Books

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)

Perspectives on the Performance of the Continental Economies

Edmund S. Phelps & Hans-Werner Sinn (Editors)
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Economists disagree on what ails the economies of continental western Europe, which are widely perceived to be underperforming in terms of productivity and other metrics. Is it some deficiency in their economic system—in economic institutions or cultural attitudes? Is it some effect of their welfare systems of social insurance and assistance? Or are these systems healthy enough but weighed down by adverse market conditions? In this volume, leading economists test the various explanations for Europe’s economic underperformance against real-world data.

The chapters, written from widely varying perspectives, demonstrate the shortcomings and strengths of some methods of economics as much as they do the shortcomings and strengths of some economies of western continental Europe. Some contributors address only income per head or per worker; others look at efficiency and distortions of national choices such as that between labor and leisure; still others look at job satisfaction, fulfillment, and rates of indigenous innovation. Many offer policy recommendations, which range from developing institutions that promote entrepreneurship to using early education to increase human capital.

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Beyond Mechanical Markets: Asset Price Swings, Risk, and the Role of the State

Roman Frydman and Michael D. Goldberg
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In the wake of the global financial crisis that began in 2007, faith in the rationality of markets has lost ground to a new faith in their irrationality. The problem, Roman Frydman and Michael Goldberg argue, is that both the rational and behavioral theories of the market rest on the same fatal assumption--that markets act mechanically and economic change is fully predictable. In Beyond Mechanical Markets, Frydman and Goldberg show how the failure to abandon this assumption hinders our understanding of how markets work, why price swings help allocate capital to worthy companies, and what role government can and can't play. (Princeton University Press)

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A Call for Judgment

Amar Bhidé
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A Call for Judgment clearly explains how bad theories and mis-regulation have caused a dangerous divergence between the real economy and finance. In simple language Bhide takes apart the so-called advances in modern finance, showing how backward-looking, top-down models were used to mass-produce toxic products. Thanks to excessively tight securities laws and loose banking laws, anonymous transactions have displaced relationship-based finance. And Bhide offers, tough simple rules for restoring relationships and case-by-case judgment: limit banks-and all deposit taking institutions-to basic lending and nothing else.

A Call for Judgment is both a primer on the role of finance in a dynamic modern economy, and a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of banks functioning as highly centralized, mechanistic entities. It is essential reading for anyone interested in bringing the economy back to a point at which decisions can be made that foster organic economic growth without the potentially disastrous risks currently accepted by modern finance. (Oxford University Press)

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My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times

Harold Evans
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In My Paper Chase, Harold Evans recounts the wild and wonderful tale of his newspapering and publishing odyssey, which took him from Manchester to London and finally to America.  In England, he would become the editor of two of the most famous newspapers in the world, the Sunday Times and The Times of London; crack England’s biggest spy scandal; expose the cause of the world’s worst air crash of its time, involving the DC-10; and uncover one of the greatest health scandals of the century.  Then it would be on to New York, where he would begin all over again as a book publisher, acquiring the memoirs of Colin Powell, Marlon Brando, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon – and the unknown Barack Obama.

Creating a tremendously vivid sense of what once was – the hot metal type, the smell of the presses, the heroes who gave their lives to write a final paragraph from a foreign battlefield – My Paper Chase is not just a glorious remembrance of an amazing life, but a poignant reminder of all that newspapers have been, and all that they can be again. (Little, Brown, and Company)

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The Curse of the Mogul: What's Wrong with the World's Leading Media Companies

Bruce Greenwald
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Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone are so smart, why are their stocks long-term losers?

We live in the age of Big Media, with the celebrity moguls at the helms of the media conglomerates telling us that "content is king" and "growth is good." But for all the excitement, glamour, drama, and publicity they produce, why can't these moguls and their companies manage to deliver the kind of returns you'd get from closing your eyes and throwing a dart? In The Curse of the Mogul, Jonathan A. Knee, Bruce C. Greenwald, and Ava Seave lay bare the inexcusable financial performance that lies beneath Big Media's false veneer of power.

By rigorously examining individual media businesses on their own terms, the authors point out the difference between judging a company by how many times its CEO is seen in Sun Valley and by whether it generates consistently superior profitability. The book is packed with enough sharp-edged data to bring the most high-flying, hot-air-filled mogul balloon crashing down to earth. (Portfolio Hardcover)

 

 

The Idea of Justice

Amartya Sen
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Social justice: an ideal, forever beyond our grasp; or one of many practical possibilities? More than a matter of intellectual discourse, the idea of justice plays a real role in how—and how well—people live. And in this book the distinguished scholar Amartya Sen offers a powerful critique of the theory of social justice that, in its grip on social and political thinking, has long left practical realities far behind.

The transcendental theory of justice, the subject of Sen’s analysis, flourished in the Enlightenment and has proponents among some of the most distinguished philosophers of our day; it is concerned with identifying perfectly just social arrangements, defining the nature of the perfectly just society. The approach Sen favors, on the other hand, focuses on the comparative judgments of what is “more” or “less” just, and on the comparative merits of the different societies that actually emerge from certain institutions and social interactions.

At the heart of Sen’s argument is a respect for reasoned differences in our understanding of what a “just society” really is. People of different persuasions—for example, utilitarians, economic egalitarians, labor right theorists, no­-nonsense libertarians—might each reasonably see a clear and straightforward resolution to questions of justice; and yet, these clear and straightforward resolutions would be completely different. In light of this, Sen argues for a comparative perspective on justice that can guide us in the choice between alternatives that we inevitably face. (Harvard University Press)

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The Aid Trap: Hard Truths About Ending Poverty

R. Glenn Hubbard
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A bold fusion of ethics and smart business, The Aid Trap shows how the same energy, goodwill, and money that we devote to charity can help local business thrive. R. Glenn Hubbard and William Duggan, two leading scholars in business and finance, demonstrate that by diverting a major share of charitable aid into the local business sector of poor countries, citizens can take the lead in the growth of their own economies. Although the aid system supports noble goals, a local well-digging company cannot compete with a foreign charity that digs wells for free. By investing in that local company a sustainable system of development can take root. (Columbia University Press)

 

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