MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewLeonard doesn’t have much time for formal economics. He plays fast and loose with terminology and economic logic. But we get his point and it is a good one. This has been an era of loose money and the benefits have been very unevenly distributed ... Rather than economics, Leonard’s preferred idioms are the standard story lines and characters of American populism. The Lords of Easy Money spins a tale of innocence betrayed that reads like an update of The Wizard of Oz ... The office politics of the Fed are well captured by Leonard, as is the intimidating physical setting...But all too often the treatment seems trite. Leonard makes much of Hoenig’s humble background. But much the same can be said of Bernanke and Yellen. If they favored monetary expansion it wasn’t out of any inherited affinity for Wall Street. Conversely, Powell is no doubt wealthy, but as Fed chair he has been more open to issues of social justice than any predecessor. The context of 2020 and Black Lives Matter demanded no less ... It would no doubt help if onetime central bankers, rather than cycling in and out of private finance, spoke out seriously in favor of reform. They would be doing the public a service if they spelled out the way that their hands were forced by the current incestuous intertwining of public debt markets with hedge funds and the like. Ultimately, however, it is politics that must grasp the nettle of change ... In the current dispensation, it may be flattering for central bankers to be cast as maestros, but in practice they are less the lords of easy money than its functionaries.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewYergin’s selection follows the contours of the fossil fuel economy, as seen from the point of view of the major oil and gas suppliers...But what about the rest? If energy is the theme, why does Yergin concentrate only on the producers? Oil and gas are worthless without demand. But the world’s big consumers — India, Europe and Japan — barely figure in his book ... No less striking is Yergin’s treatment, or rather nontreatment, of the United States. One might expect him to start with the strategies of the American oil majors. But Exxon and Chevron play almost no part in the narrative. Yergin’s main American subjects are the shale frackers. But they are small fry. They matter as a herd, not as individuals. They have changed world markets by vastly increasing quantity and flexibility of supply. This encouraged some American strategists to talk of “energy dominance.” But if that is a map, it has turned out to be utterly misleading. Grand visions for the export of the frackers’ liquefied natural gas have run up against the harsh realities of market competition. No big producer, not even Russia or Saudi Arabia, any longer controls the market. What this multiplicity of sources gives Washington is not dominance but flexibility. That is only of value if you know how to use it. And on American strategy Yergin is surprisingly silent ... Perhaps Yergin assumes that we have that map in our heads. Perhaps he wants to spare us the embarrassment of reviewing the shambles of Washington’s grand strategy since the war on terror. Perhaps he himself is conflicted, torn by America’s painful polarization. In the era of Trump there is not one American map. Yergin’s own position seems uncertain. He seems at odds with the recent turn against China. But he does not elaborate an alternative. On Russia, he merely notes that it has become a hot-button issue ... The result is a history without a center. A collage in which pigheaded Texan oil men, aspiring tech whizzes, Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi — dead in a drain pipe — Xi Jinping and his guy-pal Vladimir Putin, Saudi dynasts and vast arctic gas plants pass in review. The chronology is similarly helter-skelter. One minute we are pitching ideas to Elon Musk in Silicon Valley, the next we are back in 1916 peering over the shoulder of the diplomats who carved up the Ottoman Empire. At times it feels as if we are being whirled through a remix of the greatest hits from The Prize ... No less jarring is the alternation of voices. Here is Yergin the master storyteller transporting us to the Saudi desert in the late 1930s. And there is Yergin transcribing bullet points on the future of auto-tech. At times the juxtapositions are so disorienting that they evoke surreal associations ... If The Prize was an epic, The New Map is a miscellany ... might best be thought of as the narrative elaboration of a scenario planning exercise, a collection of unusually well-written backgrounders for managerial role-play ... Maybe it is wrong, therefore, to complain about the lack of narrative coherence. What Yergin is doing is holding up a mirror in which we see ourselves, the disillusioned survivors of the end-of-history moment, torn between the pros and cons of Uber, and vague worries about such problems as the historic impasse of Shia-Sunni relations or Putin’s revanchism. Yergin leaves it up to us to make what we will of his panorama. He is not going to do that work for us ... Given the timeline that we face, this blithe acceptance of indecision is a road map for catastrophe.
MixedThe Guardian[Trentmann] has delivered a monumental study, sweeping from Renaissance Europe to the burgeoning middle class of modern-day India, by way of 19th-century London, Berlin, Paris, Shanghai and pre- and postcolonial Africa. Trentmann’s message is subtle and comes in different shades across many chapters. But fundamentally, his aim is to undercut conventional political and cultural critiques of consumer society ... Holding both crude sociology and simplistic economics at arm’s length, Trentmann paints a rich picture of the variegated human impulses that have impelled the history of consumption ... The sheer breadth of Trentmann’s panorama is impressive and no one can fail to learn from it. But the scale of the narrative cannot hide the fact that it is riven by a fundamental contradiction. After he has assured the reader over hundreds of pages about the complexity and multivalence of consumer culture and politics, the conclusion strikes a very different note.