I’ve been getting lots of free books lately, and the implied contract is that I should write about at least some of them. So, here are my quick reactions to some books CT readers might find interesting. They are
The Great Leveler: Capitalism and Competition in the Court of Law by Brett Christophers
The Sharing Economy:The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism by Arun Sundararajan
Econobabble: How to Decode Political Spin and Economic Nonsense by Richard Denniss
Generation Less: How Australia is Cheating the Young by Jennifer Rayner
I’ll be on a panel discussing the last two of these at the Brisbane Writers Festival, Sep 11-16.
The Great Leveler: Capitalism and Competition in the Court of Law by Brett Christophers looks at the balance between competition and monopoly in capitalist economies, and makes the case that it has shifted heavily towards monopoly for two reasons. First, intellectual property is increasingly central to the value of corporations. Second, the Chicago critique of antitrust policy has been widely accepted, with the result that more and more markets are dominated by a handful of firms. To that list, I’d add privatisation and corporatisation of government businesses, which have greatly reduced the role of public ownership as a policy response to monopoly, particularly in relation to utilities and infrastructure. More speculatively, I think that there’s a complementary relationship between monopoly profits and financialisation.
The Rise and Fall of American Growth:
The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War presents detailed evidence for Robert J. Gordon’s view that the US has entered a period of permanently depressed economic growth, particularly because the low-hanging technological fruit has been picked and partly because of developments endogenous to the economy, such as rising inequality. The book is massive already, but I nevertheless think that it suffers as a result of treating the US in isolation. The fact that economies will inside the technological frontier also seem to be suffering from stagnation suggests to me that endogenous developments may be more important than technology.
The Sharing Economy:The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism by Arun Sundararajan is well worth a read, but the relevant part of the title is “The End of Employment”. In fact, the book would have been better entitled “The Gig Economy“. Sundararajan refers back to Yochai Benkler’s classic Sharing Nicely. Long before Uber, Benkler was talking about “ride sharing” in the context of Internet-facilitated car pooling. That comparison makes it obvious that there is no sharing involved in Uber. It’s just a taxi service where the owner-drivers have none of the entitlements that employees usually get. That’s even more true of examples like TaskRabbit, which is just an app for hiring freelance workers.
Econobabble: How to Decode Political Spin and Economic Nonsense by Richard Denniss shows how economics is used for the purpose of mystification to control public debates and what can be done about it. [Disclosure: I’ve worked with Richard on a number of the issues mentioned in the book, such as the economic evaluation of coal mining projects]
Generation Less: How Australia is Cheating the Young by Jennifer Rayner is a big improvement on the kind of generation game nonsense I’ve been criticising for the better part of a generation. Rayner shows how developments in the economy over the last couple of decades have led to worse life prospects for the current cohort of young (roughly, under 35) people. I’d prefer to put this argument into the broader context that inequality has been increasing on all dimensions: capital vs labor, college-educated vs high school, experienced vs less experienced and, along with all of these, older vs younger. [Disclosure: I gave comments on an earlier draft and I’m quoted in the book]