Results tagged “Book Reviews”

December 16, 2013

Waterstone SJ blog Picture.jpgBy Associate Dean Michael Waterstone

This book review originally appeared in the Daily Journal.

Ideas. Collaboration. Drive. In the world we live in, these intangible resources can be the most valuable assets a business has. In the two professional worlds with which I am most familiar, law practice and legal academia, this is certainly the case. Law firms routinely raid one another, both for talent and for books of business (and potential for future business). At law schools, we regularly look to other faculties to see whose talents in the classroom, as scholars, and as administrators would benefit our students, and try to recruit those faculty members to join our ranks. And we expect that other schools will do the same to us. Even more than in the legal arena, the competition between technology companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Apple is even fiercer. All of these companies fight vigorously with one another for the best talent, and routinely acquire (or as it is now known, acq-hire) entire start-ups, only to discard the actual product but keep the teams, founders and engineers.

Professor Orly Lobel's important new book, Talent Wants to Be Free: Why We Should Learn to Love Leaks, Raids, and Free Riding addresses what role business and government should play in the talent wars, not just in the legal profession but across industries. Combining insights from law, economics, psychology and business, and with the benefit of experimental studies, Lobel offers a powerful critique of our dated ways of thinking about competition, which center around command and control of human capital. But she also offers a hopeful vision of how law and business can foster innovation and the competitive edge necessary for our country's success in a new and more challenging global environment.

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September 12, 2013

Atik_new_SJ.jpgBy Professor Jeffery Atik

This post originally appeared on Attravero: Jeff Atik's Commentary on International Banking and Finance.

Pity Joe Studwell. He has written a very intelligent, very thoughtful book. You might not agree with much of it; I have my doubts about his recipe. But there is little doubt what the book is: an exercise in economic history, with a focus on a peculiar developmental pathway followed by a few highly successful (generally northern) east Asian countries and not followed by certain (largely southern) east Asian countries. And geography has nothing to do with these diverging outcomes.

So poor Studwell delivers this intelligent book to his editor - one imagines - who decides it needs a snazzy title. Regardless of whether the title describes Studwell's book. Studwell writes about 'How Certain Asian Countries Developed' - not about 'How Asia Works'. He has very little to say in How Asia Works about how any of Asia works today - again, he is an economic historian. And he makes no claim within the book's pages that Asia is 'the World's most dynamic region.' Poor Studwell.

He can take comfort from having written a provocative book, which challenges much of the prevailing orthodoxy in developmental economics. And he's obviously willing to horrify both left and right - praising Robin Hood-esque land reform (but not agricultural collectivization), autocratic leaders who impose export discipline on their cronies, and the elegant effectiveness of capital controls.

Studwell examines the East Asian development successes (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China) and the laggards (Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines). The winning path, according to Studwell, involves three distinct phases ("one, two, three," he calls these in his concluding chapter). These three phases are a recipe for developmental success, they form the "same stretch of the river" that poor countries must navigate.

The first stage requires equitable land distribution to absorb labor and capture the productivity gains associated with moving to garden-style agriculture by small family landowners. The magic here is that everyone works - and most start at the same base. Garden intensity agriculture yields very low returns on labor but enhanced returns on land - it permits the accumulation of small surpluses that can be used to fund imports of necessary technology.

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September 5, 2013

By Professor Jeffery Atik

It feels odd to be composing this review of Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan's The Org in the days following Ronald Coase's passing. Coase was an unusually creative and influential thinker - one who identified some basic truths of organizational life that had not been generally recognized: the kind of simple things that, once pointed out, cannot fail to be seen.
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Coase and the work that followed Coase form much of the subject matter of The Org, a book-length meditation by Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan on the science of the organization. Indeed, Fisman and Sullivan launch the book with the story behind Coase's posing of the grand question: "Why orgs?" Young Coase travels to Chicago, meets with managers, and reads the Chicago phone book. He is struck by the range of scale and activities pursued by the firms he finds. Why then, asks Coase (and ask Fisman and Sullivan), are some activities conducted within firms and others between firms (that is, via the market)? Coase's answer (transaction costs) may or may not be correct ('transaction costs' always seemed to me to be a convenient label for a still elusive explanation, almost a tautology); what is important is the question.

