Two Centuries of Parasitic Economics

THE STRUGGLE FOR ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL DEMOCRACY ON THE EVE OF THE FINANCIAL COLLAPSE OF THE WEST

A debut book delivers an appraisal of what ails Western economies.

In this volume, Al-Nakeeb, an independent scholar with graduate economics training and a four-decade career in financial markets, surveys classical, Marxist, Keynesian, and neoclassical economics. He concludes that only genuine democracies employing Keynesian policies, as after World War II, have shown any effectiveness in quelling cyclical financial crises wrought by extremes of laissez faire self-interest or authoritarian societal interest. He proffers a “unified theory of macroeconomic failure.” Its précis: “A moral deficit, typically driven by plutocratic greed for wealth gathering, causes a democratic deficit, inferior public choice, immoral policies, economic inefficiency, and negative externalities, culminating in macroeconomic failure.” In other words, a greedy few use wealth to grab political power, rig the system, and enslave the debt-ridden many, à la the 2008 subprime meltdown. This view is hardly novel, as books on inequality by such economists as Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty demonstrate. But Al-Nakeeb’s emphasis on immorality plunges him deeper into negative externalities, or side effects, that econometric models cannot quantify. He lambasts corruption in corporate governance, credit-rating agencies, regulators, the media, and academia. He mentions Jesus nine times, not to proselytize but to invoke religious admonitions against usury. In the author’s view, all interest and debt are injurious; all banks Ponzi schemes; and the Federal Reserve a virtual dictatorship. He proposes replacing all debt financing with equity participation funds and taxing wealth and capital instead of income. The author dismembers with a deceptively light touch, the air of a happy warrior. His prose is crystal-clear and flows like silk. He displays command of the subject and provides rational evidence for his sweeping conclusions, with occasional lapses. For example, he paints all U.S. presidents since Jimmy Carter as neocons and at one point indulges a 9/11 conspiracy theory. Still, he accomplishes his goal to “give economics a good stir” and presents his case in language accessible to all. His confident predictions that the Eurozone will unravel and Western banks will fail to avoid another crisis look prescient following the Brexit vote. An audacious and caustic financial work that deserves wide readership and close academic scrutiny.

Pub Date: May 24, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 456

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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 readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

REIMAGINING CAPITALISM IN A WORLD ON FIRE

A well-constructed critique of an economic system that, by the author’s account, is a driver of the world’s destruction.

Harvard Business School professor Henderson vigorously questions the bromide that “management’s only duty is to maximize shareholder value,” a notion advanced by Milton Friedman and accepted uncritically in business schools ever since. By that logic, writes the author, there is no reason why corporations should not fish out the oceans, raise drug prices, militate against public education (since it costs tax money), and otherwise behave ruinously and anti-socially. Many do, even though an alternative theory of business organization argues that corporations and society should enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, which includes corporate investment in what economists call public goods. Given that the history of humankind is “the story of our increasing ability to cooperate at larger and larger scales,” one would hope that in the face of environmental degradation and other threats, we might adopt the symbiotic model rather than the winner-take-all one. Problems abound, of course, including that of the “free rider,” the corporation that takes the benefits from collaborative agreements but does none of the work. Henderson examines case studies such as a large food company that emphasized environmentally responsible production and in turn built “purpose-led, sustainable living brands” and otherwise led the way in increasing shareholder value by reducing risk while building demand. The author argues that the “short-termism” that dominates corporate thinking needs to be adjusted to a longer view even though the larger problem might be better characterized as “failure of information.” Henderson closes with a set of prescriptions for bringing a more equitable economics to the personal level, one that, among other things, asks us to step outside routine—eat less meat, drive less—and become active in forcing corporations (and politicians) to be better citizens.

A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-3015-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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