If it sounds too good to be true….

If it sounds too good to be true, ….  Big takedown of the Private Equity industry by former PE manager  Jeff Hooke (now of JHU-Carey).  His new The Myth of Private Equity  (Columbia Business School Publishing, 2021) highlights the sky-high costs, poor returns, & very low visibility. And yet, the industry persists… Hooke’s expose is a latter day “Where are the Customers’ Yachts?” The New Books Network interview.

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Seeing the right Navalny.

Everyone has heard of Alexei Navalny, the leader of Russia’s opposition to Putin’s rule. But what do we really know of him? Navalny: Putin’s Nemesis, Russia’s Future? (Oxford, 2021) provides the first detailed political biography of Navalny.  Most importantly, Ben Noble, Morvan Lallouet, and Jan Matti Dollbaum turn the one-dimensional, cartoon-like image of Navalny in the West into a nuanced portrait, properly situated in the context of modern Russian politics.  The New Books Network interview is here.  

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NBN Interview with Jon Lukomnik on his Moving Beyond Modern Portfolio Theory

Jon Lukomnik thinks outside the box, specifically the Modern Portfolio Theory box. Rather than trying to pick up a few basis points here or there by operating within a flawed system, Lukomnik argues in favor of looking for factors which affect overall systemic risk and reward.  That is, he looks at what factors will influence the health and levels of the overall capital markets. This is an important work for all market participants. Listen to the NBN interview here.

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NBN Interview with Timothy Frye on his Weak Strongman

Vladimir Putin is not the unconstrained, all-powerful boogeyman he is made out to be in the popular Western media. So says Timothy Frye, Professor of Political Science at Columbia University in his new book, Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin’s Russia (Princeton UP, 2021). Drawing on more than three decades of research, and reams of data from within Russia itself, Frye depicts a “personal autocrat”, but one subject to numerous constraints and trade offs. And the shows of force we have seen in recent years, from his treatment of opposition figures to the planning for the upcoming election, …

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NBN Interview with William Nordhaus

Can classical economics help figure out climate change and support policies that slow global warming?  Yale Sterling Professor of Economics William Nordhaus thinks so. In his new book, The Spirit of Green: The Economics of Collisions and Contagions in a Crowded World (Princeton UP, 2021), Nordhaus tackles the “externality” that is pollution and carbon emissions. By making several adjustments to how we treat this externality in economic terms, it can be brought back into the “system” whereby sensible regulation, market relations, and innovation can lead to markedly lower levels of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The most important of those adjustments is getting the price of …

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NBN Interview with Louis Nelson

Louis Nelson’s Mosaic: War, Monument, Mystery weaves together a personal memoir, a history of the Korean War and its aftermath, and the tale of how the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington DC came to be. The result is a fascinating portrait of one of the late 20th century’s most important designers. Listen to the New Books Network interview here.

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Using the great 19th century realist novels to bridge what divides us….

Two very thoughtful oddfellows–a labor economist and a Russian literature scholar–take on the world’s problems in their newest collaboration, Minds Wide Shut How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us (Princeton University Press, 2021). Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro bring to bear the remarkably powerful tool of great 19th century Realist literature (and other parts of the Western canon) to define and counter the all-or-nothing fundamentalisms that have come to divide us in recent years. They touch upon politics, religion and economics, as well as great literature itself, and advocate bridging the divides with assertion and dialogue rather than the crude dismissal of opponents based upon absolute, unyielding …

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If it looks like a bubble, walks like a bubble, & talks like a bubble, is it a bubble?

History matters, no less so for your retirement account. Are we in a normal investing environment or is something “not quite right”? The asset bubble doctors are in and will see you now.   Join me for a conversation with Will Quinn, co-author along with John Turner, of the new and highly acclaimed, Boom & Bust: A Global History of Financial Bubbles (2020). The NBN podcast can be accessed here.