Organizations are mysterious. We fit them on like suits of clothing - and instinctively know how to push and pull their levers. Fisman and Sullivan focus on what happens within the firm - how organizations compel human agents (because that's what we are) to pursue organizational goals. The resort to organization is by and large a given. At this point, they collect the principal/agent mysteries that form much of the challenge to understanding how firms work. Fisman and Sullivan do not confine themselves to business organizations in The Org - indeed their best coverage involves organizations that are not business firms: the Baltimore police department, Methodist churches and the military.

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August 20, 2013

Atik_new_SJ.jpgBy Professor Jeffery Atik

Moisés Naím sees the decline of power across many institutions. He is at times wistful, at times celebratory in his reaction to power's decay. But he isn't entirely clear why we should care about the passing of power. The powerful do care; Naím has many powerful friends who lament power's loss of magic. Popes, pols and pundits just don't get the respect their predecessors received; their authority is more circumscribed, more readily challenged (the same decline is noted by law professors). But for the greater number of us, who are in more settings objects of the power of others than detainers of power, the end of power is not a self-evident cause for concern.

A decline in social organization is a cause for concern - and to the degree the phenomena described in The End of Power signal a loss of capacity for coordination, Naím's book is more than an indulgence of ambivalent nostalgia. Naím is careful with his definition of power: power is the ability of some few - the powerful - to direct the actions of others. And, he asserts, there are four means by which power is exerted: muscle (force), code (tradition), pitch (persuasion), and reward (incentive).

Naím is a superachiever who has spent his life at or close to the top. He was a prominent politician in Venezuela - and since has become a heralded writer in the United States. As such, his personal prescription, given toward the end of The End of Power, is quite surprising. Get off the elevator, Naím urges. And by this he calls for an abandonment of mindless ambition and more; elevator thinking is the focus on rank and hierarchy, which promotes power as an end in itself.

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July 25, 2013

Levenson2.jpgProfessor Laurie Levenson recently reviewed Rebels at the Bar: The Fascinating, Forgotten Stories of America's First Women Lawyers in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Excerpt:

RebelsThe book jacket may say it all. Three of the most prominent women scholars of our time, Stanford's Deborah Rhode (Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law) and Barbara Babcock (Judge John Crown Professor of Law), and Yale's Linda Greenhouse (Knight Distinguished Journalist in Residence and Joseph M. Goldstein Senior Fellow at Yale Law School), describe Jill Norgren's, Rebels at the Bar: The Fascinating, Forgotten Stories of America's First Women Lawyers, as providing "detail and lively prose," told "with awe and gratitude," and a tribute to "bold, brave women." Yet, that is not the real story. The real story is told by the titles of each of these modern women legal luminaries. Each holds a prestigious title at a prestigious law school in the name of -- prestigious men.

Rebels at the Bar describes the struggles of a handful of women who sought to break the gender barrier for women becoming lawyers in the 19th century. Who were these women and what prompted them to fight the good fight? How did they manage to "lean in" when there were no harnesses to hold them? Norgren tells the story of how they clawed their way into the legal profession -- they did not have it easy. While today's women lawyers still struggle for equality, there is no doubt that our path was made possible by the sacrifices of these pioneers. They started the journey for us. The least we can do is pay attention to the lessons they learned.

Read the full review.

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July 24, 2013

By Professor Jeffery Atik

This review is cross-posted from Jeff Atik's blog, Attraverso

From start to finish of this superb book, I want Mariana Mazzucato to be right. In The Entrepreneurial State, Mazzucato suggests that the state has had a much more powerful role in stimulating innovation that the dominant narrative admits. The state pushes the key breakthroughs; private firms enter the game quite late (though they often capture an inordinate amount of the social gains from innovation).

Mazzucato.jpgMazzucato's book is timely (indeed, it has had a considerable impact in Brussels), as countries shift away from austerity policies and look towards Keynesian-style spending to get their economies moving. Keynes famously suggested burying a treasure in an abandoned mine as a make-work project (his point, of course, was not to endorse pointless exercise; rather, he meant to show that pure make-work could act as a stimulus). Mazzucato argues countries can improve on Keynes by spending on state entrepreneurship. In a best-case outcome, state-sponsored innovation will shock the economy back to expansion and will lead to frontier-shifting welfare gains.

