Bill Gates includes an award winning PUP title in his 2013 Summer Reading List

Billionaire Bill Gates, chairman and founder of Microsoft Corp., listens during the 2013 Fiscal Summit sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, May 7, 2013. The summit puts forward solutions for bipartisan agreement to address America’s long-term debt and deficits. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bill Gates has shared his reading lists before, and this summer he has named some interesting non-fiction (and one fiction) books that he plans on reading. He posted the list last week on his blog:
http://www.thegatesnotes.com/Personal/Summer-Reading-List-2013

Among the titles in Bill’s book pile is The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson. Levinson’s publication has been recognized with a number of awards:

  • Shortlisted for the 2006 Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year
  • Winner of the 2007 Bronze Independent Publisher Book Award, Finance/Investment/Economics category
  • Honorable Mention for the 2006 John Lyman Book Award, Science and Technology category, North American Society for Ocean History
  • Winner of the 2007 Anderson Medal, Society for Nautical Research

 
To see the rest of the books on Bill’s list, check out this Huffington Post article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/15/bill-gates-reading_n_3601091.html

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc LevinsonThe Box:
How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger

Marc Levinson

In April 1956, a refitted oil tanker carried fifty-eight shipping containers from Newark to Houston. From that modest beginning, container shipping developed into a huge industry that made the boom in global trade possible. The Box tells the dramatic story of the container’s creation, the decade of struggle before it was widely adopted, and the sweeping economic consequences of the sharp fall in transportation costs that containerization brought about.

Published on the fiftieth anniversary of the first container voyage, this is the first comprehensive history of the shipping container. It recounts how the drive and imagination of an iconoclastic entrepreneur, Malcom McLean, turned containerization from an impractical idea into a massive industry that slashed the cost of transporting goods around the world and made the boom in global trade possible.

But the container didn’t just happen. Its adoption required huge sums of money, both from private investors and from ports that aspired to be on the leading edge of a new technology. It required years of high-stakes bargaining with two of the titans of organized labor, Harry Bridges and Teddy Gleason, as well as delicate negotiations on standards that made it possible for almost any container to travel on any truck or train or ship. Ultimately, it took McLean’s success in supplying U.S. forces in Vietnam to persuade the world of the container’s potential.

Drawing on previously neglected sources, economist Marc Levinson shows how the container transformed economic geography, devastating traditional ports such as New York and London and fueling the growth of previously obscure ones, such as Oakland. By making shipping so cheap that industry could locate factories far from its customers, the container paved the way for Asia to become the world’s workshop and brought consumers a previously unimaginable variety of low-cost products from around the globe.

Review:

“One of the most significant, yet least noticed, economic developments of the last few decades [was] the transformation of international shipping. . . . The idea of containerization was simple: to move trailer-size loads of goods seamlessly among trucks, trains and ships, without breaking bulk. . . . Along the way, even the most foresighted people made mistakes and lost millions. . . . [A] classic tale of trial and error, and of creative destruction.”–Virginia Postrel, The New York Times

“Marc Levinson’s concern is business history on a grand scale. He tells a moral tale. There are villains … and there is one larger than life hero: Malcom McLean. . . . Levinson has produced a fascinating exposition of the romance of the steel container. I’ll never look at a truck in the same way again.”–Howard Davies, The Times (UK)

“Like much of today’s international cargo, Marc Levinson’s The Box arrives ‘just in time.’. . . It is a tribute to the box itself that far-off places matter so much to us now: It has eased trade, sped up delivery, lowered prices and widened the offering of goods everywhere. Not bad for something so simple and self-contained.”–Tim W. Ferguson, The Wall Street Journal

“[A] smart, engaging book. . . . Mr. Levinson makes a persuasive case that the container has been woefully underappreciated. . . . [T]he story he tells is that of a classic disruptive technology: the world worked in one fashion before the container came onto the scene, and in a completely different fashion after it took hold.”–Joe Nocera, The New York Times

“Mr Levinson. . . . makes a strong case that it was McLean’s thinking that led to modern-day containerisation. It altered the economics of shipping and with that the flow of world trade. Without the container, there would be no globalization.”–The Economist

Joseph Nye discussion at Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs

Event Info

Buy TicketsAdd to CalendarAdd to Google

Joseph Nye, author of Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era, will speaking in the Merrill House at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Discussion will revolved around the efficacy of different leadership styles that presidents have adopted. Which presidents ruled by a stronger ethical code? Were radical leaders more effectual in the end? Nye offers answers to these questions and more. The event will take place on THURSDAY, JUNE 6, 2013. The event is about an hour long. It begins at 8:00 AM and is scheduled to conclude at 9:15 AM.

