An eye-opening, maddening read that is not likely to make the Heritage Foundation’s best-books list.

THE INFLUENCE MACHINE

THE U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND THE CORPORATE CAPTURE OF AMERICAN LIFE

Of graft, fictional math, and the American way: an urgent look at the “political assault weapon” that is transforming the country—for the better if you’re rich, for the worse if you’re not.

That the 1 percent is now wholly in charge and the United States has become the world’s largest plutocracy are facts that would seem indisputable, much like climate change—which isn’t to say that they won’t be disputed. How we got there is another matter. Katz (Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us, 2009), an investigative journalist and member of the editorial board of the New York Daily News, does invaluable work in tracing how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been a relentless engine for pressing a “business of enterprise unfettered by government.” It accomplishes its ends by taking the millions of dollars channeled into the chamber by its member organizations and pouring them into the coffers of powerful lobbyists to battle such nefarious things as the requirement that long-haul truckers take a certain number of hours off for every number of hours that they drive. As Katz argues, the amount of money that this enforced break costs industry is negligible compared to the additional safety achieved, but that’s not the point. The chamber, it seems, wants no rules, and certainly no taxes, and it’s prepared to go to battle any time to achieve that end—even against supposed allies such as the Bush administration, one of whose Cabinet members dared suggest that these rules have a socially beneficial purpose. It was not always that way, however. As Katz writes, documenting her every assertion, the chamber began as a “careful and not especially vocal presence in Washington” that was transformed by hard rightists into an organization whose purpose is to change the argument from “how much more to tax, spend, and regulate” to “how much less to tax, spend, and regulate.”

An eye-opening, maddening read that is not likely to make the Heritage Foundation’s best-books list.

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9328-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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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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