And maybe it would - if the political class could be convinced by Mazzucato's account of the hidden state-centric nature of innovation. Her recent historic examples involve pharmaceuticals and information technologies. The private drug development narrative is deliberately cultivated by Big Pharma: bold firms undertake massive R&D in their laboratories, to be rewarded (in the event of success) by patent monopolies. Big Pharma asks to be 'left alone' by the State: no tort liability and quick market approvals are the best policies. In fact, Mazzucato observes, it is the state that undertakes the greatest risks in developing new approaches and active agents, through public funding (such as NIH grants in the United States) of medical research. Left to their own devices, Big Pharma would undertake little research; indeed, the current trend among large pharmaceutical firms is to reduce R&D expenditure and to look to smaller, research-oriented firms to do later-stage development work, then in-licensing or acquiring fairly proven projects. But without the substrate of state-funded science, even this system would grind to a half.

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July 15, 2013

By Professor Jeffery Atik

This review was originally posted on Jeff Atik's Blog, Attraverso.

The civilized world is falling apart in Niall Ferguson's view. The world of Ferguson's concern comprises the United Kingdom and the United States, which (in sequence) have enjoyed long periods at the top. In The Great Degeneration, Ferguson signals the decay afflicting our central and defining institutions. Ferguson mixes nostalgia with alarm: nothing is as it was. Unlike Acemoglu and Robinson, who give an institutional account of why poor countries remain poor in Why Nations Fail (reviewed here), Ferguson tells us why great nations decay, why ours is degenerating.

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Although Ferguson distances himself from those who give a purely cultural account for the rise of British and American prominence, he celebrates the particular constellation of democracy, capitalism, rule-of-law and voluntarism found nowhere else. A sequence of accidents may have created our cheerful and wealthy societies. The reduction in the Great Divergence seems to concern Ferguson most: the ratio of our well-being to that enjoyed by the rest of the world (as if a more equitable distribution were a bad thing).

If great (though quirky) institutions served us in the past, their present 'degeneration' is a cause for concern. Ferguson divides The Great Degeneration into four short essays, each devoted to an institutional category displaying distinctly Anglo-American characteristics. These are democracy, capitalism, rule-of-law and a civil society marked by voluntarism. The book is a write-up of a series of lectures Ferguson presented on the BBC, summarizing and synthesizing his earlier work. Ferguson's argues that institutions and not culture were the central determinants of the Great Divergence. Yet he also sees the 'intergenerational partnership,' the awareness and the willingness to act publicly on behalf of future generations, as foundational. The better democracy we practiced in the past was wiser; perhaps we didn't think about our neighbor, but we certainly thought about our grandchildren. (Fear not - the last thing Ferguson will address is climate change - he supposedly believes it a hoax.)

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July 1, 2013

By Professor Jeffery Atik

This review was originally posted on Jeffery Atik's Blog Attraverso.

The Buy Side is part tell-all, part movie treatment and part self-therapy. Turney Duff presents the rise and fall of a Wall Street trader (Duff himself, or a character resembling him) in the years leading up to the 2007/2008 financial crisis. Duff is well on the way to crashing long before the crisis hits; The Buy Side is a story of self-absorption, addiction and perhaps (though it does not arrive by book end) redemption.

Duff.jpgDuff would have us believe that he was one of those Masters of the Universe - magically in touch with the hidden rhythms of the markets, knowing just when to hit the buy or sell button. And his sure-footed ascent is predictable. He deftly passes from sales to the Buy Side - the trading firms who engage the fawning brokers to execute their transactions. The Buy Side may or may not be where the big compensation is - but it's certainly where the perks lie. And Duff relishes the Buy Side life: imagine buying six extra Yankees tickets in order to take out-of-park smoke breaks.

Duff claims no special savvy; he's just a party guy who attracts other party guys (and party gals). Somehow this leads to universal admiration and a seven-figure bonus check. I wonder if Duff is calculating in his modesty: it makes a better film. Still he must have had some knowledge of the health-care sector (he was heralded as an expert).

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June 21, 2013

By Professor Jeffery Atik

This review was originally posted on Jeffery Atik's Blog Attraverso.

