Book Recommendations from the World of Economics
Martin Wolf selects the best books for the summer vacation from the world of economics. From MMT over Trade Wars up to every facet of inequality. Everyone can find something here.
PUBLISHED1. JULY 2020
Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism – Anne Case and Angus Deaton
Life expectancy in the United States has recently fallen for three years in a row–a reversal not seen since 1918 or in any other wealthy nation in modern times. In the past two decades, deaths of despair from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism have risen dramatically, and now claim hundreds of thousands of American lives each year–and they’re still rising. Anne Case and Angus Deaton, known for first sounding the alarm about deaths of despair, explain the overwhelming surge in these deaths and shed light on the social and economic forces that are making life harder for the working class. They demonstrate why, for those who used to prosper in America, capitalism is no longer delivering.
Basic Income and Sovereign Money: The Alternative to Economic Crisis and Austerity Policy – Geoff Crocker
While often times, MMT-economist stress the importance of full employment and its positive societal externalities, Geoff Crocker goes the other route. He advocates for a universal basic income and defines the distribution of income as the most important issue of the 21st century.
The Uncounted – Alex Cobham
What we count matters – and in a world where policies and decisions are underpinned by numbers, statistics and data, if you’re not counted, you don’t count. Alex Cobham argues that systematic gaps in economic and demographic data not only lead us to understate a wide range of damaging inequalities, but also to actively exacerbate them. He shows how, in statistics ranging from electoral registers to household surveys and census data, people from disadvantaged groups, such as indigenous populations, women, and disabled people, are consistently underrepresented. This further marginalizes them, reducing everything from their political power to their weight in public spending decisions.
Poverty is Not Natural – George Curtis
Poverty is not Natural was listed by Martin Wolf as one of his ‘best reads so far’ in the Financial Times (June 2020), adding: ‘George Curtis has a soft spot for Henry George. So do I. George famously argued that landowners are among the biggest gainers from economic progress. Yet they do not create that wealth. They benefit from the investments, ingenuity and labour of others. The answer, George suggested, was to transfer the increased value of land into the hands of the public. Curtis agrees with this proposal, as do I. It would not solve all our economic and social problems. But it would help.’
Trade is Not a Four-Letter Word: How Six Everyday Products Make the Case for Trade – Fred P. Hochberg
Hochberg unravels the mysteries of trade by pulling back the curtain on six everyday products, each with a surprising story to tell: the taco salad, the Honda Odyssey, the banana, the iPhone, the college degree, and the smash hit HBO series Game of Thrones. Behind these six examples are stories that help explain not only how trade has shaped our lives so far but also how we can use trade to build a better future for our own families, for America, and for the world. There is no going back.
Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers – John Kay and Mervyn King
This incisive and eye-opening book draws on biography, history, mathematics, economics and philosophy to highlight the most successful – and most short-sighted – methods of dealing with an unknowable future Ultimately, the authors argue, the prevalent method of our age falls short, giving us a false understanding of our power to make predictions, leading to many of the problems we experience today. Tightly argued, provocative and written with wit and flair, Radical Uncertainty is at once an exploration of the limits of numbers and a celebration of human instinct and wisdom.
The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and How to Build a Better Economy – Stephanie Kelton
We’ve been thinking about government spending in the wrong ways, Kelton argues, on both sides of the political aisle. Everything that both liberal/progressives and conservatives believe about deficits and the role of money and government spending in the economy is wrong, especially the fear that deficits will endanger long-term prosperity.
Through illuminating insights about government debt, deficits, inflation, taxes, the financial system, and financial constraints on the federal budget, Kelton dramatically changes our understanding of how to best deal with important issues ranging from poverty and inequality to creating jobs and building infrastructure. Rather than asking the self-defeating question of how to pay for the crucial improvements our society needs, Kelton guides us to ask: which deficits actually matter?
Trade Wars are Class Wars – Matthew C. Klein and Michael Pettis
Klein and Pettis trace the origins of today’s trade wars to decisions made by politicians and business leaders in China, Europe, and the United States over the past thirty years. Across the world, the rich have prospered while workers can no longer afford to buy what they produce, have lost their jobs, or have been forced into higher levels of debt. In this thought-provoking challenge to mainstream views, the authors provide a cohesive narrative that shows how the class wars of rising inequality are a threat to the global economy and international peace—and what we can do about it.
China and the Future of Globalization: The Political Economy of China’s Rise – Gregorz W. Kolodko
The forces of globalization have transformed the world economically, but in the West politics is becoming increasingly fractured as living standards stagnate for all but the very wealthy. As a result, alienation and nationalism are on the rise. China, in the meantime, has become the most powerful economy in the world from the same forces of globalization which have imprisoned the west. Here, Grzegorz W. Kolodko parses the economic system in China and brings his uniquely clear and far sighted analysis to bear on the global economy. Through a qualitative and extensive quantitative economic analysis of the global economy, and it’s tilt towards Asia, Kolodko offers prescriptions on how the west can learn from China’s approach, and make globalization work for citizens once more. An essential book for scholars and students of political economy, from one of the West’s most authoritative scholars and practitioners.
