by Andrew Palmer ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 14, 2015
An intriguing argument that can bear further study.
Palmer, the head of data journalism at the Economist, disagrees with those who see innovations like derivatives as responsible for recent financial bubbles and crashes, and he argues that the world needs even more financial innovation.
In a survey of monetary and financial history, the author examines the development of financial products. These include advances in peer-to-peer lending, which remove banks as middlemen in transactions that are made possible, in part, by mathematized search functions related to data mining. Palmer identifies companies across the world—e.g., Lending Club, Transfer Wise and Zest Finance—that are moving into areas where banks and other lenders provide either predatory or very little service to their customers. Nonleveraged methods of financing, providing cheaper short-term finance using nontraditional forms of collateral, are being developed for those qualified—e.g., student lending, payday loans, housing and retirement finance. Palmer traces these innovative methods to the tradition of financial mathematics begun as early as the 13th century with Leonardo Fibonacci. The author explores the respective pioneering contributions of both Fibonacci and 17th-century astronomer Edmond Halley. The former worked out how to calculate the “ ‘present value’ of cash flows—that is, how much a future amount of money is worth today, given that money can earn interest in the meantime,” and the latter helped develop the concepts of annuities and life tables for insurers. “The problem with financial innovation is not that products have original sin,” writes Palmer, “but that the financial system is programmed to change these products in ways which make them more dangerous.” As examples, he points to recent high-tech and mortgage bubbles. With state institutions apparently reaching their financial limits, the author sees plenty of room for expansion of innovations.An intriguing argument that can bear further study.
Pub Date: April 14, 2015
Page Count: 320
Publisher: Basic Books
Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015
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by Daniel Kahneman ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 1, 2011
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
Page Count: 512
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 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.
“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
Page Count: 432
Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019
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