The challenge with European democracy is it's constantly shifting notions of demos - who are the people who should exercise political determination. The current Euro crisis - and the ensuing imposition of austerity policies on Greece and Ireland, Spain and Italy - demonstrate a democratic irony. As Gavin Hewitt points out, there is nothing democratic about the adoption of austerity; austerity is not a lifestyle choice struggling countries freely assume. The Euro crisis precipitated changes of government (left to right and right to left) in the affected Member States and fierce popular backlash. Yet Angela Merkel, the physician prescribing austerity to faltering countries, responds to democratic signals given by her German electorate (who balk on bailing out their neighbors). Hewitt constructs a story where the democracy of Germany is pitted against the democracy of Southern and Peripheral Europe. hewitt.jpg

The Lost Continent focuses on national stories - and national leaders - and so at times has the feel of a tell-all. Silvio Berlusconi, to no-one's surprise, comes off the worst. His cynical disregard for anyone's interest saves his own marks, a new low in post-War Italian politics. Imagine how Angela Merkel felt upon receiving his 'political' advice to take on a lover. And even more respectable characters, such as Sarkozy, engage in behind-the-back smirkiness with regard to Merkel. But much of the focus falls on Merkel herself; we're never quite sure whether she is (as she claims) acting just like a Swabian housewife, guided by common-sense and prudence, or whether she is the instrument of peculiar German obsessions outside her control.

And so The Lost Continent is to a great extent a German story of Europe (the UK barely figures). Germany is able to impose austerity on its EU partners because it is German resources that largely fund the rescue. Germany's economic primacy permits it an outsized influence in contemporary European affairs - Hewitt and various of his informants note that Germany may be more powerful than ever. Germany has benefited from this new Europe; its products are consumed throughout. Its economic success permitted the reunification of Germany, an enormous political and social success (ironically, Merkel developed her political skills in the East). Hewitt faces the challenge of conveying the human cost of the European crisis and does so in a somewhat manipulative way: he introduces the reader to various suicides provoked by the crisis with humanizing profiles suited to Olympic contestants. Here the dismal personal outcomes become predictable. It is extremely difficult to portray the damage of a 30-percent unemployment rate (did Steinbeck succeed?), but a processions of suicides (horrific as they are) leaves the reader numb.

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June 11, 2013

AttraversoSJ.jpgProfessor Jeffery Atik, a Sayre Macneil Fellow at Loyola Law School, launched the new blog Attraverso as an online discussion about hotly contested issues in the world of international finance, as well as a depository of his reviews of important books on related topics. From Attraverso's introductory post:

Attraverso means "through" or "across" in Italian; it has both a spatial sense (as crossing a mountain range, or a border) and a temporal sense (as across the centuries). It seemed fitting for a new online journal designed to scratch beneath the surface of global financial issues. More than ever, public debate centers around international economic topics: the financial crisis and the great recession, bank reform, pressure on the Euro, austerity and the future of hope.

Attraverso covers the roots of these issues -- and the ongoing institutional innovations proposed to address them. Attraverso is a journal devoted to commentary and reviews of books on international finance and economics. Formerly published as a series within Loyola's Summary Judgments faculty blog, Attraverso's content proved vast and rich enough to fill its own space.

International finance is an arena for ideas; it is a cultural practice. Attraverso will be the first online resource dedicated to covering books in this space. The blog is designed to be a dialogue; comments are encouraged.

The blog is edited by Jeffery Atik, a widely published lawyer and economist with deep experience in Europe and North America. He teaches International Banking & Finance and related courses at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.

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May 15, 2013

Atik_new_SJ.jpgBy Professor Jeffery Atik

Neil Irwin's The Alchemists delivers on its promise: the book is a central banker's view of the 2007/2008 Financial Crisis and the more recent (and related) Euro Crisis. Only the subtitle disappoints: The Alchemists isn't quite the story of the three central bankers depicted on its cover (Bernanke, Trichet and Mervyn King). Rather, The Alchemists offers a thorough treatment of Bernanke's crisis-plagued tenure at the Fed and insightful coverage of the ECB's Trichet - until Trichet morphs into Mario Draghi just in time for the worst of the Euro Crisis. Plus the odd bit of Bank of England's Mervyn King thrown in for comic relief. No doubt Irwin's project was inspired by Liaquat Ahamed's Lords of Finance, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, which treats four central bankers (their philosophies and their quirks) from the 1920s: the UK's Montague Norman, France's Emile Moreau, Germany's Hjalmar Schacht and the Fed's Benjamin Strong. Now these were central bankers: they dominated the monetary policies of their day.

