When I saw the S&P downgrade of ExxonMobil today, my first reaction was similar to Chris Anderson’s — it’s more proof that Big Fossil Fuel is on the decline. But then I recalled the lessons I learned from reading early galleys of Rana Foroohar’s timely and lucidly reported book, Makers & Takers, out next month.
Foroohar explains the destruction wrought by the financialization of our global economy. She pays particular attention to how the world’s largest and wealthiest companies are incented by Wall Street to raise cheap and risky debt to buy back their own shares and issue dividends to shareholders, even as they sit on massive, tax-sheltered hoards of cash. Exxon is not alone in this practice, in fact, one of the worst offenders is Apple — which Foroohar notes regularly borrows at low interest rates so as to buy back shares, pay dividends, and drive its share price up.
The Future of Bitcoin It’s hard for non-economists (and, frankly, some economists) to get their heads around Bitcoin. The non-economic aspects are so fascinating (who is Satoshi Nakamoto? how are these things mined?) it’s easy to forget how fundamental a challenge it is to traditional currencies — and how neatly it fits in with the history of money. When Bitcoin Grows Up (London Review of Books), an extended (more than 10,000 words) essay by John Lancaster, rewards the patient with a hard-headed look at what’s new about Bitcoin and what looks quite similar to the current system. Perhaps best of all, Lancaster refrains from the “blockchains will solve all our problems” conclusion that infects so much writing about where Bitcoin might be going.
Amazon Steps Up As part of its downtown Seattle expansion, Amazon now owns a building that used to be a Travelodge. Along with the nonprofit Mary’s Place, it has a test plan to housing 200 homeless people there for a year. “It’s an example of collaboration,” Mayor Ed Murray told The Seattle Times. “This problem cannot be solved by government by itself. It cannot be solved by nonprofits like Mary’s Place by themselves. The fact that Amazon has chosen to be a partner in probably the most difficult crisis the city is facing right now says a lot about their willingness to help us build community and be incredibly caring business partners.”