Books

The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Banking

Saifedean Ammous
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When a pseudonymous programmer introduced “a new electronic cash system that’s fully peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party” to a small online mailing list in 2008, very few paid attention. Ten years later, and against all odds, this upstart autonomous decentralized software offers an unstoppable and globally-accessible hard money alternative to modern central banks. The Bitcoin Standard analyzes the historical context to the rise of Bitcoin, the economic properties that have allowed it to grow quickly, and its likely economic, political, and social implications.

While Bitcoin is a new invention of the digital age, the problem it purports to solve is as old as human society itself: transferring value across time and space. Ammous takes the reader on an engaging journey through the history of technologies performing the functions of money, from primitive systems of trading limestones and seashells, to metals, coins, the gold standard, and modern government debt. Exploring what gave these technologies their monetary role, and how most lost it, provides the reader with a good idea of what makes for sound money, and sets the stage for an economic discussion of its consequences for individual and societal future-orientation, capital accumulation, trade, peace, culture, and art. Compellingly, Ammous shows that it is no coincidence that the loftiest achievements of humanity have come in societies enjoying the benefits of sound monetary regimes, nor is it coincidental that monetary collapse has usually accompanied civilizational collapse.

With this background in place, the book moves on to explain the operation of Bitcoin in a functional and intuitive way. Bitcoin is a decentralized, distributed piece of software that converts electricity and processing power into indisputably accurate records, thus allowing its users to utilize the Internet to perform the traditional functions of money without having to rely on, or trust, any authorities or infrastructure in the physical world. Bitcoin is thus best understood as the first successfully implemented form of digital cash and digital hard money. With an automated and perfectly predictable monetary policy, and the ability to perform final settlement of large sums across the world in a matter of minutes, Bitcoin’s real competitive edge might just be as a store of value and network for final settlement of large payments—a digital form of gold with a built-in settlement infrastructure.

Ammous’ firm grasp of the technological possibilities as well as the historical realities of monetary evolution provides for a fascinating exploration of the ramifications of voluntary free market money. As it challenges the most sacred of government monopolies, Bitcoin shifts the pendulum of sovereignty away from governments in favor of individuals, offering us the tantalizing possibility of a world where money is fully extricated from politics and unrestrained by borders.

The final chapter of the book explores some of the most common questions surrounding Bitcoin: Is Bitcoin mining a waste of energy? Is Bitcoin for criminals? Who controls Bitcoin, and can they change it if they please? How can Bitcoin be killed? And what to make of all the thousands of Bitcoin knock-offs, and the many supposed applications of Bitcoin’s ‘blockchain technology’? The Bitcoin Standard is the essential resource for a clear understanding of the rise of the Internet’s decentralized, apolitical, free-market alternative to national central banks.

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Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City

Richard Sennett
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In this sweeping study, one of the world's leading thinkers about the urban environment traces the often anguished relation between how cities are built and how people live in them, from ancient Athens to twenty-first-century Shanghai. Richard Sennett shows how Paris, Barcelona and New York City assumed their modern forms; rethinks the reputations of Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford and others; and takes us on a tour of emblematic contemporary locations, from the backstreets of Medellín, Colombia, to the Google headquarters in Manhattan. Through it all, he shows how the 'closed city' - segregated, regimented, and controlled - has spread from the global North to the exploding urban agglomerations of the global South. As an alternative, he argues for the 'open city,' where citizens actively hash out their differences and planners experiment with urban forms that make it easier for residents to cope. Rich with arguments that speak directly to our moment - a time when more humans live in urban spaces than ever before - Building and Dwelling draws on Sennett's deep learning and intimate engagement with city life to form a bold and original vision for the future of cities.

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Phishing for Phools The Economics of Manipulation and Deception

Robert J. Shiller and George A. Akerlof
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Ever since Adam Smith, the central teaching of economics has been that free markets provide us with material well-being, as if by an invisible hand. In Phishing for Phools, Nobel Prize–winning economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller deliver a fundamental challenge to this insight, arguing that markets harm as well as help us. As long as there is profit to be made, sellers will systematically exploit our psychological weaknesses and our ignorance through manipulation and deception. Rather than being essentially benign and always creating the greater good, markets are inherently filled with tricks and traps and will "phish" us as "phools."