Continental breakfast served at 8:00 AM. Presentations begin at 8:15 AM, followed by a question-and-answer session from 8:45 to 9:15 AM.

EVENT INFO:

(http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/calendar/data/0429.html)

During the 20th century, some American presidents tried to forge a new international order, while others sought to manage the country’s status. How did transformational presidents, like Wilson and Reagan, change how the U.S. sees the world? Were transactional presidents, like Eisenhower and the elder Bush, more effective and ethical?

Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He is also the former dean of the Kennedy School.

Speaker: Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

Location

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
Merrill House
170 East 64th Street
New York, NY 10065-7478

(212) 838-4120
(212) 752-2432 – Fax

Map: Click Here (opens a new window)

Fees for all Public Affairs Programs:

Non-members: $25 per event
Free admission for subscribers. Seating is limited and advance reservations are required. To purchase a subscription, go to Membership.

Morning Public Affairs Programs
Continental breakfast served at 8:00 AM. Presentations begin at 8:15 AM, followed by a question-and-answer session from 8:45 to 9:15 AM.

Joseph Nye is endorsed by active scholars in the political field for his analysis of presidential leadership tactics:

http://press.princeton.edu/images/j9933.gif“A penetrating combination of scholarly analysis and brilliant historical appraisals. Daring in scope and incisive in judgments, this wise and very timely book redefines our understanding of recent presidential leadership.”–Zbigniew Brzezinski, author of Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power

“In looking at presidential leadership and the sources of individual power, Nye fuses together his influential prior work on smart power and leadership. His book is written in an engaging and accessible style, and provides an excellent primer on what presidents can do in foreign policy.”–Daniel W. Drezner, author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies

Joseph Nye speaking at The Chicago Club

Event Info
Buy TicketsAdd to CalendarAdd to Google

http://www.thechicagocouncil.org/images/FY13_Event_Images/06_June/Nye_WEB.jpgJoseph Nye, author of Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era, will speak and sign books at The Chicago Club on TUESDAY, JUNE 4, 2013. The host of the event will be The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. It begins at 5:30 PM with registration and cash bar reception. The event is set to conclude at 7:15 PM with book signings.

Business attire is required.

EVENT INFO:

(http://www.thechicagocouncil.org/Files/Event/FY13/06_June_13/Joseph_Nye_on_Creating_the_American_Era.aspx)

JOSEPH NYE ON CREATING THE AMERICAN ERA
Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Distinguished Service Professor, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

As the late twentieth century’s unipolar moment fades, Joseph Nye argues that American power in this new era will be defined by both the forces of international politics and presidential leadership. Nye claims the problem of America’s role in the twenty-first century is not one of a poorly specified “decline,” but rather learning how to cooperate with others for mutual benefits. How will the United States face rising power resources of others—both state and nonstate actors? What is the importance of presidential leadership for the future of American primacy?

Joseph S. Nye Jr. is a distinguished service professor and former dean of the Kennedy School at Harvard University. He has served as assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, chair of the National Intelligence Council, and deputy under secretary of state for security assistance, science, and technology. He is the author of Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, Understanding International Conflict, The Power Game: A Washington Novel, The Powers to Lead, and The Future of Power. He received his AB from Princeton University, did postgraduate work at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, and earned a PhD from Harvard.

His latest book, Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era, will be available for purchase and signing following the program.

