Anyone who wonders why government officials still take the Laffer curve seriously need go no further than this lucid book.

THE ECONOMISTS' HOUR

FALSE PROPHETS, FREE MARKETS, AND THE FRACTURE OF SOCIETY

New York Times editorial page writer Appelbaum recounts the hijacking of economic and public policy by right-wing adherents of the unfettered market.

The hour of which the author writes is going on five decades now. The influence of economists on government has grown exponentially since the Nixon administration, with economists convincing the president to scrap the military draft and the judiciary to shelve antitrust cases, their numbers in the federal employ tripling from the 1950s to the 1970s. Economists have taken larger roles in formulating every aspect of public policy—and, in time, leaving their disciplinary bounds to issue pronouncements on matters societal and moral. Economists tend to be conservative, and truly conservative economists would in time, for example, come to blame inflation for the decline of the Protestant work ethic and a rise in corruption, fraud, and “a generalized erosion in public and private manners.” At the same time, government was generally taking Milton Friedman’s laissez-faire, free-market approach to problems rather than the Keynesian quantitative easement of old. As Appelbaum notes, one reason China has been successful compared to the austerity economies of the West is that Keynes has not been forgotten there. Writing in accessible language of thorny fiscal matters, the author ventures into oddly fascinating corners of recent economic history. For instance, a modern trope holds that actor Jayne Mansfield’s beheading in an automobile accident prompted changes in truck design (yet mass shootings have produced no comparable gun control legislation), but that turns out to be wrong: The actuarial minds of the late Nixon era put the value of a human (American, anyway) life at $200,000, did the math, and concluded that the proposed addition of safety bars “would need to save four times as many lives to justify the cost.” The larger point is that the government’s blind trust in the market is now the status quo, and “reliance on the market grants priority to people who have money.”

Anyone who wonders why government officials still take the Laffer curve seriously need go no further than this lucid book.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-51232-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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