Phishing for Phools therefore strikes a radically new direction in economics, based on the intuitive idea that markets both give and take away. Akerlof and Shiller bring this idea to life through dozens of stories that show how phishing affects everyone, in almost every walk of life. We spend our money up to the limit, and then worry about how to pay the next month's bills. The financial system soars, then crashes. We are attracted, more than we know, by advertising. Our political system is distorted by money. We pay too much for gym memberships, cars, houses, and credit cards. Drug companies ingeniously market pharmaceuticals that do us little good, and sometimes are downright dangerous.

Phishing for Phools explores the central role of manipulation and deception in fascinating detail in each of these areas and many more. It thereby explains a paradox: why, at a time when we are better off than ever before in history, all too many of us are leading lives of quiet desperation. At the same time, the book tells stories of individuals who have stood against economic trickery—and how it can be reduced through greater knowledge, reform, and regulation.

George A. Akerlof is University Professor at Georgetown University and the winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize. Robert J. Shiller is Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale University, the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in economics, and the author of the New York Times bestseller Irrational Exuberance (Princeton). Akerlof and Shiller are also the authors of Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism (Princeton).

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The Rule of Nobody

Philip K. Howard
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What’s wrong in Washington is deeper than you think. Yes, there’s gridlock, polarization, and self-dealing. But hidden underneath is something bigger and more destructive. It’s a broken governing system. From that comes wasteful spending, rising debt, failing schools, expensive healthcare, and economic hardship. Wonder why nothing works and leaders don’t lead? When rules dictate daily choices, nobody has authority––or responsibility––to get things done. Bureaucracy, regulation, and outmoded law tie our hands and confine policy choices. Nobody asks, “What’s the right thing to do?” Instead, they wonder, “What does the rule book say?”

In The Rule of Nobody, Philip K. Howard gives us an entirely new way to look at law and government. This insightful, powerful book explains how America went wrong and offers a sensible guide for how to liberate human ingenuity to meet the challenges of this century.

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Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change

Edmund Phelps
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In this book, Nobel Prize-winning economist Edmund Phelps draws on a lifetime of thinking to make a sweeping new argument about what makes nations prosper--and why the sources of that prosperity are under threat today. Why did prosperity explode in some nations between the 1820s and 1960s, creating not just unprecedented material wealth but "flourishing"--meaningful work, self-expression, and personal growth for more people than ever before? Phelps makes the case that the wellspring of this flourishing was modern values such as the desire to create, explore, and meet challenges. These values fueled the grassroots dynamism that was necessary for widespread, indigenous innovation. Most innovation wasn't driven by a few isolated visionaries like Henry Ford; rather, it was driven by millions of people empowered to think of, develop, and market innumerable new products and processes, and improvements to existing ones. Mass flourishing--a combination of material well-being and the "good life" in a broader sense--was created by this mass innovation.

Yet indigenous innovation and flourishing weakened decades ago. In America, evidence indicates that innovation and job satisfaction have decreased since the late 1960s, while postwar Europe has never recaptured its former dynamism. The reason, Phelps argues, is that the modern values underlying the modern economy are under threat by a resurgence of traditional, corporatist values that put the community and state over the individual. The ultimate fate of modern values is now the most pressing question for the West: will Western nations recommit themselves to modernity, grassroots dynamism, indigenous innovation, and widespread personal fulfillment, or will we go on with a narrowed innovation that limits flourishing to a few?

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Rethinking Expectations: The Way Forward for Macroeconomics

Roman Frydman & Edmund S. Phelps (Editors)
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This book originated from a 2010 conference marking the fortieth anniversary of the publication of the landmark "Phelps volume," Microeconomic Foundations of Employment and Inflation Theory, a book that is often credited with pioneering the currently dominant approach to macroeconomic analysis. However, in their provocative introductory essay, Roman Frydman and Edmund Phelps argue that the vast majority of macroeconomic and finance models developed over the last four decades derailed, rather than built on, the Phelps volume's "microfoundations" approach. Whereas the contributors to the 1970 volume recognized the fundamental importance of according market participants' expectations an autonomous role, contemporary models rely on the rational expectations hypothesis (REH), which rules out such a role by design.

