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Book Review: The Mandibles (related to inflation)

April 7, 2017 1 comment

For something a little different, I wanted to write a book review today. But this is not as far removed as it seems, from my normal beat. In fact, this book could actually be a companion piece to my own book published last year, What’s Wrong with Money?: The Biggest Bubble of All. I really mean that.

The book is “The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047,” by Lionel Shriver. This is a terrific work of fiction, especially if you like futuristic dystopian novels. From the jacket:

In 2029, the United States is engaged in a bloodless world war that will wipe out the savings of millions of American families. Overnight, on the international currency exchange, the “almighty dollar” plummets in value, to be replaced by a new global currency, the “bancor.” In retaliation, the president declares that America will default on its loans. “Deadbeat Nation” being unable to borrow, the government prints money to cover its bills. What little remains to savers is rapidly eaten away by runaway inflation.

The Mandibles have been counting on a sizable fortune filtering down when their ninety-seven-year-old patriarch dies. Once the inheritance turns to ash, each family member must contend with disappointment, but also—as the U.S. economy spirals into dysfunction—the challenge of sheer survival.

This book was recommended to be by a friend who knows of my background in inflation – many years of study of the topic, and the fact that I founded and run a firm that’s dedicated to inflation hedging of various kinds (e.g., college tuition or healthcare, but also things like commodities and inflation-linked bond strategies). I took up the novel with some trepidation, since most treatments of inflation in fiction…heck, in non-fiction…are shallow and generally just plain obtuse. I’m including works by famous economists. So I didn’t have high hopes for this book.

I was completely wrong.

When I said that this book could be a companion book to my own (non-fiction) work, I wasn’t kidding. The author got virtually every detail right, about how the pieces fit together, about what causes inflation – including the question of how moderate and high inflation can turn into hyperinflation, a transition that has little to do with monetary policy actions and everything to do with confidence in the monetary unit. And that’s actually why my book is titled “What’s Wrong with Money…” the fact that confidence is the underlying unit (in a fiat currency) creates the potential for an outcome such as Ms. Shriver describes. It isn’t a likely outcome, but it is entirely plausible that it could work out in this way.

Ms. Shriver skillfully works current events of today into the novel, as characters occasionally recollect some old policy from the 2000s or 2010s and explain why that policy didn’t work. I was amazed at the competence with which she tackled all of these subjects.

All in all – if you like the things I write, and especially if you read my book and liked it (or even if you didn’t read it, and probably even if you didn’t like it), you will really like The Mandibles. I highly recommend it.

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Categories: Book Review
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