If you’re looking to understand today’s puzzling economy, reading about its roots in history might pay dividends. This season brings books that take the long view on finance, inflation, and the U.S. Treasury, among other topics. Money-curious readers might want to add these to their portfolios.

The Fall and Rise of American Finance

Scott Aquanno and Stephen Maher. Verso, Jan. 2024

In this wide-ranging history, Aquanno, a professor of political science at Ontario Tech University, and Maher, a professor of economics at SUNY Cortland, trace the transformation of the finance industry from the demise of J.P. Morgan’s empire to the consolidation of power around the “Big Three” asset management firms (BlackRock, State Street, and Vanguard) today. The authors detail the effects of financialization on competition and labor and argue that the industry has been strengthened by the contemporary drift toward authoritarianism.

Paper Soldiers

Saleha Mohsin. Portfolio, Mar. 2024

Bloomberg News reporter Mohsin explores the history of the United States Treasury, emphasizing the ways it’s been used as a tool both to lure foreign investors and to punish America’s foes. The Treasury’s focus on maintaining a strong dollar, she argues, has also led to a decline in domestic manufacturing and helped foment populist resentment. Mohsin’s access to top Treasury officials allows for a close look at the inner workings of the agency.

The Return of Inflation

Paul Mattick. Reaktion, Dec.

Why is inflation suddenly so high? The better question, argues Mattick, an emeritus professor of philosophy at Adelphi University and the former editor of the International Journal of Political Economy, is why was it so low for so long. With an eye toward explaining a complex economic topic in layperson’s terms, Mattick puts historical periods of high and low inflation in context, helping readers understand how economic forces and official interventions influence rates and how things got to be how they are today.

The Rise of the Global Middle Class

Homi Kharas. Brookings Institution, Nov.

By 2030, five billion people will be able to count themselves members of the middle class, according to World Data Lab cofounder and Brookings Institution senior fellow Kharas. Here, Kharas narrates the rapid rise of this economic group, touching on developments in Victorian England and Communist Party–era China, while also pointing to the risks, among them automation and climate change, that threaten to reverse its growth.

Women Money Power

Josie Cox. Abrams, Mar. 2024

Cox, a financial journalist and the former business editor of the Independent, delves into the history of financial inequality between the sexes and women’s fight to be treated and paid equally. The days when women were barred from holding their own bank accounts and could be fired for getting pregnant aren’t all that long ago, and it’s no secret that women today are paid less than men for equal work. Cox tells the stories of women who fought to change unfair laws and details the hard work yet to be done. 

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