What We Are Reading Today: Swindled

Updated 04 December 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Swindled

Author: Bee Wilson

Bad food has a history. Swindled tells it. Through a fascinating mixture of cultural and scientific history, food politics, and culinary detective work, Bee Wilson uncovers the many ways swindlers have cheapened, falsified, and even poisoned our food throughout history.
In the hands of people and corporations who have prized profits above the health of consumers, food and drink have been tampered with – in often horrifying ways — padded, diluted, contaminated, substituted, mislabeled, misnamed, or otherwise faked. Swindled gives a panoramic view of this history, from the leaded wine of the ancient Romans to today’s food frauds — such as fake organics and the scandal of Chinese babies being fed bogus milk powder.
Wilson pays special attention to 19th- and 20h-century America and England and their roles in developing both industrial-scale food adulteration and the scientific ability to combat it.
As Swindled reveals, modern science has both helped and hindered food fraudsters.
— increasing the sophistication of scams but also the means to detect them. The big breakthrough came in Victorian England when a scientist first put food under the microscope and found that much of what was sold as “genuine coffee” was anything but — and that you could not buy pure mustard in all of London.


What We Are Reading Today: When Insurers Go Bust

Updated 11 December 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: When Insurers Go Bust

Authors: Guillaume Plantin & Jean-Charles Rochet

In the 1990s, large insurance companies failed in virtually every major market, prompting a fierce and ongoing debate about how to better protect policyholders. Drawing lessons from the failures of four insurance companies, When Insurers Go Bust dramatically advances this debate by arguing that the current approach to insurance regulation should be replaced with mechanisms that replicate the governance of non-financial firms.
Rather than immediately addressing the minutiae of supervision, Guillaume Plantin and Jean-Charles Rochet first identify a fundamental economic rationale for supervising the solvency of insurance companies: Policyholders are the “bankers” of insurance companies. But because policyholders are too dispersed to effectively monitor insurers, it might be efficient to delegate monitoring to an institution — a prudential authority. Applying recent developments in corporate finance theory and the economic theory of organizations, the authors describe in practical terms how such authorities could be created and given the incentives to behave exactly like bankers behave toward borrowers, as “tough” claimholders.
Guillaume Plantin is assistant professor of finance at London Business School. He is the coauthor of Théorie du Risque et Réassurance. Jean-Charles Rochet is professor of mathematics and Economics at the University of Toulouse and a visiting professor of finance at the London School of Economics and Political Science.