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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

July 22, 2014 at 10:08 AM

A trio of summer business reading

My list of business books to take to the beach or vacation this summer is short but full of gems.

Beth Macy’s Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local and Helped Save an American Town is the most stirring book about business since Richard Preston’s 1992 American Steel. The backdrop: more than 300,000 American jobs lost in the Virginia and North Carolina furniture industry because of cheap exports from Asia, especially China. The damage was compounded because it hit small factory towns that had nothing to fall back on. And Macy uses this experience to illuminate the larger loss of American manufacturing jobs nationwide, the loss of an economy that produces things rather than financial hustles. The hero of Macy’s story is the colorful John Bassett III, who successfully won anti-dumping duties against China and saved 700 jobs. The tale of how he did it, and the obstacles he faced, is must reading.

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. Yes, read it. The French economist has gone deeper and more authoritatively than anyone in exposing the reality of the worst inequality since the Gilded Age and delving into its causes. Piketty appears to be riffing off Karl Marx, but as Noah Millman writes, he is actually “the anti-Marx.” Increasing concentration of wealth in fewer hands, along with the rising financialization of the economy, is bad for capitalism and democracy. The book is big enough to kill a small pet if you accidentally drop it. But while parts of it are wonkish, he generally writes with an accessible brio. I’m not sure we need the wealth tax he proposes, when a combination of a return to progressive taxation and new taxes on transactions, carried interest and carbon would do the trick. So would a return to Theodore Roosevelt-style antitrust enforcement.

I was interested to read that Bill Gates’ favorite business book of all time is Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales From the World of Wall Street, a compilation of New Yorker columns by John Brooks published in 1969. I read it more than 20 years ago — around the time Warren Buffett sent Gates a copy — and it is definitely worth your time. It remains business journalism at its best, even if the world he chronicles has drastically changed. Thanks to Gates’ promotion, Adventures is back as an e-book from the publisher Open Road. Gee, maybe I could get BillG to read my mysteries?


Tuesday Reading: Ranking the best company 401(k) plans | Bloomberg


Today’s Econ Haiku:

The state’s biggest fire

Tell me climate change won’t cost

Tell me another




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