Joseph Nye has received accolades for his analysis on presidential foreign policy decisions in Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era:

http://press.princeton.edu/images/j9933.gif“In this concise and readable study, [...] Nye examines eight administrations, defined as ‘transformational’ or ‘transactional,’ and the diverse ways presidents communicate with and inspire the public. He also entices the historically minded with a ‘What if?’ section that speculates on historical alternatives and provides worthwhile reflections on the uneasy relationship between ethical leadership and effective leadership. Besides risking controversy, his ethical scorecards of presidents–including Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson–illustrate the complexity of such judgments. Nye’s overall assessment that the most dramatic and inspiring presidents are not always the most effective or ethical may, as he notes, overturn conventional wisdom, but the judgment bolsters his admonition to President Obama. His concluding reflections on the changing nature of exercising power in the 21st century effectively contextualize the continuing tensions inherent in managing domestic and international authority.”–Publishers Weekly

“Sometimes the best presidential decisions are decisions not to act. This point is made in an excellent new book by Joseph Nye of Harvard University entitled Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era.”–Gideon Rachman, Financial Times

BOOK FACT FRIDAY – The Federal Reserve & Ben S. Bernanke

k9928“The Federal Reserve was founded 1914, and concerns about both macroeconomic stability and financial stability motivated the decision of Congress and President Woodrow Wilson to create it. After the Civil War and into the early 1900s, there was no central bank, so any kind of financial stability functions that could not be performed by the Treasury had to be done privately.” -Ben S. Bernanke, from chapter one of The Federal Reserve and the Financial Crisis

In 2012, Ben Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, gave a series of lectures about the Federal Reserve and the 2008 financial crisis, as part of a course at George Washington University on the role of the Federal Reserve in the economy. In this unusual event, Bernanke revealed important background and insights into the central bank’s crucial actions during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Taken directly from these historic talks, The Federal Reserve and the Financial Crisis offers insight into the guiding principles behind the Fed’s activities and the lessons to be learned from its handling of recent economic challenges.

Ben S. Bernanke is chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve. He has served as chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors and as a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve. Before his time in public service he was a professor of economics at Princeton University. His many books include Essays on the Great Depression and Inflation Targeting (both Princeton).

The Federal Reserve and the Financial Crisis
by Ben S. Bernanke

We invite you to read chapter one online at: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9928.pdf

Delbanco to Deliver Fribolin Lecture

Mark your calendars! Andrew Delbanco, author of College: What it Is, Was, and Should Be will deliver the 25th Annual Carl and Fanny Fribolin Lecture on Friday, May 3, at Keuka College in New York. The event is free and open to the public. Read more about the event below.

Andrew Delbanco to deliver Fribolin Lecture

Dr. Andrew Delbanco, recipient of the 2011 National Humanities Medal, will deliver the 25th Annual Carl and Fanny Fribolin Lecture Friday, May 3, at Keuka College.

r. Andrew Delbanco, recipient of the 2011 National Humanities Medal, will deliver the 25th Annual Carl and Fanny Fribolin Lecture Friday, May 3, at Keuka College.

One of the highlights of May Day Weekend, Delbanco will discuss “What is College For?” at 6:30 p.m. in Norton Chapel. It is free and open to the public.

The lecture series carries the names of Geneva resident Carl Fribolin, an emeritus member of the College’s Board of Trustees and recipient of an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 2004, and his late wife.

Delbanco is Mendelson Family Chair of American Studies and Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. He was awarded the 2011 National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama “for his writing that spans the literature of Melville and Emerson to contemporary issues in higher education.”

In 2001, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and named by Time Magazine as “America’s Best Social Critic.” In 2003, he was named New York State Scholar of the Year by the New York Council for the Humanities. In 2006, he received the “Great Teacher Award” from the Society of Columbia Graduates.

Delbanco is the author of many books, including, most recently, College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be, and The Abolitionist Imagination. Melville: His World and Work was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Biography, and appeared on “best books” lists in the Washington Post, Independent (London), Dallas Morning News, and TLS. It was awarded the Lionel Trilling Award by Columbia University.

Delbanco’s essays appear regularly in The New York Review of Books, New Republic, New York Times Magazine, and other journals. His topics range from American literary and religious history to contemporary issues in higher education.

Delbanco has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He was a member of the inaugural class of fellows at the New York Public Library Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers.

Bretton Woods Today

In a new article on The Money Trap based on Benn Steil’s round table at CSFI, Bretton Woods as described in The Battle of Bretton Woods is put into today’s context. What are the differences between Bretton Woods in the 1940s and the economic climate today? Take a look:

The Battle of Bretton Woods: Why it’s relevant today

Yesterday I kicked off a round-table discussion organised by the CSFI of Benn Steil’s new book which carries this title. This is what I said.

Benn Steil starts this stimulating book by poking fun at those politicians and others who have, in recent years, called for “a new Bretton Woods”. They have all been disillusioned.