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NBN Interview with Paul Donovan: Profit & Prejudice

Prejudice is bad for business. That’s the long and short of it. Paul Donovan amply documents this in his recent work of Shiller narrative economics, Profit and Prejudice: The Luddites of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Routledge, 2020). With that out in the open, shouldn’t prejudice in business cease? Well, that’s a tall order. Not every business person is a profit maximizing Fisherian with an MBA from the University of Chicago. Pointing out to prejudiced business people that they are leaving money on the table is, on its own, unlikely to put an end to their discriminatory practices.  Culture matters, as …

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NBN Interview with Vadim Shneyder: Russia’s Capitalist Realism

Vadim Shneyder’s new book, Russia’s Capitalist Realism: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov (Northwestern, 2020) examines how the literary tradition that produced the great works of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Anton Chekhov responded to the dangers and possibilities posed by Russia’s industrial revolution. During Russia’s first tumultuous transition to capitalism, social problems became issues of literary form for writers trying to make sense of economic change. The new environments created by industry, such as giant factories and mills, demanded some kind of response from writers but defied all existing forms of language. Prepare yourself for an innovative perspective on Anna Karenina, The Idiot and other 19th-century …

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NBN Interview with Jonathan Schneer: The Lockhart Plot

History in the making can be messy. As a tale told years later by historians, it is usually a clean narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and a mostly logical and foreordained end. Much of that messiness gets lost. Not in Jonathan Schneer’s new book, The Lockhart Plot: Love Betrayal, Assassination and Counter-Revolution in Lenin’s Russia (Oxford UP, 2020). Schneer’s recounts the story of a young British diplomat, Bruce Lockhart, sent to Soviet Russia soon after the October Revolution in 1917. Initially seeking some sort of accommodation with the Bolsheviks, Lockhart ends up plotting to overthrow the regime. The plot–set for …

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NBN Interview with JC de Swaan: Seeking Virtue in Finance

JC de Swaan does not shy from a challenge. In his new book, Seeking Virtue in Finance: Contributing to Society in a Conflicted Industry (Cambridge University Press, 2020), de Swaan, argues that it is possible to work in finance and not fall prey to the worst ethical ills of a profit maximizing industry. A lecturer at Princeton and partner in at Wall Street hedge fund, de Swaan spent years chronicling examples of virtuous behavior in finance. He distills his research into four “pillars” of ethical behavior for financial professionals. They include 1. Customers first, 2. Social wealth creation 3. Humanistic leadership  and 4. Engaged …

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NBN Finance Interview with Tom Levenson: Money for Nothing

Modern finance isn’t really all that modern. Three centuries ago, Great Britain’s need for money to fight its wars, the appearance of joint stock companies, and the emerging quantification of all aspects of life converged to create new notions and forms of money and investments. And then there was a spectacular bubble in 1720. The South Sea stock rose and fell quickly, but the financing structures remained and last to this day in evolved form. In his new book Money for Nothing: The Scientists, Fraudsters, and Corrupt Politicians Who Reinvented Money, Panicked a Nation, and Made the World Rich (Random House, …

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NBN Interview with Gene Ludwig: The Vanishing American Dream

Gene Ludwig cares. The former banker, government regulator, and serial entrepreneur cares deeply about the hollowing out of the American middle class over the past several decades, not least of all in his hometown of York, PA. So he gathered the country’s best and brightest in 2019 for a conference at Yale Law School to come up with specific policy proposals that can reverse that process. The details of what has happened make for difficult but necessary reading. In The Vanishing American Dream: A Frank Look at the Economic Realities Facing Middle- and Lower-Income Americans, (Disruption Books) the policy proposals to rebuild …

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Same problem–global warming–but very different answers.

Is there a consensus on the best response to global warming? Not even close. Left and right both bring their own tools, math, and, most notably, agendas–climate related and non-climate related–to their policy prescriptions. From the economic right, Bjorn Lomborg offers economic growth to increase adaptation to a warming planet, as well as market-based innovation to mitigate carbon generation. From the left, Robert Pollin (and his co-author Noam Chomsky) put forth an Eco-Socialist New Green Deal. Listen to the NBN interview with the former here, and with the latter here.

