In this fascinating look at the dazzling if suffocating domain of digital information gathering, Tanner concludes that it is...

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WHAT STAYS IN VEGAS

THE WORLD OF PERSONAL DATA—LIFEBLOOD OF BIG BUSINESS—AND THE END OF PRIVACY AS WE KNOW IT

Since the 1990s, the avalanche of personal information we voluntarily reveal and which computers easily harvest has endlessly intrigued observers, the latest being Tanner, a fellow at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. The author delivers the obligatory announcement that “big data” means the death of privacy, but not before backing it with plenty of entertaining evidence.

Tanner illustrates his arguments with a traditional, vivid example from the business and entertainment world: Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Gamblers happily sign up for Caesars’ loyalty programs, which track their play (these days, nobody puts an actual coin into a slot machine) and deliver a steady stream of discounts, complimentary meals and rooms, and even free chips, all carefully targeted to encourage return visits. Tanner weaves this example into a gripping account of the modern direct-marketing industry, formerly reliant on the phone book to deluge us with junk mail. Although less lionized than the founders of Facebook, Google or Twitter, countless other entrepreneurial computer nerds have founded scores of enterprises devoted to assembling, packaging and reselling data from government, school, police, hospital, insurance and commercial records. Businesses are addicted, mostly due to the fact that only a minority of consumers objects to giving up any possibility of remaining anonymous. Merely knowing a zip code, gender and birthdate provides enough information to identify nearly 90 percent of the population. Tanner emphasizes that no one expected privacy until mass urbanization began 200 hundred years ago; in fact, the Constitution doesn’t even directly address it. The author also warns against the vast possibilities for abuse and provides a chapter on countering it.

In this fascinating look at the dazzling if suffocating domain of digital information gathering, Tanner concludes that it is returning us to a world of farms and villages, where intimate details of everyone’s lives were public knowledge.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61039-418-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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