Indeed, to call for a new BW is to invite derision. It is easy to explain why. Those who talk about a new BW look as if they are driven by nostalgia for a golden age – the 1950s and early 1960s – a period which, as Benn says, was briefer and more fraught than is often thought – at most it lasted for about 10 years to the mid 1960s. But the reason why such calls are made so repeatedly does not just reflect a desire to recapture a lost innocence. It also reflects fear of the future – our sense of foreboding. We have a non-system. There are no agreed international rules governing exchange rates and other key dimensions of international monetary relations. We rightly fear that, in the absence of agreed rules, national policies could easily degenerate into the law of the jungle – everybody for himself, where the collective interest would be sacrificed.

 

It is this recurring nightmare that haunts our visions today, as it did for the architects of the so-called BW system in the 1940s. This is what makes the comparison between then and now so interesting.

 

So, to kick off the discussion I would like to use the story Benn tells to illustrate a few of the similarities between the world that he recreates – the world as seen though the eyes of monetary thinkers and planners of the 1940s – and our own. I will then pinpoint one big difference. (To be clear, these are themes I find in Steil’s book – but the comparison with today are my own).

 

Themes that resonate today

I pick out five:

1. Arguments between debtor and creditor countries. 
In one corner, you have the spokesman for the debtors – ailing Maynard Keynes,the designer of the British plan for post-war monetary cooperation and leader of the negotiations on US financial assistance to Great Britain (GB), like GB spending his last reserves in a fight for justice. In the other corner you have an implacable creditor – a foe masquerading as a friend – in the person of Harry White of the US Treasury with his rival plan (Indeed, the book might have been subtitled “The Ugly American meets Brideshead Revisited”). Keynes’s eloquence in defence of the debtors and in favour of sanctions on an unyielding creditor find an uncanny echo in the way US spokesman castigate China for its refusal to adjust. The roles have been reversed, with the spokesmen for the new surplus countries like China now saying very similar things about the US as the US said about Britain in the 1940s. The general American view was that all the UK wanted from the IMF was a cheap source of credit underwritten by the US. Britain was portrayed as profligate, just as the US is today by China. The achievement of Bretton Woods was to find a language to express such differences – a language of mutual adjustment and conditional assistance – that did not just amount to finger-pointing.

2. The  weapon of debtors. They have the threat to walk away from the table – default, throw their toys out of the bath. The US bullied weak and impoverished GB during and after the war. It wanted to take over UK assets on the cheap. It wanted to move the financial leadership of the world from London to Washington DC. It wanted to eliminate permanently any possibility of sterling to be a rival to the dollar sterling. But it also needed GB’s consent to the new world order. Without GB’s agreement, the US would not have Bretton Woods, which was intended to provide a cooperative wrapping for US power – a velvet glove for the iron fist of military and political hegemony. Through agreement with the principal debtor country, the US obtained a means for enforcing its way of doing things, its view of correct behaviour, on the world. It wanted to build a system where the world would be invited “voluntarily” to finance its neo-imperial ambitions. Now again the roles are reversed; it is the US – as the largest debtor – that the new creditors will need to persuade to acquiesce in their new world order – when they start to articulate it. It is now the US that, like GB 70 years ago, lives in a cloud of illusions. It is the US that threatens default – that has in effect already defaulted.

3. Lack of an agreed mechanism of adjustment
. Without agreed rules, norms and proceedures governing international monetary relations, there is no way of bringing the collective interest to bear – at least in any rigorous and sustained way – on individual national policies. The architects of Bretton Woods recognised this and tried to solve it by institutionalising international cooperation through the IMF. They created a mechanism that combined short-term financial assistance with an arrangement to correct longer-term imbalances by changing the exchange rate. But it was always difficult to apply these rules to large countries and since the breakdown of Bretton Woods in 1971 the effort to use group pressure to discipline any large country has failed. This lack of an agreed adjustment mechanism means that we again run the constant risk, as in the 1930s, of competitive currency depreciations.

4, The relationship between governments and financial markets also bears comparison. Keynes and White, with the backing of the US government  - especially Treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau and President Roosevel – were determined to bring private finance to heel. They wanted make bankers submit to democratic, politically-determined rules and the rule of experts. They wanted “to drive speculators from the temple of international finance”. We face similar challenges today from too-big-to-fail banks, shadow banking, and financial innovation. But what tools can we use? In the 1940s, there were no qualms about using phyisical controls, such as exchange restructions, controls oncapital movements, state direction of credit. Keynes and White believed in state planning. We don’t. So the question, exactly how can governments control private finance without throttling the life out of it, remains open.

