial crisis in historical and comparative perspective. Welcome to Argentina: by 2008 the United States had become the biggest international borrower in world history, with almost half of its 6.4 trillion dollar federal debt in foreign hands. The proportion of foreign loans to the size of the economy put the United States in league with Mexico, Pakistan, and other third-world debtor nations. The massive inflow of foreign funds financed the booms in housing prices and consumer spending that fueled the economy until the collapse of late 2008. The authors explore the political and economic roots of this crisis as well as its long-term effects. They explain the political strategies behind the Bush administration’s policy of funding massive deficits with the foreign borrowing that fed the crisis. They see the continuing impact of our huge debt in a slow recovery ahead. Their clear, insightful, and comprehensive account will long be regarded as the standard on the crisis.
Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius
By Sylvia Nasar
Review via Bloomberg BusinessWeek
It’s a dubious hour to proclaim the triumph (much less the genius) of the “dismal science.” Western economies are a wreck, the U.S. is suffering 9.1 percent unemployment, and Europe is teetering on the abyss of default. The economics profession bears no small measure of blame—first for inventing or adopting modern risk management, which failed so spectacularly during the financial crisis, and second for believing that central bankers had unlocked the key to managing growth. In the U.S., politicians have been reenacting a tired budget deficit debate from the 1930s. Whatever economics we may have learned, we seem determined to forget.Yet proclaim a triumph is precisely what Sylvia Nasar, author of the acclaimed A Beautiful Mind, sets out to do. Nasar has written a compelling history of modern economics, a story of the theorists as well as of their theories.
The Two-Second Advantage: How We Succeed by Anticipating the Future—Just Enough
By Vivek Ranadive and Kevin Maney
Summary via publisher, Crown Business/Random House
What made Wayne Gretzky the greatest hockey player of all time wasn’t his speed on the ice or the uncanny accuracy of his shots, but rather his ability to predict where the puck was going to be an instant before it arrived. In other words, it was Gretzky’s brain that made him exceptional. Over the past fifteen years, scientists have found that what distinguishes the greatest musicians, athletes, and performers from the rest of us isn’t just their motor skills or athletic abilities—it is the ability to anticipate events before they happen. A great musician knows how notes will sound before they’re played, a great CEO can predict how a business decision will turn out before it’s made, a great chef knows what a recipe will taste like before it’s prepared. In a powerful narrative that takes us from the research in the labs to the implementation of predictive technology inside companies, Vivek Ranadivé and Kevin Maney reveal how our understanding of human mastery is being applied to the way computers “think.” In the near future, the authors argue, the most advanced computer systems and the most successful businesses will anticipate the future much like Wayne Gretzky’s brain does. As a result, companies will be able to use a new generation of technology to anticipate customer needs before customers even know what they want, and see production snafus before they occur, traffic jams before they materialize, and operational problems before they arise. Forward-thinking companies will be able to predict the future just a fraction ahead of everyone else with a little bit of the right information at the right time—what the authors call the two-second advantage—and it will transform the way businesses are run and offer companies an enormous competitive edge in the marketplace.
The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America
By Marc Levinson
Excerpt via NPR
On a sunny Saturday in September 1946 — the federal courts worked six days a week back then — Lindley issued what would be the most controversial decision of his long judicial career. Before a crowded courtroom on the second floor of Danville’s post office, he declared that George L. Hartford, eighty-one; John A. Hartford, seventy-four; their company, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company; and other company executives had conspired to violate the Sherman Antitrust Act. The fact that the secretive Hartford brothers, two of the wealthiest men in America, were deemed criminals was startling, but their crime was truly remarkable. Rather than being accused of acting like monopolists to keep prices artificially high, the Hartfords were found to have done the opposite. They and their company, Lindley declared, had acted illegally in restraint of trade by using A&P’s size and market power to keep prices artificially low.
The Ultimate Financial Plan: Balancing Your Money and Life
By Jim Stovall and Tim Maurer
Press release via publisher, Wiley
We need to allow our minds to be re-programmed (regularly) to put money in its place—or places, really. Those places often include tangible “buckets” like checking accounts, savings accounts, 401ks, IRAs, Roth IRAs, education savings plans, and real estate as well as home, auto, business, health, disability, and long term care insurance. But other less tangible places are investments in our knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, which lead to purpose-filled careers, sleep-at-night security, artistic endeavors, creative philanthropy, fulfilled retirements, and meaningful legacies. This is where the intersection between your life and your money truly occurs. The Ultimate Financial Plan is the application of the resources at your disposal for the purpose of living your life to the fullest, and this book will show you the quickest route to getting started on the path to ultimate success. The ultimate gift is “life lived to its fullest,” so the ultimate financial plan is the deliberate application of the tangible and intangible resources at your disposal for the purpose of living your life to the fullest.