China’s growing ability in developing massive infrastructure has helped the country to modernize its rail, port and road network. In the last five decades, China has successfully built a number of large infrastructure projects at home and now increasingly in other countries as well.
In High Speed Empire, author and journalist Will Doig explains with insightful examples how China has mastered several related technologies to become a construction super power. However, China is also mixing construction projects with its strategic aim of dominating in Asia and Africa.
The One Belt One Road initiative labeled by the Chinese government mostly as a commercial and economic objective is increasingly perceived as China’s way of overpowering trade partners and neighbors. Financed generously by the Chinese government, most of these projects are designed to meet the needs of the country’s economic interest, and not conceived with the objective to develop partnering countries.
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Most industries have evolved from the reliance on ethnic trading networks that once dominated, including grain, cotton and gold marketplaces. However, in the diamond and gem industries these networks continue to dominate and thrive to date.
Once the domain of a handful of Jewish families in Tel Aviv, New York City, Antwerp and London, diamond trading is increasingly challenged by two communities based in Gujarat, India. Palanpuri and Kathiawadi communities have taken the lion share of these industries, and virtually every diamond sold in the U.S. has passed through Surat or Mumbai in India.
In Stateless Commerce, author and professor Barak D. Richman explores how ethnic trading networks function as well as why they still persist in the diamond industry. Professor Richman reviews the evolution of diamond trading networks in the last three decades, offering insights based on field work on three continents. The book sheds light on how these networks fulfil the role that traditional contracts and court system have failed to play when it comes to governance and enforcing the terms of deals.
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In the last five decades, Cuba has struggled to develop a diversified and growing economy in an attempt to lift living standards. With an average daily income of only one dollar, most Cuban citizens are barely getting by even after decades of reforms.
In 2008, expectations ran high when Raul Castro inherited the top office in the country. But the opening of the Cuban economy has created a two-tier currency and several distortions and benefits that are limited to a select few. In this situation of pervasive poverty, the government relies on remittances and sending workers abroad as a primary source of foreign exchange.
Professor Jorge I. Domínguez edits a series of essays in The Cuban Economy in a New Era, highlighting the challenges and opportunities faced by newly-appointed President Miguel Diaz-Canel. Communist leaders continue to strangle the economy, limiting the entrepreneurial energies of its people and operating with the philosophy that prosperity and openness will throw the regime out of power.
Will the new economic era in Cuba lead to better allocation of resources, Internet access for the masses and a diversified economy so that the island nation’s 11-million population can enjoy a standard of living that they are capable of?
Professor Domínguez (on administrative leave) is Antonio Madero Professor for the Study of Mexico in the Department of Government at Harvard University, Faculty Associate of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. His research focuses on the domestic and international politics of Latin American countries.
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As the digital era grinds on and the Internet takes over more of our daily life’s activities, something seems to be missing. The technology that was supposed to liberate us from the drudgery of life has become a distraction, which in turn prevents us from enjoying our solitude or companionship.
In an engrossing collection of insightful examples, David Sax depicts how people are increasingly looking for ways to move away from that ubiquitous screen. The screen that has become a veil between ourselves and our friends and family.
In Revenge of Analog, Sax takes readers from one relevant example to another, collecting evidence why and how younger generations are discovering the joy of analog. The concept of digital anything, from audio to video to games, is rooted in offering the ease of use and a vast choice. Still, what this standardized electronic experience lacks is the engagement of playing a vinyl record or experiencing with an imperfect but rewarding Polaroid film.
Make no mistake, the users of these analog devices are not nostalgic-harking senior citizens or Luddites. They are, in fact, in their prime teens or twenties. For the first time they hear the pure sound, see fascinating films, and begin to interact with others while playing board games.
In this fascinating book, Sax explains why newspaper reading is more rewarding than following the news online, partially because it has a beginning and finality that offers a sense of satisfaction. Something that the endless spooling on the Internet can and will never offer.
Add to this the sense of ownership, the ritual of finding and obtaining a tangible object of delight, and it is no wonder why imagination drives creativity and innovation that cannot be codified.
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The global economic crisis in 2007 had its origin in the U.S. housing market, but very few of us know the role played by courts and judges in cascading this crisis to a global proportion.
While battling with the largest banks, three ordinary Americans faced with the prospect of losing their homes helped to uncover a foreclosure fraud that banks never owed up to. Wall Street bankers used securitization to connect global investors with the U.S. home borrowers, transforming in the process banks to loan originators and traders. Naturally, bankers were happy to pass on the loans and mortgages as hot potatoes while collecting fees with the connivance of rating agencies.
For nearly three hundred years, we had preserved the integrity of the home title and the clear ownership claim. However, the securitization process succeeded in destroying that bedrock of free market economy in less than a decade. As a result, more than eight million home titles cannot be traced, and the process is still fraught with inaccuracies and fraud as judges are unwilling to enforce the laws on the books.
David Dayen skillfully narrates with eye-popping details how three individual home owners uncovered the foreclosure fraud while fighting losing battles with the big banks. To make matters worse, neither regulators nor government agencies, judges or local law enforcement officers were willing to help these struggling home owners. Whenever local regulators were getting close to uncovering the fraud, they were quickly silenced by lawmakers in Florida, California, Nevada, and in Washington.
Dayen shines much needed light on the two-tier accountability system under which our judges enforce selective laws, as well as how banks can err and get away with it but a borrower cannot. At the peak of the crisis, judges were foreclosing a house by the minute, yet neither the bank nor the mortgage servicer could prove if they ever had the legitimate claim on the house.
Be prepared to be angrier as you thumb through the travails of these three families, whose lives are being shattered by the foreclosure crisis. And if you think this can never happen to you, think again.
