2023 – favorite books, articles, videos, and exhibitions

Journal Article – Carter C. Price and Kathryn A. Edwards, “Trends in Income From 1975 to 2018” (RAND Corporation, September 14, 2020), https://www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/WRA516-1.html.

This is by far the most important single read of the year. Price and Edwards asked a question, one that they describe as “counterfactual”, what would American incomes have looked like over the period 1979 to 2019 if the income distribution trends that characterized the period from the end of WWII to 1978 had persisted?? Essentially, we discover that $47 trillion was transferred from the bottom 90% of the population to the top 10%, though especially to the top 1% and 0.1% over this 40-year period. For example, if you were at the 25th percentile of the population in 2018, you would have earned $61,000 per year instead of the $33,000 you actually took home.

I won’t torture you here. Look at any earlier posts: $47 Trillion – the ripoff by the rich and corporations – in two charts – maybe a few more…. and  What is $47 trillion – 47,000,000,000,000 – a comparative exploration?

Evolutionary Psychology Course – University of British Columbia, Prof. Azim Shariff

Here is a link to the first lecture: Lecture 1.1: Human History: The First Four Billion Years. The lecture opens with a history of the earth from its beginnings 4.5 billion years ago, displayed within the frame of a 24-hour day. Our species appears in the last 4 seconds. Our life as mass societies over the past 10,000 years is the last 1/5th of the last second of the day.

at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid. Visited in October 2023. This was probably the largest exhibition of Shahn’s work in many decades. Very good explanatory signage about his politics, the Depression, and more.

The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti by Ben Shahn 1931–1932 without permission from Whitney Museum of American Art website


Street Scene Lancaster Ohio by Ben Shahn, August 1938 printed 1978 without permission from MFA Houston website

Art Exhibit –Art for the Millions: American Culture and Politics in the 1930s

at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC. Visited early December 2023.

The 1930s was a decade of political and social upheaval in the United States, and the art and visual culture of the time reflected the unsettled environment. Americans searched for their cultural identity during the Great Depression, a period marked by divisive politics, threats to democracy, and intensified social activism, including a powerful labor movement.

Fortune Magazine cover June 1937 – photo by MMO


Book – William Lazonick, Investing in Innovation: Confronting Predatory Value Extraction in the U.S. Corporation, Cambridge Elements: Corporate Governance (Cambridge U. Press, 2023)

Bill Lazonick has made lots of contributions to our understanding of corporate behavior and the economy more generally. This brief book summarizes much of his work on the financialization of corporations. That is the shift from producing goods and services to the extraction of as much money as possible as quickly as possible to be the central objective of corporations. The book reveals that Apple, the tech favorite for many, has used $387 billion of its profits over the last five years to buy back its own stock. This vastly increased the wealth of its executives and shareholders like Warren Buffet and Al Gore, enviro-guru and former VP. With that kind of capital at hand, Apple could have easily built a new chip factory here in the US. Laconic eviscerates the mythology of Maximizing Shareholder Value.

Provost Lecture: Charles Mills – Liberalism and Racial Justice

This lecture from eleven years ago is a gem. Provost Lecture: Charles Mills – Liberalism and Racial Justice. A critique of The Enlightenment with views from feminism and racial justice. Mills is a delightful lecturer. You can also take a look at his earlier book: Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract, 1st edition (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999).

Book – Orlando Figes, The Whisperers : Private Life in Stalin’s Russia (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Co., 2008)

A view of Stalin’s Russia that I found startling. Essentially, it is an effort to undermine the family unit and replace it with a more collective approach. Also, the shaming of those whose relatives had been swept up in Stalin’s purges of the late 1920s and 1930s.

Podcast: Take the Money and Run for Office

This 2012 This American Life podcast is well-worth a listen.  Our national politicians spend more time dialing for dollars than legislating.

Book – Brendan Ballou, Plunder: Private Equity’s Plan to Pillage America (New York: PublicAffairs, 2023).

The shift from production to extraction is one of the most important changes in our economy over the past 40 years. Private Equity firms like Blackrock, KKR, and more have built financial empires by taking target companies through the following strategies:

  • Debt – load up the acquired company with lots of debt that it must pay back out of operating funds.
  • Leasebacks – sell off assets and lease them back to the acquired company. PE firms gains the value of the assets while the acquired firm is further burdened with lease payments
  • Dividend Recaps – use part of the borrowed money to pay a dividend to the owner, the PE firm. For example, Blackstone extracted $200 million in 2020 from Apria Health using borrowed money.
  • Operational Efficiencies – Layoffs, Price Hikes, and Quality Cuts
  • Strategic Bankruptcies
  • Tax Avoidance
  • Legal structures designed to shield PE from liabilities and responsibilities.
  • Perverse incentives for managers of acquired companies

Lecture – Humans: The Cooking Ape, a lecture by Richard Wrangham

A Leakey Foundation lecture from 2013. Some of our earlier hominid ancestors learned to cook their food. This drove enormous changes in our physical features and societies.