Summer Reading List, Public Finance Edition

Only the Rich Can Play, by David Wessel

In a sobering reflection on how policy can go wrong, its backers spent too much time creating a policy to encourage the rich to invest and far too little learning the lessons of the past or listening to those in the communities their policies were supposed to benefit. A moral tale for wealthy do-gooders everywhere.

Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, by Anne Case and Angus Deaton

We Americans are reluctant to acknowledge that our economy serves the educated classes and penalizes the rest. But that’s exactly the situation, and “Deaths of Despair” shows how the immiseration of the less educated has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, even as the economy has thrived and the stock market has soared.

The World for Sale, by Javier Blas and Jack Farchy

The book is superbly researched and tidily written: There’s no overwrought prose or tortured jargon, just a clean, compelling chronicle of the central role that commodity traders have played in the global economy from the end of World War II to the present.

What they found isn’t pretty — but it’s plenty illuminating.

Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

“Why Nations Fail” focuses on the historical currents and critical junctures that mold modern polities: the processes of institutional drift that produce political and economic institutions that can be either inclusive — focused on power-sharing, productivity, education, technological advances and the well-being of the nation as a whole; or extractive — bent on grabbing wealth and resources away from one part of society to benefit another.

Ways and Means, by Roger Lowenstein

To great effect, Mr. Lowenstein makes the most of opportunities to view wartime milestones, political and military included, through an economic lens. He cheers, for example, the salutary humanitarian impact of the Emancipation Proclamation, but reminds us “it did nothing to calm Wall Street.” The Union suffers a morale-crushing loss at the May 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville, but Mr. Lowenstein insists that, as far as the Northern business world was concerned, incurable Confederate financial woes at the time made the war seem “not only not lost but, in fact, already won.”

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