A paradigm-busting vision for the future that doesn’t shy away from the hard choices humanity might have to make to secure...

Prosperity, Poverty or Extinction?


A sound economic model must include ecological sustainability, writes Cookson, a New Zealand educator, who bridges the natural sciences with economics in a quest for solutions to the planet’s most vexing problems.

Economics is the study of scarcity, but, Cookson says, most mainstream models fail to recognize the finiteness of Earth’s biosphere. A science teacher at a secondary school, Cookson earned an economics degree after his son challenged him to help bring about a better future. His debut work is an ambitious, far-ranging tome on the subject of “ecological economics,” which concludes that the planet can’t sustain the current level of human activity. With a population of 7 billion and a global economy becoming more dependent on ever-increasing consumption, Cookson says we must change course if we want to achieve widespread prosperity. He plunges into the debates on climate change, energy, food supply and international trade, probing the writings of influential thinkers like John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman and Rachel Carson. What emerges is a worldview that refuses to measure quality of life solely in terms of money. While policymakers often try to achieve prosperity by creating a bigger economic pie, Cookson proposes a less-is-more approach. He explores demographic strategies to slowly reduce the world population to more sustainable levels, and his economic models reject what he believes to be a harmful obsession with GDP growth, while advocating “balanced trade” between nations rather than free trade. There’s no shortage of doomsayers among futurists, but Cookson remains cautiously optimistic. His broad research, which is meticulously sourced and receptive to opposing viewpoints, succeeds at providing an introduction to a high-stakes, increasingly visible topic. The book is comprehensive and systematic in its presentation, though its heavy use of scientific formulas and supply-and-demand curves can make for arduous reading. To suggest less growth might challenge conventional wisdom, yet the book remains doubly valuable since it earnestly confronts dilemmas that threaten rich and poor nations alike.

A paradigm-busting vision for the future that doesn’t shy away from the hard choices humanity might have to make to secure its survival.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-1479742554

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2013

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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. 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.


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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