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Book Bits | 16 November 2019

Summary:
● Willful: How We Choose What We Do By Richard RobbSummary via publisher (Yale University Press) Why do we do the things we do? The classical view of economics is that we are rational individuals, making decisions with the intention of maximizing our preferences. Behaviorists, on the other hand, see us as relying on mental shortcuts and conforming to preexisting biases. Richard Robb argues that neither explanation accounts for those things that we do for their own sake, and without understanding these sorts of actions, our picture of decision-making is at best incomplete. Robb explains how these choices made seemingly without reason belong to a realm of behavior he identifies as “for-itself.” ● Good Economics for Hard Times‘ By Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther DufloReview via The

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Willful: How We Choose What We Do
By Richard Robb
Summary via publisher (Yale University Press)
Why do we do the things we do? The classical view of economics is that we are rational individuals, making decisions with the intention of maximizing our preferences. Behaviorists, on the other hand, see us as relying on mental shortcuts and conforming to preexisting biases. Richard Robb argues that neither explanation accounts for those things that we do for their own sake, and without understanding these sorts of actions, our picture of decision-making is at best incomplete. Robb explains how these choices made seemingly without reason belong to a realm of behavior he identifies as “for-itself.”

Good Economics for Hard Times
By Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo
Review via The Guardian
Good Economics for Hard Times is the latest attempt by economists to defend their profession. It is, happily, an excellent antidote to the most dangerous forms of economics bashing: the efforts of opportunistic politicians to weaponise discontent with mainstream politics and to press it into the service of a xenophobic ideology that denies facts and serves the interests of a nativist, global oligarchy.
The book’s authors, MIT economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, write beautifully and are in full command of their subject. They examine the most crucial issues humanity faces (migration, trade wars, the scourge of inequality, climate catastrophe) with a combination of humility over what economics cannot tell us and pride over its contributions to our limited understanding. On every page, they seek to shed much-needed light upon the distortions that bad economics bring to public debates while methodically deconstructing their false assumptions. In their words, the book’s noble, urgent task is “to emphasise that there are no iron laws of economics keeping us from building a more humane world”.

Is Globalization Over?
By Jeremy Green
Summary via publisher (Polity)
Looming trade wars and rising nationalism have stirred troubling memories of the 1930s. Will history repeat itself? Do we face the chaotic breakdown of the global economic system in the face of stagnation, protectionism and political tumult?
Jeremy Green argues that, although we face grave problems, globalization is not about to end. Setting today’s challenges within a longer historical context, he demonstrates that the global economy is more interconnected than ever before and the costs of undoing it high enough to make a complete breakdown unlikely. Popular analogies between the 1930s and today are misleading. But the governing liberal ideology of globalisation is changing. It is mutating into a hard-edged nationalism that defends free markets while reasserting sovereignty and strengthening borders. This ‘national liberalism’ threatens a much more dangerous disintegration, fuelled by inequality and ecological crisis, unless we radically rethink the international status quo.

Austerity (What is Political Economy?)
Suzanne J. Konzelmann
Summary via publisher (Polity)
Austerity has been at the center of political controversy following the 2008 financial crisis, invoked by politicians and academics across the political spectrum as the answer to, or cause of, our post-crash economic malaise. However, despite being the cause of debate for more than three centuries, austerity remains a poorly understood concept. In this book, Suzanne J. Konzelmann aims to demystify austerity as an economic policy, a political idea, and a social phenomenon. Beginning with an analysis of political and socioeconomic history from the seventeenth century, she explains the economics of austerity in the context of the overall dynamics of state spending, tax, and debt. Using comparative case studies from around the world, ranging from the 1930s to post-2008, she then evaluates the outcomes of austerity in light of its stated objectives and analyzes the conditions under which it doesn’t – and occasionally does – work.

The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity
By Eugene McCarraher
Summary via publisher (Harvard University Press)
Far from displacing religions, as has been supposed, capitalism became one, with money as its deity. Eugene McCarraher reveals how mammon ensnared us and how we can find a more humane, sacramental way of being in the world. If socialists and Wall Street bankers can agree on anything, it is the extreme rationalism of capital. At least since Max Weber, capitalism has been understood as part of the “disenchantment” of the world, stripping material objects and social relations of their mystery and sacredness. Ignoring the motive force of the spirit, capitalism rejects the awe-inspiring divine for the economics of supply and demand.

Possessive Individualism: A Crisis of Capitalism
By Daniel W. Bromley
Summary via publsher (Oxford University Press)
The emergence of authoritarian governments in much of Europe, the British vote to leave the European Union, and widespread political anger in the United States suggest that anxiety and uncertainty now threaten to undermine stable democracies. Decades of stagnant household incomes and growing inequality are casting doubt on the benefits of capitalism. Meanwhile, millions of desperate migrants streaming north out of Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa further jeopardize political stability in the wealthy metropole. We have here an explanation for why the world finds itself in widespread dysfunction.

Failure
By Arjun Appadurai and Neta Alexander
Summary via publisher (Polity)
Failure explores the deeply troubling paradox by which the more technological and financial systems fail us, the more dependent on them we become. Wall Street and Silicon Valley—the two worlds this book examines—promote the illusion that scarcity can and should be eliminated in the age of seamless “flow.” Instead, Appadurai and Alexander propose a theory of habitual and strategic failure by exploring debt, crisis, digital divides and (dis)connectivity. What kind of failures do finance and technology perpetuate and monetize? What does failure have to do with memory and the structural production of ignorance? Moving between the planned obsolescence and deliberate precariousness of digital technologies and the “”too big to fail”” logic of the Great Recession, they argue that the sense of failure is real in that it produces disappointment and pain.

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James Picerno
James Picerno is a financial journalist who has been writing about finance and investment theory for more than twenty years. He writes for trade magazines read by financial professionals and financial advisers. Over the years, he’s written for the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Bloomberg Markets, Mutual Funds, Modern Maturity, Investment Advisor, Reuters, and his popular finance blog, The CapitalSpectator.

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