A bold attack on a system that needs major overhaul.

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THE FRAUD TRIANGLE

FRAUDULENT EXECUTIVES, COMPLICIT AUDITORS, AND INTOLERABLE PUBLIC INJURY

A blistering indictment of auditors and their role in permitting corporate fraud.

Reading Littman’s well-researched, legitimately angry book will likely reinforce the already widely pessimistic perspective on both self-regulation and governmental oversight of the financial world. Littman attacks the “triangle” of “fraudulent executives, complicit auditors and intolerable public injury” in an impressive work that extends beyond analyzing just the latest financial debacle. In fact, the author demonstrates that the “era of low standards” that began with Enron in late 2001 “was a long one and is not over.” Littman assails fraudulent corporate executives, but as he documents in case after case, the fraud they perpetrate largely goes unchecked by auditing firms. Governmental regulation has proven to be less than effective as well, according to Littman. The SEC made a “drastic error in leaving auditing standard development to the care of the audit profession.” And beginning in 2006, the well-intentioned Sarbanes-Oxley Act, aimed at corporate reform, was subject to “a movement to dilute [it] and press for more restrictions on litigation against auditors or financial institutions by victims of fraud.” These are just two glaring examples in a sea awash with weak and contradictory rules. The most damaging assessment made by the author is his strong claim that the designers of derivative securities “based on platforms of bundled sub-prime mortgages and other sub-par platforms could not have been ignorant of the potential consequences of what they had constructed.” Littman writes that both public officials and private executives caused “severe public injury” and “all bear heavy burdens of responsibility for the crash of 2007-2009.” Littman concludes that auditors could have prevented the “major frauds” that occurred and “had they done so, the damages would have been very substantially less.” Littman offers a set of conclusions and suggestions for improvement, and their implications are significant. This is a sobering but much-needed exposé of the real culprits behind the country’s financial maladies. Unfortunately, it appears those in both the private and public sectors must share the blame.

A bold attack on a system that needs major overhaul.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1452810997

Page Count: 492

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2011

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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 deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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