Sound post-Keynesian economic reasoning well argued—a book that one hopes, against the odds, the heads of the Federal...

BLUFF

THE GAME CENTRAL BANKS PLAY AND HOW IT LEADS TO CRISIS

A financial cri de coeur from a banking insider.

Hoda, an erstwhile derivatives trader with J.P. Morgan and Swiss Re, among other houses too big to fail, offers a variation on the trope that the last great financial crisis was the product of “the greed and deceit of commercial and investment bankers and traders.” There was that, to be sure, but the instability that has followed suggests, she argues, that a more complete truth lies elsewhere. She locates this in the complex interplay of central banks with the larger financial world, serving up a program that encourages investors to borrow even if it leads to more debt, “trying to create economic momentum by intimidating people with a continued reduction in purchasing power.” Tied up in this is an oddly tilted, sometimes paradoxical system that punishes thrift—because too much thrift leads to impoverishment in an economy premised on consumer spending—by lowering interest rates below that of inflation, “effectively taxing our savings.” In a sense, the banks’ bluff is that the game can continue even as people realize that it’s rigged. Hoda examines the evolution of central banks over a long, bumpy history of previous financial panics, offering sidelights on the abandonment of the gold standard. Of more immediate interest is her take on the difficulty of investing in such a climate of uncertainty, with the real winners being the traders who “aim to extract value by anticipating the actions of the central banks.” Writing accessibly and without undue reliance on jargon, Hoda dissects efforts at regulating the financial industry, such as the Dodd-Frank Act, which she considers one that “confused correlation with causality,” and advocates for zero inflation, job creation, and other stability-improving policies. On the present course, writes the author in closing, “investors will stop believing the central banks, even when they should.”

Sound post-Keynesian economic reasoning well argued—a book that one hopes, against the odds, the heads of the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England will entertain.

Pub Date: July 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78074-813-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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