AlchemistsCover.jpgOur contemporary central bankers lack some of the color of their predecessors (save Mervyn King, who is pretty darn colorful). Moreover, their field of action is much more circumscribed. They can be checked by other personalities within their respective institutions, by intimidating political leaders, and by uncooperative markets. These bankers do manage, at least in this account, to largely have their way in responding to the crises, through will and manipulation, and by playing on the palpable belief that no one else has any better idea of what to do.

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May 3, 2013

Atik_new_SJ.jpgBy Professor Jeffery Atik

In this collection of essays, Arjun Appadurai links his role as leading globalization scholar to his practice as activist on behalf of the slum dwellers in his native city of Mumbai (or Bombay, the abandoned name Appadurai seems to prefer). Appadurai redeploys globalization theory (and more generally modernization theory, of which globalization is a part) as an ethical practice. He calls for cultivating the capacity to aspire among the world's poor -- an unabashedly cultural project with political and developmental implications. Appadurai argues that the poor must be enabled to aspire -- these aspirations will, in turn, define new and different trajectories from those promised by the passé globalist.

Globalization has failed in its predictions -- and so has failed as science. Globalization, it was thought, would lead to convergence and homogenization, more democracy and tolerance and less nationalism and violence. Yet the world we now see displays strong (and growing stronger) national states and continued developmental disparities. Those enabled by knowledge migrate; their home countries capture disappointing returns from their educational investments. New digital capacities have been harnessed by jealous ethnic groups to reinforce local identities; they can encourage aggression and conflict.

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April 22, 2013

Atik_new_SJ.jpgBy Professor Jeffery Atik

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is back, and in his new book he asserts that his signature idea was not The Black Swan (that was so last book), but rather Antifragility. This second idea shares a viral quality with the first; like the Black Swan, once you catch the notion of antifragility, it's hard to get rid of it.

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Antifragility is the characteristic of certain systems to grow stronger when stressed; it is the mirror concept to fragility (where stress destroys). Exercise stresses our muscles, and so renders us stronger. As Taleb insists, antifragility is not robustness -- robustness is merely resistance to stress. Stress improves the antifragile. And in a world where stresses cannot be avoided, it is better to be antifragile.

I admit to being a Taleb fan -- and not everyone is. Most all -- critics and admirers -- agree he is an engaging and imaginative thinker. But he does seem to go out of his way to be, shall we say, difficult. Antifragile is an odd book -- it is a collection of personal essays mixed with some rather formal decision theory. That said, the personal (and the fictional) do serve the argument.

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April 11, 2013

Atik_new_SJ.jpgBy Professor Jeffery Atik

Admati Hellwig.jpgI have the odd habit, with academic writing, of first reading the notes and then returning to the central text. I like to see the foundation of a work. Would that I had read the notes to The Bankers' New Clothes first! For The Bankers' New Clothes is really two books which I had read in sequence (slave as I was to the Kindle's primitive formatting). The first book -- the primary text of 228 pages -- seemed simple-minded, sometimes shrill and often tedious. It argues for a significant increase in the amount of 'capital' (a specialized term in banking regulation) banks should maintain. The second book - the 107 pages of dense notes -- reveals a much more subtle, more flexible and more open understanding of the issues. This 'book' is more useful and persuasive. I recently heard co-author Anat Admati speak in Los Angeles. She described her surprise when first viewing the book as published, that it was so 'short' when the notes were stripped away and shuttled to the back of the book. It matters (Kindle take note) how books are presented; I would have had a better impression on my first read had these rich notes been on the page or gathered at the end of each chapter. And perhaps these authors will speak up the next time they write for the broader public.

Admati and Hellwig are on a mission. They fervently believe that banks should be required to hold more capital than present rules require. And by more, they mean much much more. From current rules that require, depending of the measure, 3 to 7 percent of a bank's assets, to something on the order of 20 to 30 percent. They demonstrate that such higher levels of capital (think of this like the ratio of equity to the fair market value of a house) would significantly increase the robustness of the entire banking system, relieving the state from facing new rounds of bailouts. Moreover, as the leverage of bank's decrease, banks will be less likely to attract the risk-seeking buccaneers that have managed our great financial institutions into the ground.

