A sobering portrait of how Amazon is remaking America.

FULFILLMENT

WINNING AND LOSING IN ONE-CLICK AMERICA

ProPublica senior reporter MacGillis tallies the hidden costs of Amazon’s influence on the American economy and workforce.

In a report that pulls back the curtain on some of Amazon’s less well-known policies and practices, the author writes that the net worth of CEO Jeff Bezos increased by an astounding $25 billion in just two weeks early in the pandemic. MacGillis casts that wealth as an example of the “winner-take-all economy” that has sprung up in a handful of U.S. regions as tech giants have moved in, often at the expense of local residents or institutions. Drawing on interviews with Amazon workers and other sources, the author excels at showing how the Seattle-based company plays communities against one another in seeking sites for new facilities that may promise only modest job growth. That happened most notably during its search for a second headquarters—“a grand nationwide reality show, a Bachelor for cities to compete for the affection of a corporation”—before the company gave up on New York and chose the D.C. metro area. Even smaller cities may feel the pressure to offer the company outsized tax exemptions or other concessions. Ohio gave Amazon a $270,000 tax credit to turn a former Chrysler plant in Twinsburg into a sorting facility with only 10 full-time jobs (though with many more part-time holiday workers): “Twinsburg added a seven-year 50 percent property tax exemption that would cost it $600,000, most of which would have gone toward its schools.” In showing the human costs of all of this, MacGillis at times relies on overlong profiles of or unedifying quotes about Amazon’s corporate casualties (“I want people to know he was a great dad”; “It still hasn’t really sunk in that my brother is gone”). Nonetheless, the book abounds with useful information for anyone weighing the costs and benefits of having an online behemoth come to town.

A sobering portrait of how Amazon is remaking America.

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-15927-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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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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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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