(It is ironic, by the way, that US bankers vigorously opposed Bretton Woods – yet one of the fund’s main tasks in the past 30 years has been lending to countries experiencing capital outflows to permit them to service debt to large banks.)

5. Lack of academic consensus on the way forward; then as now, Keynes looms large, but he had opponents from Hayek downwards and today opinion remains split, above all on exchange rate policy. Now most economists favour flexible exchange rates; indeed, many think we need more flexibility; but in Europe 17 countries have opted to join not just a fixed rate system but a monetary union and are making huge sacrifices to keep it going. Many others in effect peg to the dollar or the euro. Some economists favour currency boards or heavily managed rates. Despite obvious huge differences in the geo-political context, and the institutional environment, the lack of an academic consensus on exchange rate policies, as on other elements of the IMS, hampers progress.

 

But this is where there is such an opportunity. 

What both Keynes and White did in their quite different ways was to make a convincing political case for linking domestic economic difficulties – the Great Depression – with lack of a coherent international order and international money. That is brought out well in Benn’s book. It is the kind of narrative missing today.

 

BIG DIFFERENCE

The biggest difference between then and now is that at Bretton Woods an anchor was already in place with the dollar fixed at $35 an ounce, the rate chosen by President Roosevelt in January 1934. Bretton Woods merely put clothes on a structure whose most important element was already in place. Indeed, it is President Roosevelt who has the strongest claim to be the unwitting architect of what came to be called BW, but would be better called an anchored dollar system. We don’t have an anchor today. Nobody has any idea what the price level in any country will be in five or ten years time. Prices could be lower than today, or twice what they are today. The world price level is indeterminate. In that respect we are starting from a worse position that Keynes and White did.

 

Keynes had the last laugh

Finally, on Benn’s main theme – how the tough, wily, arrogant, rude, duplicitous Soviet informer and agent White outmanouvred the sickly, silver-tongued British patriot – I take a rather different view.

 It was Keynes who has had the last laugh. For a start, at least since 1971 the IMF has more closely resembled the Keynesian rather than Whitean vision – like it or not, the Fund’s main role has been as a source of credit. Conditionality – which Keynes fought against though he recognised the need to protect the Fund’s resources – has become more flexible. The Fund’s resources – and so its ability to support countries in difficulties – have vastly increased to an extent that would have horrified Harry White. A country can devalue without seeking IMF approval, as Keynes wanted.

We remember Bretton Woods for Keynes’s not White’s contribution. We hold to the vision that Keynes articulated of a global international monetary system that would provide an appropriate mix of national discretion and external discipline. We remember Keynes’s articulation of a symmetrical system that would apply discipline equally on creditors and debtors. We remember his “new-fangled” creation, the bancor, the benchmark for all proposals for super-sovereign currencies.

Above all, we honour Keynes for insisting on – and demonstrating – the connection between a good international monetary system and good domestic policies.

Bretton Woods was a successful conference because it went beyond business as usual in a practical way, reflecting a revolution in ideas that he brought about. That is what we need today.

18 December 1945, Keynes opened the second day’s debate in the House of Lords on the Bretton Woods and US loan agreements legislation with a passionate plea for his handiwork:

The proposals were, he said, an attempt “to use what we have learnt from modern experience and analysis, not to defeat, but to implement the wisdom of Adam Smith..We are attempting a great step forward towards the goal of international economic order amidst national diversities of policies….Fresh tasks now invite. Opinions have been successfully changed. The work of destruction has been accomplished and the site has been cleared for a new structure”.

Robert Skidelsky labels this as the greatest of all Keynes’s public speeches. Indeed, Skidelsky suggests, perhaps it is in the realm of rhetoric that Keynes’s true greatness lies. Benn Steil also refers to his great rhetorical powers.  Somehow, this rhetoric still echoes to us, still resonates…Benn’s book brings it alive for a new generation.

The big lesson for us is this: no country can get out of this recession by itrs own unaided efforts.

