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November 06, 2011

Sunday Book Thread

PSA: Set your clocks back an hour, kids -- we're off Daylight Savings Time.

On rockmom's recommendation, I am reading All The Devils Are Here on my Kindle. It's an account of all the government regulations, banking mistakes, and unanticipated securities side-effects that led to the 2008 financial crash. So far it's nothing I didn't already know, but it is a valuable weapon against people who say that the government had nothing to do with the meltdown -- Fannie and Freddie were right at the epicenter of the mess. It's well worth a read, and I recommend it to anyone who wants a capsule history of the years leading up to the crash. (It's also a pretty good primer on how the staid boring old mortgage became a weapon of mass destruction.)

I'm also reading Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy. There's a lot of teeth-gnashing in the public right now about how automation rather than foreign competition is killing may jobs (in both low-skill and high-skill professions). I'm not sure I buy it completely, but the increasing computerization and automation of many jobs does present a challenge for the modern economy. If our GDP can grow at, say, a 5% clip a year while at the same time employing fewer people...what do we do with the millions of unemployed people? It's a huge cultural, political, and sociological problem...and since it's likely to be a structural (and accelerating) process, it may be years or even decades before we find a way to deal with it. It also places even further pressures on our unsustainable welfare-state, and will accelerate the insolvency of programs like SSDI, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. (If people are unemployed, the tax contributed by the employee and employer never gets paid.) I've known people who went their whole lives without ever holding a paying job, and I suspect that story will become more common in the years to come.

On the e-reader front, Amazon is now a library as well as a bookstore: you can borrow books directly from Amazon if you are a Prime member and have a Kindle . (And only if you have a Kindle hardware reader; this won't work with just Kindle software on an iPad or PC.) It's meant as a perq for existing customers rather than a feature to draw casual readers in, but's cool. My $80 per year Prime membership just keeps paying dividends. It was worth it for the free shipping alone; all the extra bennies make it an absolute steal.

Barnes and Noble isn't standing still: they're updating their color Nook tablet to be more competitive with the upcoming Kindle Fire. Competition is good, and the new Nook looks like a worthy competitor. Lots of tech geeks sniff at these small color tablets because they're not technologically cutting-edge, but I don't think that's all that big a deal. If you think of these devices as mere "windows" onto a vendor's digital marketplace, they do fine. They're meant to be cheap ways to consume digital content, not to be general-purpose computing devices as the iPad is.

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posted by Monty at 09:09 AM

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