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March 28, 2013

Atik_new_SJ.jpgBy Professor Jeffery Atik

Napoleon Chagnon's title promises a visit to two dangerous tribes: the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists. He provides a disjointed treatment. The larger part of the book takes the form of memoir, a return by Chagnon to the people he studied over the greater part of his career. The later chapters address the academic scandal surrounding Chagnon's work - and his place within the evolving discipline. Chagnon defends himself here - but he does not 'scientifically' study his anthropologist accusers: their violence (as opposed to that of the Yanomamö) is not explained.

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Chagnon made the Yanomamö famous: his monograph (subtitled "The Fierce People') was widely studied (it was a highlight of the undergraduate Cultural Anthropology course I took). And of course the Yanomamö made Chagnon famous.

Chagnon's work was always controversial. He presented the Yanomamö as among the world's few remaining "Stone Age" people, largely isolated in the regions dividing Venezuela and Brazil. From here they subsistence agriculture from ever shifting villages. The Yanomamö were hardly unaffected by encounters with the outside -- they grew plantains and other crops that had been introduced to South America and prefered modern tools (including the machete and shotgun). Chagnon depicted the Yanomamö as a violent society, characterized by treacherous killings, inter-village raids, and systematic abduction of females. The Yanomamö were not Rousseau's noble savages.

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March 21, 2013

Atik_new_SJ.jpgBy Professor Jeffery Atik

Bull by the Horns is part defense of past action, part call-to-action. Sheila Bair served as chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, one of the chief federal bank regulators, from 2006 through 2011 -- and thus rode the entire wave of the Financial Crisis. By her own account, she clashed with officials of both the Bush and Obama Administrations (in important cases, these were the same individuals). And throughout these times she was the most prominent woman in United States financial regulation.

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Bair becomes the FDIC in this story -- she absorbs its mission and makes it her own. The FDIC has a peculiar mission -- and it has never been the only law in banking. Bair believes in deposit insurance but not bailouts. Deposit insurance is paid to depositors in the event of bank failure; bailouts are payouts to shareholders, bondholders and management in the same circumstances. There is a distinction here -- but perhaps not as self-evident a one as Bair imagines. Both deposit insurance and bailouts (under the Too Big to Fail doctrine or otherwise) create moral hazard. Bair though sees banking policy through the FDIC lens -- depositors (up to the FDIC limits) are to be given continuous access to their funds in the event of failure; shareholders and bondholders are to be wiped out and -- at least in most cases -- bank management is to be fired. All very by the book. Which is to say, Bair wants the bank resolution system to work as it is promised to work -- which of course is not at all what happened following the Financial Crisis.

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January 2, 2013

Atik_new_SJ.jpgBy Professor Jeffery Atik

Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a grand intellectual project and a call for action. Graeber's book moves debt to the center of political discourse.

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America is built on debt. Indeed, assuming our fair share of debt can be seen as an American duty. We obtain housing, education, transport and medical services through our use of credit -- and as such we spend most of our lives deeply indebted. The root of our notion of freedom (echoed, as Graeber points out, in religious imagery) is freedom from debt -- and if this is so, then by no means is America the land of the free.

Graeber's overview of 5,000 years of debt demonstrates that debt is not a neutral social instrument. Rather debt is first and foremost an institution allowing for the exercise of power. Debt is the foundation of hierarchy and hence much social structure.

Read my full-length review of David Graeber's Debt in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Follow me on Twitter @jefferyatik

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December 13, 2012

JournalistsGuide.jpgReporting on the legal system without a law degree can be challenging. A team of Loyola Law School professors aimed to fix that by writing The Journalist's Guide to American Law. The book, published by Routledge and released on Monday, Dec. 10, serves as an essential reference for journalists whose coverage area includes the law. The authors are Professors John Nockleby, Laurie Levenson, Karl Manheim, Jay Dougherty, Dean Victor Gold, Allan Ides and Daniel Martin.

