A valuable book from a sensible centrist who writes with great knowledge and good humor.

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ADVICE AND DISSENT

WHY AMERICA SUFFERS WHEN ECONOMICS AND POLITICS COLLIDE

Blinder (Economics and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.; After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead, 2013, etc.) argues that economists and politicians often talk past one another.

Both groups not only “speak different languages,” writes the author, but they live in “two different, often clashing, civilizations.” As a result, American economic policymaking is dysfunctional, with its four elements—“politics, message, process, and substance”—“in motion at the same time…like a Marx Brothers movie shown in fast forward.” In this far-reaching, accessible book drawing on Blinder’s several decades as a leading academic as well as service on the Federal Reserve Board and on President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, the author examines the factors behind poor economic policy (“ignorance, ideology, and interest groups”) and suggests practical ways to improve the situation. Both economists and politicians can do better. At the moment, policymakers rely on economic experts for support, not illumination (the “Lamppost Theory”) and often dismiss what economists advise. Instead, politicians must learn that longer time horizons are needed to accomplish good policy and that “logic, arithmetic, and facts will ultimately triumph over spin, wishful thinking, and alternative facts.” On the other side, economists must begin to talk in simple English. Blinder warns that “crackpot solutions with scant support among economists sometimes sweep to political victory….With economic illiteracy as widespread as it is today, a popular democracy is painfully vulnerable to the self-serving machinations and hucksterism of economic snake-oil salesman.” The author offers thoughtful chapters on government leaks, rising inequality, and such deeply divisive issues as international trade and tax reform. He makes a forceful case for old-fashioned bipartisan economic policymaking that “is deeply concerned with both preserving and enhancing the efficiency of the market system and with improving the lot of society’s least fortunate citizens.”

A valuable book from a sensible centrist who writes with great knowledge and good humor.

Pub Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-465-09417-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

REIMAGINING CAPITALISM IN A WORLD ON FIRE

A well-constructed critique of an economic system that, by the author’s account, is a driver of the world’s destruction.

Harvard Business School professor Henderson vigorously questions the bromide that “management’s only duty is to maximize shareholder value,” a notion advanced by Milton Friedman and accepted uncritically in business schools ever since. By that logic, writes the author, there is no reason why corporations should not fish out the oceans, raise drug prices, militate against public education (since it costs tax money), and otherwise behave ruinously and anti-socially. Many do, even though an alternative theory of business organization argues that corporations and society should enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, which includes corporate investment in what economists call public goods. Given that the history of humankind is “the story of our increasing ability to cooperate at larger and larger scales,” one would hope that in the face of environmental degradation and other threats, we might adopt the symbiotic model rather than the winner-take-all one. Problems abound, of course, including that of the “free rider,” the corporation that takes the benefits from collaborative agreements but does none of the work. Henderson examines case studies such as a large food company that emphasized environmentally responsible production and in turn built “purpose-led, sustainable living brands” and otherwise led the way in increasing shareholder value by reducing risk while building demand. The author argues that the “short-termism” that dominates corporate thinking needs to be adjusted to a longer view even though the larger problem might be better characterized as “failure of information.” Henderson closes with a set of prescriptions for bringing a more equitable economics to the personal level, one that, among other things, asks us to step outside routine—eat less meat, drive less—and become active in forcing corporations (and politicians) to be better citizens.

A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-3015-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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