Jackie Robinson Day

April 15, 1947: a great day for baseball, a better day to break down barriers. Jackie Robinson made his professional baseball debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on this day in 1947. The impact was not only prolific in terms of civil rights, but within the realm of the sports world, professional baseball gained a huge contender.

Today, Robinson’s courageous step into the national spotlight in becoming the first African American professional baseball player is celebrated through Major League Baseball’s Jackie Robinson Day. This year marks the fifth annual celebration that is recognized annually on April 15th- the day of Robinson’s major league debut. During every ball game today, all the uniformed personnel will be sporting Robinson’s iconic jersey number, 42.

Spring is in the air so naturally baseball season is in its prime. Head out to the ballpark and learn some more about what Robinson added to America’s favorite pastime!

1. Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War by George B. Kirsch

During the Civil War, Americans from homefront to battlefront played baseball as never before. While soldiers slaughtered each other over the country’s fate, players and fans struggled over the form of the national pastime. George Kirsch gives us a color commentary of the growth and transformation of baseball during the Civil War. He shows that the game was a vital part of the lives of many a soldier and civilian–and that baseball’s popularity had everything to do with surging American nationalism.

By 1860, baseball was poised to emerge as the American sport. Clubs in northeastern and a few southern cities played various forms of the game. Newspapers published statistics, and governing bodies set rules. But the Civil War years proved crucial in securing the game’s place in the American heart. Soldiers with bats in their rucksacks spread baseball to training camps, war prisons, and even front lines. As nationalist fervor heightened, baseball became patriotic. Fans honored it with the title of national pastime. War metaphors were commonplace in sports reporting, and charity games were scheduled. Decades later, Union general Abner Doubleday would be credited (wrongly) with baseball’s invention. The Civil War period also saw key developments in the sport itself, including the spread of the New York-style of play, the advent of revised pitching rules, and the growth of commercialism.

Kirsch recounts vivid stories of great players and describes soldiers playing ball to relieve boredom. He introduces entrepreneurs who preached the gospel of baseball, boosted female attendance, and found new ways to make money. We witness bitterly contested championships that enthralled whole cities. We watch African Americans embracing baseball despite official exclusion. And we see legends spring from the pens of early sportswriters.

Rich with anecdotes and surprising facts, this narrative of baseball’s coming-of-age reveals the remarkable extent to which America’s national pastime is bound up with the country’s defining event.

2. Creating the National Pastime: Baseball Transforms Itself, 1903-1953 by G. Edward White

At a time when many baseball fans wish for the game to return to a purer past, G. Edward White shows how seemingly irrational business decisions, inspired in part by the self-interest of the owners but also by their nostalgia for the game, transformed baseball into the national pastime. Not simply a professional sport, baseball has been treated as a focus of childhood rituals and an emblem of American individuality and fair play throughout much of the twentieth century. It started out, however, as a marginal urban sport associated with drinking and gambling. White describes its progression to an almost mythic status as an idyllic game, popular among people of all ages and classes. He then recounts the owner’s efforts, often supported by the legal system, to preserve this image.

Baseball grew up in the midst of urban industrialization during the Progressive Era, and the emerging steel and concrete baseball parks encapsulated feelings of neighborliness and associations with the rural leisure of bygone times. According to White, these nostalgic themes, together with personal financial concerns, guided owners toward practices that in retrospect appear unfair to players and detrimental to the progress of the game. Reserve clauses, blacklisting, and limiting franchise territories, for example, were meant to keep a consistent roster of players on a team, build fan loyalty, and maintain the game’s local flavor. These practices also violated anti-trust laws and significantly restricted the economic power of the players. Owners vigorously fought against innovations, ranging from the night games and radio broadcasts to the inclusion of African-American players. Nonetheless, the image of baseball as a spirited civic endeavor persisted, even in the face of outright corruption, as witnessed in the courts’ leniency toward the participants in the Black Sox scandal of 1919.

White’s story of baseball is intertwined with changes in technology and business in America and with changing attitudes toward race and ethnicity. The time is fast approaching, he concludes, when we must consider whether baseball is still regarded as the national pastime and whether protecting its image is worth the effort.

Happy Tax Day!

Today, paying taxes is just something we do. For the most part, we are compliant with taxes and rush to the post office to send them in so we can go enjoy our tax day freebies thanks to companies trying to put some joy into (and get some profit out of) this non-holiday.