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NBN Interview with Robert Pollin: Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal

Economist Robert Pollin has teamed up with Noam Chomsky to produce a manifesto for the New Green Deal in Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet (Verso). Their plan attempts to keep the planet from heating up too much while simultaneously redressing the economic wrongs that they blame substantially on unfettered capitalism. Not everyone will agree that eco-socialism is the answer to global warming, but all participants in the debate will want to understand the wide range of policy proposals that are being brought to the table. Listen to the NBN interview here.

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NBN Interview with Joshua Greenberg: Bank Notes and Shinplasters

What is money? Really, what is money? It turns out that the answer is not so simple. During the course of the 20th century, most of us have gotten used to the notion of a single medium of exchange based on Federal Reserve notes which we call dollars. They look the same, feel the same, and have the same use everywhere in the country. We are so comfortable with that medium of exchange that we are now increasingly doing away with the paper and accepting a digital version of said money. The convenience of having a single and stable currency …

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NBN Interview with James Pearce: The weaponization of history in Russia.

History matters in Russia. It really matters, so much so that the state has a “historical policy” to help legitimize itself and support its policy agenda. In The Use of History in Putin’s Russia (Vernon Press, 2020), James C. Pearce examines how the past is perceived in contemporary Russia and analyses the ways in which the Russian state uses history to create a broad social consensus and forge a national identity. Listen to the NBN interview here.

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NBN Interview with Bjorn Lomborg: The economics of climate policy.

Should climate change policy be subject to a cost-benefit analysis leading to a variety of policy choices? Or is it so critical that the only “proper” path is immediate and extreme carbon reduction, regardless of the costs and the impact of those measures on the welfare of the population? Bjorn Lomborg’s new and controversial work, False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet (Basic Books, 2020) leans strongly in the direction of the former. Conducting that analysis, he comes to some shocking conclusions, notably that the “optimal” mix of global warming and …

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NBN Interview with Tim Koller: What’s a company worth?

What’s a company worth? To judge by the stock market, you might think that there is little rhyme or reason to the exercise. Yet, since the beginning of commerce thousands of years ago, people have been asserting the value of enterprises. Despite that long history, the math and specific logic of enterprise valuation is only about a century old. For thirty of those years, Tim Koller and his colleagues at McKinsey have been in the forefront of thinking about value and how to measure it. The first edition of Valuation: Measuring and Managing the Value of Companies came out in …

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NBN Interview with David Shimer: Russia and the West…..

“The guard is tired.” With that simple phrase, the newly installed Bolshevik regime in Russia dismissed the duly elected Constituent Assembly in January 1918. And, one might say, so started Russia’s century-long interference in elections and electoral outcomes. In his new book Rigged: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Electoral Interference (Knopf, 2020), David Shimer narrates in meticulous but page-turning detail a century of covert electoral interference, by both the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and continuing to this day with a focus on post-Soviet Russia’s efforts to affect US politics. His account of the …

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NBN Interview with Catherine Belton: The Russian state is back….

The Russian state is back. That may not be a big surprise to Russia watchers. The degree to which it is a KGB state, however, is documented in great detail in Catherine Belton‘s new book Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2020). Certain elements of the KGB were playing a “long game” as early as the 1980s and saw the need for an alternative to the sclerotic late Soviet system. And they were going to be part of that post-Soviet regime. Fast forward 20 years later, these security and intelligence officials …

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NBN Interview with Tyler Cowen: You mean big business is good?

You mean big business is good, contributes to our general welfare, and is not generally guilty–with notable exceptions–of all of the charges made against it?  That’s the argument libertarian economist Tyler Cowen makes in his book Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero (St. Martins, 2019) Most NBN listeners will raise an eyebrow to that claim, but most of those same NBN listeners are up for a good back-and-forth on the virtues and demerits of our market system. And to that end, being familiar with Cowen’s arguments–made in this book and his many other publications and platforms–is very useful.  The shift …

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