The financial crisis that began in 2007, preceded by a spectacular boom and bust in asset prices that REH models implied could never happen, has spurred a quest for fresh approaches to macroeconomic analysis. While the alternatives to REH presented in Rethinking Expectations differ from the approach taken in the original Phelps volume, they are notable for returning to its major theme: understanding aggregate outcomes requires according expectations an autonomous role. In the introductory essay, Frydman and Phelps interpret the various efforts to reconstruct the field--some of which promise to chart its direction for decades to come.

The contributors include Philippe Aghion, Sheila Dow, George W. Evans, Roger E. A. Farmer, Roman Frydman, Michael D. Goldberg, Roger Guesnerie, Seppo Honkapohja, Katarina Juselius, Enisse Kharroubi, Blake LeBaron, Edmund S. Phelps, John B. Taylor, Michael Woodford, and Gylfi Zoega.

Foundations for New Economic Thinking: A Collection of Essays

Sheila C. Dow
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New economic thinking is in demand in the light of the recent crisis. But it is constrained by the prevailing way of thinking about the economy and about economics. This book equips the reader with a better understanding of this way of thinking and increases awareness of other possibilities. This selection of essays provides the foundations for debate at the levels of methodology and mode of thought; not only does awareness at these levels increase mutual understanding, making debate more constructive and increasing the possibilities for creative new developments, but it also puts the onus on economists to communicate and defend their own approach. This collection builds up these foundations and addresses particular issues, such as differences in meaning of key concepts. These issues have important practical implications for theory and policy. (Palgrave Macmillan)

 

Finance and the Good Society

Robert J. Shiller
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The reputation of the financial industry could hardly be worse than it is today in the painful aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. New York Times best-selling economist Robert Shiller is no apologist for the sins of finance — he is probably the only person to have predicted both the stock market bubble of 2000 and the real estate bubble that led up to the subprime mortgage meltdown. But in this important and timely book, Shiller argues that, rather than condemning finance, we need to reclaim it for the common good. He makes a powerful case for recognizing that finance, far from being a parasite on society, is one of the most powerful tools we have for solving our common problems and increasing the general well-being. We need more financial innovation — not less — and finance should play a larger role in helping society achieve its goals. Challenging the public and its leaders to rethink finance and its role in society, Shiller argues that finance should be defined not merely as the manipulation of money or the management of risk but as the stewardship of society's assets. He explains how people in financial careers — from CEO, investment manager, and banker to insurer, lawyer, and regulator — can and do manage, protect, and increase these assets. He describes how finance has historically contributed to the good of society through inventions such as insurance, mortgages, savings accounts, and pensions, and argues that we need to envision new ways to rechannel financial creativity to benefit society as a whole. Ultimately, Shiller shows how society can once again harness the power of finance for the greater good.

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Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation

Richard Sennett
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Living with people who differ—racially, ethnically, religiously, or economically—is the most urgent challenge facing civil society today. We tend socially to avoid engaging with people unlike ourselves, and modern politics encourages the politics of the tribe rather than of the city. In this thought-provoking book, Richard Sennett discusses why this has happened and what might be done about it.

Sennett contends that cooperation is a craft, and the foundations for skillful cooperation lie in learning to listen well and discuss rather than debate. In Together he explores how people can cooperate online, on street corners, in schools, at work, and in local politics. He traces the evolution of cooperative rituals from medieval times to today, and in situations as diverse as slave communities, socialist groups in Paris, and workers on Wall Street. Divided into three parts, the book addresses the nature of cooperation, why it has become weak, and how it could be strengthened. The author warns that we must learn the craft of cooperation if we are to make our complex society prosper, yet he reassures us that we can do this, for the capacity for cooperation is embedded in human nature.

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Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises (6th Revised edition)

Robert Aliber, Charles Kindleberger
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Manias, Panics and Crashes, is a scholarly and entertaining account of the way that mismanagement of money and credit has led to financial explosions over the centuries. Covering such topics as the history and anatomy of crises, speculative manias, and the lender of last resort, this book has been hailed as 'a true classic...both timely and timeless.' In this new, updated fifth edition, Kindleberger and Aliber expand upon the ideas presented in the previous edition, and include two new chapters on the real estate price bubble that occurred in Norway, Sweden and Finland at the end of the 1980s, and the three asset price bubbles that occurred between 1985 and 2000 in Japan and other Asian countries. Selected as one of the best investment books of all time by the Financial Times, Manias, Panics and Crashes puts the turbulence of the financial world in perspective. (Palgrave Macmillan)