Category Archives: Books

Tobin Project Book on Regulatory Capture

By James Kwak

One of the last things I did in law school was write a paper about the concept of “cultural capture,” which Simon and I discussed briefly in 13 Bankers as one of the elements of the “Wall Street takeover.” The basic idea was that you can observe the same outcomes that you get with traditional regulatory capture without there being any actual corruption. The hard part in writing the paper was distinguishing cultural capture from plain old ideology—regulators making decisions because of their views about the world.

Anyway, the result is being included in a collection of papers on regulatory capture organized by the Tobin Project. It will be published by Cambridge sometime this year, but for now you can download the various chapters here. It features a lineup including many authors far more distinguished than I, including Richard Posner, Luigi Zingales, Tino Cuéllar, Richard Revesz, David Moss, Dan Carpenter, Nolan McCarty, and others. Enjoy.

Regression to the Mean, JPMorgan Edition

By James Kwak

I haven’t been writing about the JPMorgan debacle because, well, everyone else is writing about it. One theme that has stuck out for me, however, has been everyone’s reflexive surprise that this could happen at JPMorgan, supposedly the best and most competent of the big banks. For example, Lisa Pollock of Alphaville, who has provided some of the most detailed analyses of what happened, asked, “could this really happen under CEO Jamie Dimon’s watch?” Dawn Kopecki and Max Adelson at Bloomberg referred to “JPMorgan’s cultivated reputation for policing risk.” Articles about Ina Drew’s resignation are sure to point out her relative success at dealing with the financial crisis of 2007–2009.

“Highly intelligent women tend to marry men who are less intelligent than they are.” Why? Is it that intelligent men don’t want to compete with intelligent women?

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My Daughter Will Be CEO of the World’s Most Valuable Company Someday

By James Kwak

At least, that’s the impression I get from reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, which I finally finished this weekend. It’s not a particularly compelling read; it basically marches through the stages of his professional life, which is already the subject of legend, so there isn’t much suspense. I fear that it will inspire a new generation of corporate executives to imitate all of Jobs’s personal shortcomings—but without his genius.

The picture you get from the book is basically that Steve Jobs acted like a five-year-old for his whole life. He could be wrong about some basic, uncontroversial fact yet insist stubbornly that he was right. He divided the world into things that were great and things that were terrible, and his classifications could be arbitrary. He was an obnoxiously picky eater, constantly complaining about his food and sending it back. He threw epic tantrums that only a CEO (or a five-year-old) could get away with.

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Public Service: Why Nations Fail Crib Notes

By James Kwak

I’m reviewing Why Nations Fail for a print publication, so I’m out of basic courtesy I’m not going to preempt my review here. But if you’re like me and not an expert in the history of every part of the world, sometime around page 250 you probably got confused about where Acemoglu and Robinson discussed the Kingdom of Aksum as opposed to early modern Ethiopia or the Kuba Kingdom as opposed to the Kingdom of Kongo. After a while I created my own crib sheet, which I reproduce here for those who may find it helpful.

1. So Close and Yet So Different: Spanish Conquest, Jamestown, Mexico (19th century)

2. Theories That Don’t Work

3. The Making of Prosperity and Poverty: Korea, Kingdom of Kongo

4. Small Differences and Critical Junctures: The Weight of History: Black Death (14th century), early modern Western Europe

5. “I’ve Seen the Future and It Works”: Growth Under Extractive Institutions: USSR, Kuba Kingdom, Neolithic Revolution, Mayas

6. Drifting Apart: Venice, ancient Rome, Kingdom of Aksum (Ethiopia)

7. The Turning Point: England (17th-18th centuries)

8. Not on Our Turf: Barriers to Development: Spain, Austria-Hungary and Russia, China, Ethiopia, Somalia

9. Reversing Development: Dutch East Indies, Central Africa

10. The Diffusion of Prosperity: Australia, French Revolution, Japan

11. The Virtuous Circle: Great Britain, United States (Progressive movement and 1930s), Argentina

12. The Vicious Circle: Sierra Leone, Guatemala, American South, Ethiopia

13. Why Nations Fail Today: Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Clombia, Argentina, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Egypt

14. Breaking the Mold: Botswana, American South, China

15. Understanding Prosperity and Poverty: China, Brazil

White House Burning Open Thread

By James Kwak

Now that the book has been available for a week, I imagine at least two or three people have started reading it. This post is for people to discuss the book if they are so inclined.

If you want to hear Simon discussing the book, the book website has a page of links to past media appearances. Several are the five-minute cable news variety, but for in-depth interviews there are Fresh Air and Leonard Lopate, among others.

Why White House Burning Is Wrong, Liberal Edition

By James Kwak

Dean Baker, a leading economic commentator and author of the Beat the Press blog, has written a review of White House Burning for the Huffington Post. Baker manages the admirable feat of being gracious and complimentary while delivering several serious criticisms of the book.

I’ll skip over the nice things he said and get to Baker’s main objections, of which I think there are three. The first is that long-term fiscal sustainability is the wrong problem to be focused on:

 “While the solutions do not especially upset me, I do very much disagree with the diagnosis of the problem. The most immediate issue is that we have a fire at the moment in the form of too little demand leading to too much unemployment. This is wrecking the lives of millions of workers and their families.

“Johnson and Kwak understand this and certainly do not argue for deficit reduction in the short-term, but their focus on a longer-term deficit problem can be distracting from the more urgent problem.”

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What Is This White House Burning?

By James Kwak

Loyal blog readers have surely noticed the new left-hand sidebar of the blog and may be wondering what this “White House Burning” thing is about. I wanted to give you a bit more background than the jacket flap copy you can read elsewhere.

You don’t have to know a lot of American history to know that the War of 1812 began two hundred years ago. Yet I doubt there will be much celebration, since it’s not a war we’re particularly proud of, like World War II, nor is it one that is particularly controversial, like Vietnam. Its most famous moment is perhaps the burning of Washington in August 1814, although it also gave us the phrase “We have met the enemy and they are ours” (Commander Perry, Battle of Lake Erie), the words to the national anthem, and the political career of Andrew Jackson, victor at the Battle of New Orleans.

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