Ryan Avent, “The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power, and Status in the Twenty-first Century.” It is really, really difficult to write about economics in an accessible and lucid manner. Avent does so in this book. He examines how technological change is simultaneously disrupting how humans work in the modern economy and generating more inequality than economic growth. Avent’s book came out last year, but has just been released in paperback. Both experts and novices about the state of the economy will profit from reading it.
David Callahan, “The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a new Gilded Age.” Part of my argument in “The Ideas Industry” is centered around changes in the nature of philanthropy. A new class of benefactors is exercising considerable influence over a wider array of public policy issues. A whole crop of intellectuals are eager to advise these folks, and they ain’t going to speak truth to money. Callahan’s book looks at these new philanthropists, what guides their thinking, and what this means for public policy. For a shorter look at Callahan’s arguments, check out Alana Samuels’s article in the Atlantic last week.
Tyler Cowen, “The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream.” For years, Cowen has focused in small books on the growth slowdown in the United States. This one proffers an interesting and uncomfortable explanation for why this has happened: Americans have developed a “matching culture” in which we care about avoiding change. We rely on algorithms to help pick our music preferences, our television watching, our college choices and even whom we should marry. This leads to personal comfort but a decreased incentive to innovate. This sounds like an uncomfortable argument that is nonetheless worth reading.
Seva Gunitsky, “Aftershocks: Great Powers and Domestic Reforms in the Twentieth Century.” What is the link between great power transitions and domestic regime changes? According to Gunitsky, the relationship is tighter than we realize. This book argues that the rise of new great powers creates myriad opportunities for them to shape the domestic political institutions of other states. The result is waves — and then counter-waves — of regime types that mimic the rising hegemon. This helps to explain the waves of democratization and de-democratization in the 20th century. I’ll leave the implications of Gunitsky’s argument for this century to your imagination.