By Marc Levinson Princeton University Press, $24.95, 390 pages
Computers might be able to zap money and information around the world in an instant, but the biggest engine behind globalization over the past 50 years might well have been a simple steel box.
The shipping container - which can be stuffed with goods, loaded into the belly of a ship and then straight onto a railcar or truck - made it possible to cheaply move goods across oceans. In The Box, Levinson, a journalist and economist, takes readers into the world of the visionary Malcolm McLean and the various mid-century longshoremen's unions, shipping companies and others who tried to thwart one of the most important innovations of the past century.
By artfully weaving together the nuts and bolts of what happened at which port with the grand sweep of economic history, Levinson has produced a marvelous read for anyone who cares about how the interconnected world economy came to be.
- NEIL IRWIN, WASHINGTON POST
BUBBLE MAN: ALAN GREENSPAN AND THE MISSING 7 TRILLION DOLLARS
BY PETER HARTCHER NORTON, $24.95, 211 PAGES
Hartcher accuses former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan of dereliction of duty for allowing a U.S. stock market bubble to balloon and then burst on his watch. Hartcher sets out to convince the reader that Greenspan, the man dubbed "Maestro" in Bob Woodward's biography, could and should have tried to restrain surging equity prices. Much to my surprise, Hartcher succeeds. Like a skilled prosecutor, he uses the words and deeds of the accused to make the charge stick. As a former Washington bureau chief for the Australian Financial Review, Hartcher brings an outsider's perspective to the capital's machinations. While his book lacks the historical perspective of John Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash 1929, it rattles along at a cracking pace, like a well-constructed documentary. Greenspan has stated publicly that central banks shouldn't meddle with asset prices. Hartcher uses Fed meeting records to show that Greenspan started with a different opinion, and mulled increasing the amount of money investors must set aside to cover stock market bets.
The central charge is guilt by omission: Had Greenspan done more to restrain the stock market, the trashing of retirement savings in the collapse would have been limited. The author also offers a pointer to the future.
"Asset price inflation is the new inflation for central banks, one that is becoming more virulent, not less, and one for which there is not yet an agreed treatment," he writes. The conclusions to that argument among the world's guardians of monetary policy may yet provide Hartcher with another book.
- MARK GILBERT, BLOOMBERG NEWS