Archive for Economics

American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper

American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper, by Jacob S. Hacker ($19.03 Hb, $14.99 Kndl)

PBS News Hour includes interview with the author here.

amnesiaAmazon:  From the groundbreaking author team behind the bestselling Winner-Take-All Politics, a timely and topical work that examines what’s good for American business and what’s good for Americans—and why those interests are misaligned.

In Winner-Take-All Politics, Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson explained how political elites have enabled and propelled plutocracy. Now in American Amnesia, they trace the economic and political history of the United States over the last century and show how a viable mixed economy has long been the dominant engine of America’s prosperity.

Like every other prospering democracy, the United States developed a mixed economy that channeled the spirit of capitalism into strong growth and healthy social development. In this bargain, government and business were as much partners as rivals. Public investments in education, science, transportation, and technology laid the foundation for broadly based prosperity. Programs of economic security and progressive taxation provided a floor of protection and business focused on the pursuit of profit—and government addressed needs business could not.

The mixed economy was the most important social innovation of the twentieth century. It spread a previously unimaginable level of broad prosperity. It enabled steep increases in education, health, longevity, and economic security. And yet, extraordinarily, it is anathema to many current economic and political elites. And as the advocates of anti-government free market fundamentalist have gained power, they are hell-bent on scrapping the instrument of nearly a century of unprecedented economic and social progress. In American Amnesia, Hacker and Pierson explain how—and why they must be stopped.

 

In this lively,engaging, and persuasive book, Hacker and Pierson explain how much of our health and prosperity rests on what governments have done. American Amnesia will help slow the intellectual pendulum that is currently swinging towards ananarchic libertarianism that threatens more than a century of American progress.”—Angus Deaton, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics in 2015

“The best business book of the year on the economy.”—Brad DeLong, strategy+business

“This is a fascinating and much-needed book. America once invented universal public education and sharply progressive taxation of income and inherited wealth, and has shown to the world that strong government and efficient markets are complementary—not substitutes. But since 1980 a new wave of anti-governmentideology has prospered, and is about to make America more unequal andplutocratic than Europe on the eve of World War I. If you want to understandwhy this great amnesia occurred, and how it can be reversed, read this book!”—Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century

If you are curious about why our infrastructure, our roads and bridges and water systems, is falling apart—then read American Amnesia. Curious about why the U.S. spends almost 18 percent of our GDP on medical care, but has health outcomes that are at levels of many developing countries—then read American Amnesia.”—Inside Higher Ed

Progress and prosperity in the United States, they demonstrate, have rested in no small measure on a constructive relationship between an effective public authority and dynamic private markets. We are now paying a terrible price for “forgetting this essential truth.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer

American Amnesia provides chapter and verse on why the public has good reason to be angry…”The New York Times

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a Comment

Plutocracy in America

Plutocracy in America, by Ronald P. Formisano ($22.95 hb, 21.80 Kndl)

PlutoAmazon:  The growing gap between the most affluent Americans and the rest of society is changing the country into one defined—more than almost any other developed nation—by exceptional inequality of income, wealth, and opportunity. This book reveals that an infrastructure of inequality, both open and hidden, obstructs the great majority in pursuing happiness, living healthy lives, and exercising basic rights. A government dominated by finance, corporate interests, and the wealthy has undermined democracy, stunted social mobility, and changed the character of the nation. In this tough-minded dissection of the gulf between the super-rich and the working and middle classes, Ronald P. Formisano explores how the dramatic rise of income inequality over the past four decades has transformed America from a land of democratic promise into one of diminished opportunity. Since the 1970s, government policies have contributed to the flow of wealth to the top income strata. The United States now is more a plutocracy than a democracy.

Formisano surveys the widening circle of inequality’s effects, the exploitation of the poor and the middle class, and the new ways that predators take money out of Americans’ pockets while passive federal and state governments stand by. This data-driven book offers insight into the fallacy of widespread opportunity, the fate of the middle class, and the mechanisms that perpetuate income disparity.

Leave a Comment

Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet

Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet, by Gemot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman ($20.48 hb, $15.37 Kndl)

climateshockAmazon: If you had a 10 percent chance of having a fatal car accident, you’d take necessary precautions. If your finances had a 10 percent chance of suffering a severe loss, you’d reevaluate your assets. So if we know the world is warming and there’s a 10 percent chance this might eventually lead to a catastrophe beyond anything we could imagine, why aren’t we doing more about climate change right now? We insure our lives against an uncertain future–why not our planet?

