1. Capital in the Twenty-First Century
Harvard University Press
Has any business book been fussed over more and read less than Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by French economist Thomas Piketty? The book’s main premise—that global inequality is baked into capitalism and will inevitably worsen unless stern measures are taken—has been embraced by some and rejected by others. If it’s research you want, this is your book. Piketty assembles data galore to track the evolution of inequality since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Flowing out of this data is a prediction that wealth grows faster than economic output, a concept he captures in the expression r > g (where r is the rate of return on capital and g is the economic growth rate). Because there are no natural forces pushing against the steady concentration of wealth, he says, only high growth or government intervention can be counted on to keep income inequality from creating political instability. Out of this analysis flows a policy recommendation of a global tax on wealth. Don’t hold your breath.
10. Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought
Shelter Harbor Press
In addition to being a psychologist and social worker, every successful financial advisor is a philosopher in the sense that he or she assists their clients in a search for meaning. This richly illustrated book should be in every advisor’s reception area. Better conversations will result when clients merely skim it, for embedded in these pages are the fundamental questions that most clients grapple with: What should I do? (Ethics) What is real? (Metaphysics) What can be known? (Epistemology) What is allowed and disallowed? (Politics) What can life be like? (Aesthetics) The book’s relaxed and elegant format allows the reader to sample 100 milestones in the history of philosophy. If you need a wall poster, the book includes a Timeline History of Philosophy. This really is a splendid book, and at $24.95 it’s a much better bargain than a subscription to Barron’s, Kiplinger’s, or whatever financial periodical you stack in your reception area.
6. Think Like a Freak
Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Since Malcolm Gladwell hasn’t published a book this year, the next best thing for captivating storytelling with a surprise twist is a book from the team that gave us the Freakonomics franchise. The previous two books in the series used stories to demonstrate how almost every human dynamic can be profitably understood as economic interactions informed by self-interest and incentives. In the latest book, the team continues the storytelling, this time aiming to teach us to think as they do—as pitiless economists operating outside the box. Why, for example, do email scammers proudly claim to be from Nigeria (whether they are or not), when everyone by now equates Nigeria with the height of scamdom? The surprising answer is here. Why does the rock band Van Halen’s contract with promoters insist on no brown M&Ms? Turns out it’s not all excess and vanity. Thinking like a freak, the book suggests, starts with six simple steps. Here’s a sample: You can’t think outside the box if your moral compass circumscribes your thinking; learn to say “I don’t know” more often; appreciate the upside of quitting. This short book offers us a new way to understand why the world works as it does. That said, I think this should be the final offering from the Freakonomics franchise, lest it wear out its welcome.