Angrynomics – Eric Lonergan and Mark Blyth
Why are measures of stress and anxiety on the rise, when economists and politicians tell us we have never had it so good? While statistics tell us that the vast majority of people are getting steadily richer the world most of us experience day-in and day-out feels increasingly uncertain, unfair, and ever more expensive. In Angrynomics, Eric Lonergan and Mark Blyth explore the rising tide of anger, sometimes righteous and useful, sometimes destructive and ill-targeted, and propose radical new solutions for an increasingly polarized and confusing world. Angrynomics is for anyone wondering, where the hell do we go from here?
Might Nature be Canadian? Essays on Mutual Accommodation – William A. MacDonald
Mutual accommodation is about co-operation, compromise, and inclusion. It’s a big idea, equal to freedom, science, and compassion. The postwar global economic order led by the United States is one of the greatest historic achievements of mutual accommodation, yet it is now at risk from the centrifugal forces that have led to populism. Today, to many nations and people, Canada is the model country driven by successful mutual accommodation. In Might Nature Be Canadian? William Macdonald explores the theme of mutual accommodation with a close lens on the Canadian experience.
Capital and Ideology – Thomas Piketty
Our economy, Piketty observes, is not a natural fact. Markets, profits, and capital are all historical constructs that depend on choices. Piketty explores the material and ideological interactions of conflicting social groups that have given us slavery, serfdom, colonialism, communism, and hypercapitalism, shaping the lives of billions. He concludes that the great driver of human progress over the centuries has been the struggle for equality and education and not, as often argued, the assertion of property rights or the pursuit of stability. The new era of extreme inequality that has derailed that progress since the 1980s, he shows, is partly a reaction against communism, but it is also the fruit of ignorance, intellectual specialization, and our drift toward the dead-end politics of identity.
What’s Wrong with Economics: A Primer for the Perplexed – Robert Skidelsky
This insightful book looks at how mainstream economics’ quest for scientific certainty has led to a narrowing of vision and a convergence on an orthodoxy that is unhealthy for the field, not to mention the societies which base policy decisions on the advice of flawed economic models. Noted economic thinker Robert Skidelsky explains the circumstances that have brought about this constriction and proposes an approach to economics which includes philosophy, history, sociology, and politics.
Economic Dignity – Gene Sperling
Gene Sperling, chief White House economic adviser to presidents Clinton and Obama, addresses a central question: what is the goal of economic policy? His answer is “economic dignity”. By this, he means the capacities to care for family while being also able to engage in family life, “to pursue purpose and potential”, and, finally, to work without suffering abuse, domination or humiliation. Sperling thus sets out a socially inclusive form of dignity against the exclusive dignity that may be derived from race, religion or some other signifier of division. It is a noble aspiration.
A World Without Work: Technology, Automation and How We Should Respond – Daniel Susskind
Drawing on almost a decade of research in the field, Susskind argues that machines no longer need to think like us in order to outperform us, as was once widely believed. As a result, more and more tasks that used to be far beyond the capability of computers – from diagnosing illnesses to drafting legal contracts, from writing news reports to composing music – are coming within their reach. The threat of technological unemployment is now real.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, Susskind emphasizes. Technological progress could bring about unprecedented prosperity, solving one of humanity’s oldest problems: how to make sure that everyone has enough to live on.
The Case for a Job Guarantee – Pavlina R. Tcherneva
n this book, leading expert Pavlina R. Tcherneva challenges us to imagine a world where the phantom of unemployment is banished and anyone who seeks decent, living-wage work can find it – guaranteed. This is the aim of the Job Guarantee proposal: to provide a voluntary employment opportunity in public service to anyone who needs it. Tcherneva enumerates the many advantages of the Job Guarantee over the status quo and proposes a blueprint for its implementation within the wider context of the need for a Green New Deal.
The Paradoxes of Power and Wealth from Alexander Hamilton to Donald Trump – Craig VanGrasstek
From the days of Alexander Hamilton to the trade wars of Donald Trump, trade policy has been a key instrument of American power and wealth. The open trading system that the United States sponsored after the Second World War serves US interests by promoting cooperation and prosperity, but also allows the allies to become more independent and China to rise. The case studies in Trade and American Leadership examine how the value of preferential trade programs is undercut by the multilateral liberalization that the United States promoted for generations, and how trade sanctions tend either to be too economically costly to impose or too modest to matter. These problems are exacerbated by a domestic political system in which the gains from trade are unevenly distributed, power is fragmented, and strategies are easily undermined. Trade and American Leadership places special emphasis on today’s challenges, and the rising danger of economic nationalism.
Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy is a Sign of Success – Dietrich Vollrath
Most economists would agree that a thriving economy is synonymous with GDP growth. The more we produce and consume, the higher our living standard and the more resources available to the public. This means that our current era, in which growth has slowed substantially from its postwar highs, has raised alarm bells. But should it? Is growth actually the best way to measure economic success—and does our slowdown indicate economic problems?
More: The 10,000 Year Rise of the World Economy – Philip Coggan
How did humanity transform the world over the last 10,000 years? Philip Coggan of The Economist provides a comprehensive and lucid account of this transformative achievement. At bottom, the transformation has been economic. Humanity has created an increasingly productive and also unprecedentedly global economy. These two achievements are closely related and behind both lies something powerful and wrongly unpopular: international trade.