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February 24, 2013
David Warsh, Proprietor


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February Vacation

As a former newspaperman now making a living as a journalist on the Web, I still suffer from a beat reporter’s traditional commitment to writing books, meaning that I split my time. I find I can read about a book or two a week substantially unrelated to work on my own book (or a handful of journal articles), in pursuit of a column.

Because I remain interested in the trench warfare surrounding sequestration, I am preparing to read Age of Fracture, by Daniel Rodgers; The Great Persuasion, by Angus Burgin; Race against the Machine, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee; Coolidge, by Amity Shlaes; Free Riding, by Richard Tuck; and Public Policy in an Uncertain World, by Charles Manski.

Writing a book means neglecting various other corners of the beat. Therefore, in the spirit of February vacation, here are a baker’s dozen of books I am not reading, at least no more than necessary to place them on the proper shelf, where they await further consideration on one or another glorious day after I return to full-time reconnaissance duty.

Youssef Cassis. Crises and Opportunities: The Shaping of Modern Finance  (Oxford University Press, 2011) Europe’s leading historian of banking, a professor at the European University Institute, in Florence: “The financial centres of the leading emerging economies are more likely, in the short to medium run, to rank alongside, rather than topple, those of the established powers.”

Lajlos Bokros, Accidental Occidental: Economics and the Culture of Tranisition in Mitteleuropa, the Baltic, and the Balkan Area  (Central European University Press, 2013) Former Hungarian Finance minister in the crisis year of 1996, World Bank lender to various former Soviet republics, Vietnam and China, sums up: “The fundamental variability of social institutions and the inherent instability of social structures should never be forgotten.”

Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan, The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office   (Twelve, 2013) Two bright business schoolers offer an informal tour of the new organizational economics. Principals (readers) meet agents.

Tim Kane, Bleeding Talent: How the US Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It’s Time for a Revolution (Palgrave McMillan, 2012) An insider’s catalog of dissatisfactions among the US elite officer corps, and a prescription:  market-driven incentives and personal autonomy instead of bureaucratic central planning. Where have you gone, David Petraeus?

Richard Sandor, Good Derivatives: A Story of Financial and Environmental Innovation  (Wiley, 2012) The autobiography of a Chicago Board of Trade economist, entrepreneur of interest-rate futures and emissions trading.  Chicago, in contrast to San Francisco (venture capital) and New York (investment capital), as the nucleus of market-making capital. With a foreword by the remarkable Ronald Coase, who is still working at 102.

Juan Pablo Cardenal and Herberto Araújo, China’s Silent Army: The Pioneers, Traders, Fixers and Workers Who Are Remaking the World in Beijing’s Image  (Crown, 2013) Veteran Spanish journalists, based in China, on the long shadow of the Chinese state in projects in Central Asia, Africa and South America.

John O. McGinnis, Accelerating Democracy: Transforming Governance through Technology   (Princeton 2013) A Northwestern University law professor on various means by which new information technologies – prediction markets, dispersed media, expert systems and empiricism – can spur democracy by enriching its information content A welcome exception to the usual paeans to electronic voting, according to The Economist.

Peter Temin and David Vines, The Leaderless Economy: Why the World Economic System Fell Apart and How to Fix It  (Princeton, 2013).  MIT’s peripatetic economic historian emeritus and a Balliol College don, friends for twenty years, on how “politics in America and Europe seems to be aimed at repeating the mistakes of the twentieth century in the first global crisis of the twenty-first.”

Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig, The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do About It   (Princeton, 2013) A Stanford finance professor and a German theorist offer their prescription for the prevention of financial crises:  more capital and less debt. “Many of the claims made by leading bankers and banking experts have as much substance as the emperor’s new clothes….”

Zoltan Acs, Why Philanthropy Matters: How the Wealthy Give, and What it Means for Our Economic Well-Being  (Princeton, 2013) George Mason University professor Acs says philanthropy has been a vital lubricant of US-style capitalism. “Historically much of the wealth created in the United States has been given back to the community…. Today, however… the rich have retreated from the challenge of recycling their wealth to maximize benefit to society,”

Michael Pettis, The Great Rebalancing: Trade, Conflict, and the Perilous Road Ahead for the World Economy  (Princeton, 2013)  A former Wall Street banker, now professor of economics and finance at Beijing’s Peking University, warns that Chinese and German trade surpluses are dangerously out of line,  Savings rates aren’t about culture, he says:  they are economic policies.

David Goldhill, Catastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father – and How We Can Fix It   (Knopf, 2013) A cable television network operator and digital game magnate describes his plan to reform health care and make it more like any other business: health accounts, health loans and universal catastrophic health insurance.

Benn Steil The Battle  of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White , and the Making of a New World Order  (Princeton, 2013) Downton Abbey for the fans of currency markets; how the US took Great Britain to the cleaners in 1944.  Steil is director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Thus I spent my February vacation cleaning up.  Now that the office coffee table is relatively clear, I can get back to work on other things.

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