From the publisher:

How do you report on the latest sensational criminal trial or newest controversial legislation without a basic understanding of how the American legal system works? This easy-to-use guidebook offers an overview of American law that should be found on the desk of any journalism student or professional journalist. It provides an overview of major legal principles and issues in simple terms for journalists who cover any aspect of the legal system. The Guide can be used in two ways: first, as a sit-down read that gives an overview of American law; and second, as a reference that can be used every day under deadline pressure for a specific purpose. Every feature of the book is designed to serve both functions. Thus, the book's organization captures both the birds-eye view of a subject; and, alternatively, permits a quick review of a given section when the professional needs to understand a distinct concept. The areas covered range from professional concerns such as the First Amendment, cameras in the courtroom, Sunshine laws, and access to government documents to general legal matters such as the institutions of law and lawmaking function of the judiciary; core constitutional principles such as separation of powers and judicial review; and how courts function. The book is ideal for use in general newswriting and reporting courses, particularly those with a focus on legal or court reporting, and may also be used as a supplementary text in Media Law courses.

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December 12, 2012

Atik_new_SJ.jpgBy Professor Jeffery Atik

Mark Pagel addresses the conundrum posed by variegated cultures. Culture -- what we have that monkey's don't (according to a witty formula quoted by Pagel) -- both unites us and divides us. In Wired for Culture, Pagel attempts an evolutionary account for the existence of cultures. His inquiries commence with the mad multiplicity of languages. Language is the prime instrument of cultural transmission and the strongest marker of cultural identity. Yet the intra-group facilitation of communication provided by distinct languages are foreclosed to outsiders. Our languages seal us off from one another.

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Human adaptability to the widest range of niches offers only a partial explanation for the multitude of cultures. New Guinea sports more than 800 different languages within a very small territory -- here mutual unintelligibility seems to be the point. Language operates both to permit and prevent understanding; both these characteristics are necessary. The value of a closed system of communication has long been recognized. Tradesmen, criminals and academics use argot to separate themselves and to keep secrets.

Pagel makes an evolutionary case for the multiplicity of languages; language serves as an identifier of group membership. This is culture's darker role: defining group boundaries. Pagel sees language and other cultural institutions functioning to set limits for altruism. Humans are social -- but only to a degree. We are a species that engages in magnificent cooperation -- yet are capable of inflicting harm on a scale not found in any other species.

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November 30, 2012

Atik_new_SJ.jpgBy Professor Jeffery Atik

I was entranced by the prospect of reading Annelise Riles' Collateral Knowledge, given my eclectic (some would say scattershot) interests. Riles delivers a sophisticated and insightful anthropological treatment of the management of various legal questions facing Japanese banks entering OTC swap transactions. Global finance, ethnography, tasty legal theory: what fun!

Riles 2 book cover image.jpgAnd yes, Riles pulls it off. She promises an "ant's-eye view" of these stories, consistent with traditional ethnographic method. While the original intended targets of her observation were Japanese bank regulators, she later realizes the 'back-office' personnel (including the lawyers overseeing the documentation of the transactions) were as central in the process of the law-making.

Riles examines two crucial points of tension in the swap practices of Japanese banks. The first is the utilization (under Japanese law) of the institution of collateral: the posting of property to secure repayment of a debt. The book's title, Collateral Knowledge, plays on this and other meanings of "collateral." All commercial lawyers understand how collateral should work: it should freely pass the pledged assets into the hands of the favored creditor in the event of a debtor's default. And so the mission of a bank lawyer (in this case, one dealing with a Japanese bank) is to assure his principals that these functional expectations are met. This is hardly a simple matter where (in an example given by Riles) the swap is between a Japanese bank and a UK bank, posted to their respective Cayman Island subsidiaries and involving Chinese and Singaporean currencies. The swap raises peculiar difficulties, as neither party knows ex ante whether it will be a net creditor or net debtor of the other -- and so both may need to post, maintain and adjust collateral supporting the transaction. The standard industry forms, drafted by British and American lawyers and routinely used by the Japanese banks, are "literally nonsensical" to the Japanese, according to Riles.

But the forms "work" -- in that they satisfy the lawyers, the banks and their regulators. The art of a back-office lawyer is completing the forms -- the invariable boilerplate, the prompted elections (such as which country's law should govern) and any special terms. Standardization is at work here -- but so too is the exercise of a lawyer's "aesthetic" sensibilities, knowing when the paper looks right. In fact legal certainty may not be a dominant consideration -- at least not in ordinary times. But Riles' fieldwork followed an earlier Japanese financial crisis that set off external anxieties about aspects of Japanese law.

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