A collection of reviews of business and economics books that were sent to the author this year.
As the end of the year winds down, here is a chance to take a look at some of the books on business, finance and economics that came into our offices for review.
Capitalism In America: A History, Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge. Published by Allen Lane. 486 pages.
Co-authored by the political editor of The Economist and the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, this book examines how the US rose from being a rural economy a couple of centuries ago to the high-tech powerhouse it is today. The book explores drivers such as the willingness of entrepreneurs to overturn – sometimes ruthlessly – business models in pursuit of profit, as well as factors such as relatively free markets and a positive culture for business. Recent years, they say, give cause for concern, as seen for example in a fall in labour force participation rates, sluggish productivity and lower business start-up rates.
The book is also refreshingly free of fashionable paranoia and doom-mongering about China, arguing against protectionism. Wealth managers who want to know where the next cohort of HNW individuals are coming from should read this book. Every page contains facts, often startling in their range, such as showing the impact of farming tools on raising productivity. Whatever one thinks of Dr Greenspan’s time at the Fed, for example, he is certainly involved in a remarkable study of business.
In Pursuit of Wealth: The Moral Case For Finance, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins. Ayn Rand Institute Press. 242 pages.
The authors write a no-holds-barred defence of free markets and challenge a popular argument in recent years that the 2008 financial crack-up was largely the fault of “unregulated capitalism”. Even if readers are not on board with the philosophy of the writers, there is a lot to think about here. Contrary to many accounts, they explain that financial markets were often heavily regulated in certain ways, and that regulations, and other state activity, caused a good deal of the mayhem. This spirited defence of finance also touches on history, for instance arguing that charging interest on money was wrongly condemned, and why. There are also plenty of references and footnotes for readers to follow up on.
Wealth Actually: Intelligent Decision-Making for the 1 Per Cent, by Frazer Rice. Lioncrest, 355 pages.
Rice, who spoke at a recent Family Wealth Report conference in New York, sets out a “holistic” view of wealth management. It helps wealth holders to understand what their money is for, how to talk to children and other relations about it, and how not to let their money control them, as is all too easily the case. Written with a nice, light touch (there are few good gags in here), Frazer’s prose style is engaging, making it easy for readers to digest his points. The reviewer liked his descriptions of what can arise when businesses are sold; his description of areas such as venture capital are also excellent.
The Wise Inheritor’s Guide To Freedom From Wealth – Making Family Wealth Work For You. By Charles Lowenhaupt. Praeger. 152 pages.
The book has an engagingly non-technical style, written in a way that simplifies matters concerning inheritance, philanthropy, family communication, fairness, parental expectations and the mechanics of wealth transfer. (The author of this review read it in a few hours.) The author covers the topics without dumbing down the subject or becoming at all condescending. Lowenhaupt enlivens the book with real-life studies (the names are removed to protect client privacy), and these really jump out of the page. There is one example of a family where the patriarch, his wife and children lived in humble circumstances without any obvious trappings of great wealth, and one day the children were told how they stood to inherit a fortune. The way in which Lowenhaupt relates how they adjusted to this and beat early mistakes is one of the highlights of the book.
Expatland, By John Marcarian. CST Tax Advisors. 252 pages
Published three years ago (2015), the reviewer came across this work recently and liked how, by creating a sort of fictitious “expatland”, the writer, who is a chartered accountant, runs through a list of issues that those living abroad need to contend with. With millions of affluent people living outside their home countries for extensive periods, there is a great need for simple, unpretentious guidelines to help them. Marcarian writes about this area clearly and concisely.
The Wealth Elite, by Rainer Zitelmann. LID Publishing. 421 pages.
This is an academic study into what drives men and women to become entrepreneurs, and explores their emotions and thoughts. It brings a rigorous sociological approach to a section of the world’s population. It is a contrast to the majority of academic studies which have tended to focus more – perhaps understandably – on the less well off. (Dr Zitelmann is an investor and publicist with a background in media and academia: for a time he worked as an historian at the Freie Universität Berlin. This is not a light read, but it will prove a valuable resource for business students in future.)
Dr Zitelmann has also published The Power of Capitalism: A Journey Through Recent History Across Five Continents. LID Publishing. 233 Pages. This book examines a range of examples (some of them harrowing, such as China during the 1950s and 60s), to show the case for free markets as opposed to state central planning. While Dr Zitelmann’s book on the super-rich was a more academic item that avoided overtly philosophical or political views, this second book is much more argumentative. Rather than starting with theory, it draws on a mass of examples. At a time when free trade and open markets are under attack from Left and Right, it is instructive that an academic from Germany should produce such a book. Again, the facts and figures in here, and the bibliography, reflect the scale of research Dr Zitelmann incorporates into his books.
Blockchain Revolution by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott. Update on the 2016 edition. 358 pages.
The book is packed with detail on how, the authors argue, distributed ledger technology can, given the right conditions, revolutionise finance, law, politics, human networks and much more. Written in a breathless style and with an infectious enthusiasm, the book is good for setting out the broad terrain for those who have read about blockchain and bitcoin but who want to know what the hype is about. Recent rapid falls in the price of bitcoin may have removed some of the glitter from this area. The authors address a number of “showstoppers” that could derail this tech, and their responses and ideas are often convincing. Sceptics may need persuading that blockchain is quite as transformative as claimed. The foolishness of politicians and venality of some businesses cannot be waved away like a magic wand – blockchain is not a sort of silver bullet for certain problems (and to be fair, the authors do not claim it to be so). Whatever their political biases, the authors do not impose these on readers and let the facts in many cases speak for themselves. There is a huge list of references for further reading and research.
Like it or not, wealth managers will have to get used to lots of commentary about this tech in the years ahead and need to be informed so that they can engage with what is going on. The reader can do a lot worse than to start with this book.