Our colonial forefathers would probably use any expletive rather than the word ‘happy’ in front of the word ‘tax’. Read up on what the sentiment around taxes used to be like and how it helped start a revolution.

Taxation in Colonial America by Alvin Rabushka

Taxation in Colonial America examines life in the thirteen original American colonies through the revealing lens of the taxes levied on and by the colonists. Spanning the turbulent years from the founding of the Jamestown settlement to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Alvin Rabushka provides the definitive history of taxation in the colonial era, and sets it against the backdrop of enormous economic, political, and social upheaval in the colonies and Europe.

Rabushka shows how the colonists strove to minimize, avoid, and evade British and local taxation, and how they used tax incentives to foster settlement. He describes the systems of public finance they created to reduce taxation, and reveals how they gained control over taxes through elected representatives in colonial legislatures. Rabushka takes a comprehensive look at the external taxes imposed on the colonists by Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden, as well as internal direct taxes like poll and income taxes. He examines indirect taxes like duties and tonnage fees, as well as county and town taxes, church and education taxes, bounties, and other charges. He links the types and amounts of taxes with the means of payment–be it gold coins, agricultural commodities, wampum, or furs–and he compares tax systems and burdens among the colonies and with Britain.

This book brings the colonial period to life in all its rich complexity, and shows how colonial attitudes toward taxation offer a unique window into the causes of the revolution.

Benn Steil talks about Cyprus Bailout

Benn Steil, author of The Battle of Bretton Woods, appeared on CNBC TV’s  Kudlow Report to talk about the Cyprus bailout and what the U.S can learn from it.

Q&A with Benn Steil, author of ‘The Battle of Bretton Woods’

The Globe and Mail interviewed Benn Steil, author of The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order, to find out what the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement to recognize the U.S dollar as the central means of exchange and to back the U.S dollar with gold can teach to policy makers today amidst the global financial turmoil.

Is the “currency war” metaphor useful in today’s context? You wrote of a time when countries were making a point of devaluing their currencies. That’s not technically happening now.

The situation in the 1930s was far more serious than what we are witnessing today. Remember, in the early 1930s the world was still on the fraying remnants of the gold-exchange standard. Fixed exchange rates were still considered to be the norm. So as one country after another dropped out of that system, it was never clear to anyone where the bottom was.

Since everyone was unmooring from gold and the dollar at the same time, nobody was ultimately able to use competitive devaluation as a tool for increasing net exports. So what did they do? They turned to the next step, which was systematic protectionism. And that’s what led to the collapse of global trade.

We’re not seeing anything of the sort, yet, going on around the world. We are just seeing concern, rightful concern, expressed about where these unusual forms of monetary accommodation will lead down the road. There are reasons to be concerned. If countries are determined to devalue their currencies and can’t because others are pursuing the same policies, then they may turn to trade measures as the next logical step. But we are quite a ways away from that.

How would describe what we’re witnessing in currency markets?

I would say we are in an age of improvisation. Before the crisis, we were in a period that Ben Bernanke coined as the `Great Moderation.’ It seemed that for all intents and purposes central bankers had discovered the Holy Grail. You just target a low and stable rate of inflation and if you stick with that course you will have accomplished all that a good central bank can do, at least in normal circumstances. Unfortunately, now that we are not in normal circumstances, the rule books have been ditched and nobody knows what the rule book is.

Can a broad commitment to flexible exchange rates work as an international monetary system?

In the 1930s, nobody really considered that to be a system. Flexible exchange rates were considered to be a failure of alternative systems, like the gold standard, like the gold-exchange standard, or like the dollar-based gold exchange standard that was agreed at Bretton Woods. In the early 1970s, when we moved to that system (of flexible exchange rates), although it did have some prominent supporters like Milton Freidman, this was not a policy decision as it were, that the world took to move from a system of fixed, but adjustable, exchange rates to a new system of flexible exchange rates. It was something that was forced on the world by the failure of the Bretton Woods monetary system…I really don’t believe the (Group of 20) as an institution has in any sense coalesced around what might be an appropriate mix of policies for the world’s major countries from the perspective of global stability and global growth. There really is no consensus.

Do you see a day when there might be a return to a stricter global monetary system?

I don’t.

