Review: Why banking is flawed and how to fix it

January 16, 2015

An investment banker and macroeconomist convincingly argue that regulators have little hope of curbing private credit creation in the digital age, because the borders of banking have been hopelessly smudged. Their solution is radical and ingenious. Sadly, it also looks utopian.

Review: Trade can bring war

January 9, 2015

Intimate commercial relations do not bring international peace, as James Macdonald demonstrates in his discussion of WW1. Striving for autarky is worse. “When Globalization Fails” argues that a trusted global hegemon reduces conflicts. America’s relative decline looks ominous.

Review: Two centuries of trust, frauds and finance

January 2, 2015

Ian Klaus’ entertaining account of 19th century financial deceptions carries a serious lesson. As financial markets became more sophisticated, trust had to be built on stronger and more objective supports. The implication: honesty can always win out, but not without hard work.

Review: Fixing the CIA – a novel approach

December 26, 2014

Could an outsider best reform the CIA in the wake of torture revelations? In David Ignatius’ novel “The Director,” a pro-privacy tech CEO tries to drag an agency that has lost its way into a new world of tighter rules, leaky secrets and cyberthreats. Good idea, uneven results.

Review: An Icelandic tycoon’s sorry saga

December 19, 2014

Thor Bjorgolfsson embodies Iceland’s volcanic rise and fall. He made a fortune in post-Soviet Europe, lost a bank in 2008 and caused Deutsche Bank years of grief with Actavis. This deal junkie’s memoir is self-critical in parts - but unlikely to win many new friends in Reykjavik.

Review: “Forgotten Depression” worth remembering

December 12, 2014

James Grant’s new book on the U.S. government’s response to the 1921 crash is a timely reminder that our forebears knew of other, apparently more efficacious, remedies to cure financial hangovers than the hair of the dog.

Review: The shirk ethic – a user’s guide

November 28, 2014

Work can be seen as a blessing or a curse. In “Empty Labor,” Roland Paulsen examines people who take mostly the latter view, asking how and why they shirk, and whether it’s always a bad thing. His study of idleness on the job is enlightening, amusing and sad.

Review: Congo’s problems run deeper than oil

November 21, 2014

Virunga Park sits on top of reserves and between hostile states inhabited by warring militias. A new documentary casts UK oil firm Soco as the park’s top threat. Unethical exploiters are just one symptom of a nation whose institutions are too weak to assure economic stability.

Review: Through a distorting mirror, darkly

November 14, 2014

William Gibson’s novel “The Peripheral” paints future worlds that are built of present fears writ large. Algorithms not only roil financial markets, they travel in time. Nanotech eats people. Money corrupts and spies surveil, even more than now. Yet human decency has a chance.

Review: The secret cause of economic crises

November 7, 2014

Trust, not self-interest, is the main support of market economies, says Geoffrey Hosking. He persuasively argues that widespread trust is crucial for growth. He explains how business cycles are propelled by mutual confidence, too little at the bottom and far too much at the top.