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In less than a decade, the United States rose to the top of oil producing nations, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia. Much of this boom is driven by the discovery of shale oil and the introduction of the hydraulic fracturing process, so much so that nearly 9 out of 10 oil and gas wells in the country use fracking. North Dakota’s Bakken region, which is roughly the size of Delaware, has accounted for more than 40 percent of the growth in U.S. oil production.
Yet, not all is well and very little is said about the dark side of these oil boom towns. Hydraulic fracturing relies on injecting water with different chemicals that contaminate deep water wells, directly affecting the water supply of more than 15 million people.
Award-winning author Blaire Briody gives a first-person account of life and conditions in Williston, which located on the western edge of North Dakota, at the heart of the oil boom. In this story about the sociology of the modern day gold rush, Briody informs about mineral rights severed from surface rights in a state that is putting farmers living on the property in direct conflict with oil drillers.
Harsh and unpredictable weather conditions, loneliness, long work hours and subhuman living conditions await those attracted to the oil boom in the hope of riches. Briody focuses on the lives of migrant workers who were already struggling as blue collar workers before they arrive in this oil town to bear the brunt of oil field injuries, market volatility and uncertainty due to oil price collapses. Briody’s personal accounts of these oil workers give us an up-close-and-personal look at individuals who are often running away from issues at home only to be gripped by another set of serious problems.
The New Wild West was the 2016 finalist for the Lukas Work-in-Progress Award from Columbia Journalism School and Harvard’s Nieman Foundation. Additionally, Briody received the Richard J. Margolis Award for social justice reporting in 2014.
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Buying a car can be a gut-wrenching experience with so many models and options to choose from. And that is well before price negotiations have even started. For decades, dealers have been accustomed to setting the right price at the right time. However, dictating terms of negotiations is now under a full-blown attack in the new reality of consumers empowered by the Internet.
Dale Pollak lays out a straightforward and convincing overview of what dealers are facing now and how these newly empowered customers are ratcheting down margins. The authors provide a backdrop of how a decades-old symbiotic relationship between dealers and auto makers is coming under increasing strain as both parties are struggling to keep their business models intact.
Increasingly, consumers are shopping for cars online, stopping at the dealer only to collect cars – a process that is invetably forcing more and more dealers to operate on razor thin margins, mostly relying on servicing and repair revenues. Those who succeed actually do so through increased levels of efficiency rather than through selling more vehicles.
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Before the housing crisis erupted in late 2007, there was a decade-long period of subprime lending targeted at the most vulnerable members of society. The elderly, those facing financial difficulties, and families in transition were forced to pay significantly higher borrowing costs to compensate for their poor credit rating scores.
However, the subprime mortgage lending gathered momentum in the late 90s after Wall Street streamlined the securitization process, and provided a gusher of capital to the non-bank financial companies that operated outside the purview of financial regulators.
With a sharp escalation in the availability of capital, all that subprime lenders had to do was to find borrowers and sell loans back to Wall Street. Bankers worked overtime to mint new securities from these loans and sell for a fee to unsuspecting global investors. Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, among others, provided ample capital through their partners or subsidiaries, repackaging these loans to investors and earning hefty fees in the process. The only problem was that the borrowers did not have a clue what they were getting into—something that in many cases was an outright fraud or deception.
In The Monster, award-winning reporter and author Michael W. Hudson narrates a fascinating web of deception and collusion between politicians and subprime lenders while regulators looked the other way. The predatory lending has its origin in the rush to find a customer at any cost in order to sell the loans immediately to investors with very little consequences.
In this remorseless race lenders had only one goal in mind: keep borrowers in debt forever and refinance their customers again and again while financial regulators focused on the “safety and soundness” of lending institutions and not how they treated their customers. During the peak years between 2004 and 2006, subprime lenders were raising and selling more than $700 billion dollars of loans a year before the faulty model collapsed under the heavy weight of mounting loan defaults.
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Not only has coffee-drinking gained the status of a morning ritual for most Americans, but admirers of the invigorating beverage are increasingly opting for gourmet variety. Whether at home or in the office, coffee machines are ubiquitous, and their latest version has, in fact, arrived home via office.
In Coffee for One, author and reporter KJ Fallon chronicles the rise of single-serve machines and the fierce competition between companies and entrepreneurs battling for supremacy in offices and in retail stores. While expensive single-serve machines have been around for nearly three decades, the rapid growth in Silicon Valley provided a new and growing market for these appliances.
Keurig was the first to spot and ride the rising office demand for the machine, solving many technical challenges along the way in lowering the cost. Along with Keurig, Nestle, Kraft, and Sara Lee battled to gain the attention of retail customers, each with its own differing strategies. However, in the end it was Keurig that led the market with a unique approach.
Although the spectacular rise of Keurig rivals the success of iPhone device made by Apple, Inc in the last two decades, many still fail to realize the impact the single-serve coffee brewer has had on our lives.
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Matchmakers have been around since the dawn of time, but in recent years they have turbocharged their business growth leveraging all the latest technologies.
Matchmakers, marketplace operators or platform developers are all focused on connecting demand with supply, offering access to two groups and often subsidizing one to ignite the business. OpenTable, Uber, Amazon Marketplace, GrubHub are just some of these successful matchmakers.
Richard Schmalensee and David S. Evands, authors of Matchmakers: The New Economics of Multisided Platforms, give a systematic account of multisided markets with a thorough explanation of deeply rooted historic origins where appropriate. In this easy-to-read book, the two distinguished economic advisers compile several examples of successful marketplace operators to illustrate how startups can learn from these businesses and boost their own chances of success.
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