A vivid, highly informed portrayal of the personalities, politics and policies dominating “the most important international...

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THE BATTLE OF BRETTON WOODS

JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES, HARRY DEXTER WHITE, AND THE MAKING OF A NEW WORLD ORDER

The director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations revisits the 1944 conference that created “the new global monetary architecture” for the postwar world.

As the American Army entered Rome and the Russians drove the Nazis out of Minsk, delegates from 44 Allied nations gathered in Bretton Woods, N.H., to hammer out the ground rules for international economic equilibrium following the defeat of the Axis powers. The American delegation, led by Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau and his right-hand man for international affairs, Harry Dexter White, pressed for a “New Deal for a new world,” looking to strengthen government control of monetary policy and central banking and to install the dollar as the “world’s sole surrogate for gold.” The war-shattered British, mindful of their historic prerogatives, opposed the White plan, but their only leverage lay in the intellectual brilliance of John Maynard Keynes, the 20th century’s most influential economist, and the possibility that they might simply walk away and, thereby, cripple any agreement. Steil (co-author, Money, Markets, and Sovereignty, 2009, etc.) sets the stage for this contest between the cuttingly eloquent Keynes and the acerbic, technocratic White—neither man tailored for diplomacy—with especially deft potted biographies of each and a look at the infighting between the U.S. State and Treasury departments in the lead-up to the conference. For general readers, the author masterfully translates the arcana of competing theories of monetary policy, and a final chapter explains how, while some of the institutions created by Bretton Woods endure—the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund—many of the conference’s assumptions were swiftly overtaken by the Marshall Plan. Throughout Steil’s sharp discussion runs the intriguing subplot of White’s career-long, secret relationship with Soviet intelligence.

A vivid, highly informed portrayal of the personalities, politics and policies dominating “the most important international gathering since the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.”

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-691-14909-7

Page Count: 456

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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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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