A worthy introduction to Keynes’ ideas, but a slight account of free market thought.

Free-Market Champions


A spirited argument for the superiority of the Keynesian theory of economics.

In contemporary political debate, the contest between free market advocacy and the promotion of statist regulation is usually conducted in the broadest, most binary terms. Debut author Bryson attempts to find a more nuanced but popularly accessible approach to modern economics, beginning with an assessment of the discipline’s methodological rigor. First, he contends that economics falls short as a scientific enterprise, as there are simply too many shifting variables at work, including psychological ones. In fact, he says, most economic theory resembles what he cheekily labels “mysticism.” As a tonic to such unempirical prejudices, Bryson recommends what he calls “informed common sense,” and the best bearer of such wisdom turns out to be the famous economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946). The author provides an impressively synoptic overview of Keynes’ economic innovations, including discussions of his theory of money, the causes and cures of unemployment, and the nature of savings and investment. Especially excellent is the author’s summary of Keynes’ views on central banking and the private financial sector, which is useful as a guide to today’s disputes about banking reform. There’s also a brief but informative section on the little-known economist Sir James Steuart, a precursor to Keynes by nearly 200 years who displayed almost shocking theoretical ingenuity and prescience. Bryson uses Keynesian ideas to dismantle classical economics; unfortunately, his account of free market philosophy isn’t as judicious as his descriptions of Keynes’ concepts. It reduces much of economist Adam Smith’s views to the untethering of human greed, overlooking the distinction that Smith made between avarice and rational self-interest. Also, the author often undermines his arguments with rhetorical stridency, too promiscuously discussing the “madness” and “idiocy” of those with whom he disagrees. Also, there are detours—such as a discussion of Ayn Rand—that seem gratuitous and ax-grinding. As a single-volume introduction to Keynes, or as a counterbalance to contentious sloganeering about the role of the government in economic stimulus, this is an erudite gem. However, readers will likely be frustrated by its displays of philosophical intemperance.

A worthy introduction to Keynes’ ideas, but a slight account of free market thought.

Pub Date: June 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5246-3115-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: AuthorHouseUK

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2016

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


“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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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


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. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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