In Climate Shock, Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman explore in lively, clear terms the likely repercussions of a hotter planet, drawing on and expanding from work previously unavailable to general audiences. They show that the longer we wait to act, the more likely an extreme event will happen. A city might go underwater. A rogue nation might shoot particles into the Earth’s atmosphere, geoengineering cooler temperatures. Zeroing in on the unknown extreme risks that may yet dwarf all else, the authors look at how economic forces that make sensible climate policies difficult to enact, make radical would-be fixes like geoengineering all the more probable. What we know about climate change is alarming enough. What we don’t know about the extreme risks could be far more dangerous. Wagner and Weitzman help readers understand that we need to think about climate change in the same way that we think about insurance–as a risk management problem, only here on a global scale.

Demonstrating that climate change can and should be dealt with–and what could happen if we don’t do so–Climate Shock tackles the defining environmental and public policy issue of our time.

Leave a Comment

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, by Robert Putnam ($17.71 hb, $14.99 Kndl)

KidsAmazon: A groundbreaking examination of the growing inequality gap from the bestselling author of Bowling Alone: why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility.

It’s the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity and success. This is the America we believe in—a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effort. But during the last twenty-five years we have seen a disturbing “opportunity gap” emerge. Americans have always believed in equality of opportunity, the idea that all kids, regardless of their family background, should have a decent chance to improve their lot in life. Now, this central tenet of the American dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true than it was.

Robert Putnam—about whom The Economist said, “his scholarship is wide-ranging, his intelligence luminous, his tone modest, his prose unpretentious and frequently funny”—offers a personal but also authoritative look at this new American crisis. Putnam begins with his high school class of 1959 in Port Clinton, Ohio. By and large the vast majority of those students—“our kids”—went on to lives better than those of their parents. But their children and grandchildren have had harder lives amid diminishing prospects. Putnam tells the tale of lessening opportunity through poignant life stories of rich and poor kids from cities and suburbs across the country, drawing on a formidable body of research done especially for this book.

Our Kids is a rare combination of individual testimony and rigorous evidence. Putnam provides a disturbing account of the American dream that should initiate a deep examination of the future of our country. – See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Our-Kids/Robert-D-Putnam/9781476769899#sthash.WFMp8X1O.dpuf

Leave a Comment

Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations

Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations, by Brandon Garrett ($21.74 hb)

TooBigAmazon: 

American courts routinely hand down harsh sentences to individual convicts, but a very different standard of justice applies to corporations. Too Big to Jail takes readers into a complex, compromised world of backroom deals, for an unprecedented look at what happens when criminal charges are brought against a major company in the United States.

Federal prosecutors benefit from expansive statutes that allow an entire firm to be held liable for a crime by a single employee. But when prosecutors target the Goliaths of the corporate world, they find themselves at a huge disadvantage. The government that bailed out corporations considered too economically important to fail also negotiates settlements permitting giant firms to avoid the consequences of criminal convictions. Presenting detailed data from more than a decade of federal cases, Brandon Garrett reveals a pattern of negotiation and settlement in which prosecutors demand admissions of wrongdoing, impose penalties, and require structural reforms. However, those reforms are usually vaguely defined. Many companies pay no criminal fine, and even the biggest blockbuster payments are often greatly reduced. While companies must cooperate in the investigations, high-level employees tend to get off scot-free.

The practical reality is that when prosecutors face Hydra-headed corporate defendants prepared to spend hundreds of millions on lawyers, such agreements may be the only way to get any result at all.Too Big to Jail describes concrete ways to improve corporate law enforcement by insisting on more stringent prosecution agreements, ongoing judicial review, and greater transparency.

Leave a Comment

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward E. Baptist ($22.14 hb, $16.99 Kndl)

halfAmazon: Americans tend to cast slavery as a pre-modern institution—the nation’s original sin, perhaps, but isolated in time and divorced from America’s later success. But to do so robs the millions who suffered in bondage of their full legacy.

As historian Edward Baptist reveals in The Half Has Never Been Told, the expansion of slavery in the first eight decades after American independence drove the evolution and modernization of the United States. In the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a continental cotton empire, and the United States grew into a modern, industrial, and capitalist economy. Until the Civil War, Baptist explains, the most important American economic innovations were ways to make slavery ever more profitable. Through forced migration and torture, slave owners extracted continual increases in efficiency from enslaved African Americans. Thus the United States seized control of the world market for cotton, the key raw material of the Industrial Revolution, and became a wealthy nation with global influence.

Told through intimate slave narratives, plantation records, newspapers, and the words of politicians, entrepreneurs, and escaped slaves, The Half Has Never Been Told offers a radical new interpretation of American history. It forces readers to reckon with the violence at the root of American supremacy, but also with the survival and resistance that brought about slavery’s end—and created a culture that sustains America’s deepest dreams of freedom.

