Essential reading

Five books to read to understand the future of money

By Adam Westbrook 3 March 2017

Educate yourself with these must reads.

All through March The Memo is taking a long look at the future of finance. We’re finding out how technology is changing the way we earn, save and spend and meeting the innovators.

But finance is a complex topic and an intimidating one. And it’s hard to know where to look for a simple explanation.

If you want to know your stagnation from your stagflation, look no further!

We’ve put together a reading list: five essential books which will get you up to speed with the history and future of money.

Apart from anything else, you’ll look smarter reading one of these on the train.

Oh, and if you have any of your own recommendations, tweet us!

30 Second Economics by Donald Marron

First of all, you might be after a primer, something to jog those memories of first year economics.

Well, it doesn’t get easier than this: 50 different theories, from laissez faire capitalism to Keynesian economics, each visually designed to be understood in 30 seconds or less.

As well as giving the beginner a good overview of how finance works, it also makes a useful glossary and reference in the future.

Debt: the first 5,000 years by David Graeber

Before we understand the future of finance, it helps to understand its past.

Graeber’s bestseller explores, as the title suggests, the role debt and lending has played in our financial systems. It’s strange to think that money – the thing that makes the world go round – doesn’t really exist, it’s an imagined concept.

Debt and money both work on the idea of trust: when a bank gives you a mortgage, it is trusting that you’ll be able to pay it back. What happens when that trust breaks down?

Government and personal debt is now at an all time high, and this provocative book puts that into context.

The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future by Martin Ford

The robots are coming, so we are told. But what will this really mean for the future of money?

Ford’s readable book cuts through the hyperbole and offers a frank explanation of the impact automation will have on the future of finance and work.

Maybe the most interesting idea, one we often forget, is that the people who make things are the same ones who buy things.

So when people lose their jobs they stop buying things, it’s a double whammy on the economy that governments will need to start thinking about very soon.

Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier

Lanier, a bonafide Silicon Valley legend (he was playing around with VR in the 1980s) warns that the economics of the internet are all wrong.

No news there, but his argument – that by not valuing the data we give to companies we are short changing ourselves to the tune of billions of dollars – will make you rethink your relationship with social media.

If Facebook makes $50 when one of your friends buys a dress for your wedding, aren’t you entitled to some of that money?

As with Lanier’s first book You Are Not A Gadget, you’ll start unconvinced – but by the end, you’ll be on board.

PostCapitalism by Paul Mason

And perhaps the most radical idea, last of all.

Channel 4 News economics editor Paul Mason argues that the capitalist system itself will wither and die this century and that we’ll have to come up with something to replace it, and fast.

At the heart of his thesis is the idea that the Internet is a technology which breaks all the fundamental rules of the free market, something we’re already seeing play out in the decline of the music and publishing industries.

A bit heavy on marxist theory, but his argument is solid – and terrifying.