In the 1940s, there was a deal to be struck between the U.S. and the world. The U.S. really was the world’s only credible international creditor. The only way you could trade internationally other than barter was with gold and dollars. Both were in very short supply in the 1940s, so the U.S. offered the world a deal: We will provide you with short-term balance of payments assistance through our new International Monetary Fund, in return for which you pledge not to devalue your currency without the acquiescence of this new fund, which of course would be American dominated. The world wasn’t wild about the deal, but it was the best on offer…

Compare that to the situation between China and the United States today. The U.S. now is the world’s largest international debtor; China is the world’s largest international creditor. Chinese holdings of dollar-denominated securities amounts to $1,000 (U.S.) per Chinese resident. If China were to provoke a dollar crisis by trying to nudge the world to an alternative monetary system in which the dollar was not central, China would risk a collapse of the purchasing power of its vast hoard of dollar-denominated assets. The U.S. for its part sees little motivation to change this system. It still raises debt in a currency that it mints…There isn’t the political basis for a deal to be struck between China and the United States right now. I don’t any new Bretton Woods emerging out this situation. I can see circumstances under which this system collapses.

Read the full interview here.

‘The Battle of Bretton Woods’ Review in the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed The Battle of Bretton Woods by Benn Steil. James Grant for the Wall Street Journal called it “A superb history.  Mr. Steil…is a talented storyteller.” The review not only commended the book and Steil, but also provided a background of what Bretton Woods was in case you are still unsure of what the book is about.

A Fateful Meeting That Shaped the World

In 1944, John Maynard Keynes and a Treasury official who was later unmasked as a spy hashed out an economic system for the post-war era.

One of the many merits of “The Battle of Bretton Woods,” a superb history of mid-20th-century monetary affairs, is the timing of its publication. Today, as never before, central banks are printing money, suppressing interest rates and manipulating markets. You wonder where it will all end.

Where it began is easier to reckon. The Federal Reserve, which its founders wouldn’t recognize if they were brought back to life to inspect their handiwork, came into the world to mobilize credit and forestall financial panics. In 1913, the year of the Fed’s founding, the dollar was defined as slightly less than 1/20th of an ounce of gold.

The 1944 conference at Bretton Woods, N.H., Benn Steil’s subject, was another government initiative to regulate money and banking. Representatives of 44 nations trekked to the Mount Washington Hotel to design a framework for the world’s currencies, not least the dollar, which was by then defined as only 1/35th of an ounce of gold. America’s Harry Dexter White and Britain’s John Maynard Keynes talked and tussled and produced the set of arrangements that lasted, in one form or another, until 1971.

Nowadays the dollar is undefined and unanchored. It commands such value as the not-quite-free market sees fit to endow it with, at this writing slightly more than 1/1,600th of an ounce of gold. With respect to its gold value, the greenback has become nearly invisible, like the interest you earn on your savings.

Mr. Steil, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a talented storyteller. If, perhaps, he lingers too long over just how White’s bad thinking differed from Keynes’s bad thinking, or why the State Department was mad at the Treasury Department, and vice versa, he more than compensates with the nontechnical fluency of his economic narrative and the engrossing portraits of his two principal characters.

Who was the more disagreeable, it’s hard to say. White, a senior American Treasury official, freelanced as a Soviet spy. His personal style was incivility. Keynes, among the first of the modern celebrity economists, devoted himself to promoting schemes to aggrandize state power and wangle dollars for the broke British exchequer. His personal style was condescension.

Read the full review here.

 

Why Americans Hate the Media and How It Matters- Winner of Goldsmith Book Prize

2-13 whyAmericanshateCongratulations to Jonathan M. Ladd whose book, Why Americans Hate the Media and How it Matters, was recently selected as the winner of the 2013 Goldsmith Book Prize in the Academic Category!

“The Goldsmith Book Prize is awarded to the trade and academic book published in the United States in the last 24 months that best fulfills the objective of improving democratic governance through an examination of the intersection between the media, politics and public policy.

The Goldsmith Book Prizes honor the best academic and trade books of the year in the field of media, politics and public policy. The Prizes are underwritten by an annual gift from the Goldsmith Fund of the Greenfield Foundation. The authors will be honored at the Goldsmith Awards Ceremony at Harvard’s Kennedy School on March 5, 2013.”

For more information about the award, and the full list of finalists and winners, click here.