Leave a Comment

Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local – and Helped Save an American Town

Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local – and Helped Save an American Town, by Beth Macy ($28.00 hb — preorder from Brazos Bookstore)

Factory

[This book has not yet been released, as of the date of this posting — 7/6/2014.  rls]

AmazonOne man’s battle to save hundreds of jobs by taking on China and demonstrating the greatness of American business.
With over $500 million a year in sales, the Bassett Furniture Company was once the world’s biggest wood furniture manufacturer. Run by the same powerful Virginia family for three generations, it was also the center of life in Bassett, VA-an unincorporated town that existed solely for the people who built the company’s products. But beginning in the 1980s, the Bassett company suffered from an influx of cheap Chinese furniture as the first waves of Asian competition hit, and ultimately was forced to send its production offshore to Asia.

Only one man fought back. That man is John Bassett III, a descendant of the Bassetts who is now chairman of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co, which employs more than 700 Virginians and has sales of over $90 million. In FACTORY MAN, Beth Macy brings to life Bassett’s deeply personal furniture and family story. As she shows how he uses legal maneuvers, factory efficiencies, and sheer grit, cunning, and will to save hundreds of jobs, she also discovers the hidden and shocking truth about industry

Leave a Comment

Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy

Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, by Saskia Sassen (21.74 hb)

ExpulsionsAmazon:  

Soaring income inequality and unemployment, expanding populations of the displaced and imprisoned, accelerating destruction of land and water bodies: today’s socioeconomic and environmental dislocations cannot be fully understood in the usual terms of poverty and injustice, according to Saskia Sassen. They are more accurately understood as a type of expulsion–from professional livelihood, from living space, even from the very biosphere that makes life possible.

 

This hard-headed critique updates our understanding of economics for the twenty-first century, exposing a system with devastating consequences even for those who think they are not vulnerable. From finance to mining, the complex types of knowledge and technology we have come to admire are used too often in ways that produce elementary brutalities. These have evolved into predatory formations–assemblages of knowledge, interests, and outcomes that go beyond a firm’s or an individual’s or a government’s project.

 

Sassen draws surprising connections to illuminate the systemic logic of these expulsions. The sophisticated knowledge that created today’s financial “instruments” is paralleled by the engineering expertise that enables exploitation of the environment, and by the legal expertise that allows the world’s have-nations to acquire vast stretches of territory from the have-nots.Expulsions lays bare the extent to which the sheer complexity of the global economy makes it hard to trace lines of responsibility for the displacements, evictions, and eradications it produces–and equally hard for those who benefit from the system to feel responsible for its depredations.

Leave a Comment

Other People’s Houses: How Decades of Bailouts, Captive Regulators, and Toxic Bankers Made Home Mortgages a Thrilling Business

Other People’s Houses: How Decades of Bailouts, Captive Regulators, and Toxic Bankers Made Home Mortgages a Thrilling Business, by Jennifer Taub ($22.20 hb)

HousesAmazon: In the wake of the financial meltdown in 2008, many claimed that it had been inevitable, that no one saw it coming, and that subprime borrowers were to blame. This accessible, thoroughly researched book is Jennifer Taub’s response to such unfounded claims. Drawing on wide-ranging experience as a corporate lawyer, investment firm counsel, and scholar of business law and financial market regulation, Taub chronicles how government officials helped bankers inflate the toxic-mortgage-backed housing bubble, then after the bubble burst ignored the plight of millions of homeowners suddenly facing foreclosure.

Focusing new light on the similarities between the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s and the financial crisis in 2008, Taub reveals that in both cases the same reckless banks, operating under different names, failed again, while the same lax regulators overlooked fraud and abuse. Furthermore, in 2014, as the legal problems plaguing JPMorgan Chase demonstrate, the situation is essentially unchanged. The author asserts that the 2008 crisis was not just similar to the S&L scandal, it was a severe relapse of the same underlying disease. And despite modest regulatory reforms, the disease remains uncured: top banks remain too big to manage, too big to regulate, too big to prosecute, and too big to fail.

Comments (1)

Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty ($24.22 hb, $21.99 kndl)

[This is a big book (696 pages), it is an academic book (Harvard), but oddly it is a best seller.  Thought I would include it in the list, just in case we hear people talking about it.  If we are interested in this topic but find this book daunting, perhaps the one by Matt Taibbi would be the better choice.  — rls]

Here is an article about the book, and here is a review of the book.

capitalAmazon:  What are the grand dynamics that drive the accumulation and distribution of capital? Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. But satisfactory answers have been hard to find for lack of adequate data and clear guiding theories. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. His findings will transform debate and set the agenda for the next generation of thought about wealth and inequality.

 

Piketty shows that modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge have allowed us to avoid inequalities on the apocalyptic scale predicted by Karl Marx. But we have not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality as much as we thought in the optimistic decades following World War II. The main driver of inequality–the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth–today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values. But economic trends are not acts of God. Political action has curbed dangerous inequalities in the past, Piketty says, and may do so again.

 

A work of extraordinary ambition, originality, and rigor, Capital in the Twenty-First Century reorients our understanding of economic history and confronts us with sobering lessons for today. Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a Comment

Older Posts »