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

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 declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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