VISIONS OF INEQUALITY

FROM THE FRENCH REVOLUTION TO THE END OF THE COLD WAR

A dense, numerically knotty, bracing companion to contemporary economic thinkers on the problem of inequality.

A noted economist examines the thinking of six of his predecessors on how income is distributed and the conditions that favor or hinder the accumulation of wealth.

Although he figures in these pages, which require a solid background in economics, Thomas Piketty was not the first economist to think about inequality. He may have been the timeliest, however, given the spectacular rise of that inequality, which, by some economic theories, shouldn’t be happening. By Piketty’s own theorizing we might well see an economy in which the top earners capture so much income that “it threatens to swallow the entire output of the society.” Economists who preceded him formulated the problem in different ways, conditioned by their time. François Quesnay, who ranks among the first economists to deserve the name, lived in a time when French society was divided into “estates,” classes assumed to be more or less static, in which “all workers are assumed to be poorer than all capitalists, and all capitalists to be poorer than all landlords.” A small problem lies in this formulation, with Adam Smith and then David Ricardo, Karl Marx, and Vilfredo Pareto puzzling out what happens when class eventually gives way to individuals and the rise of individual elites. Milanovic’s final case study concerns Simon Kuznets, who discounted inequality in a time when it was far less pronounced than earlier (and today) and when class distinctions were suppressed in the anti-Marxist narrative of the Cold War. No matter how problematic their theories, each of these economists contributed to an evolving view of inequality: Marx, for example, by understanding that inequality is relative (“Our wants and pleasures have their origin in society; we therefore measure them in relation to society”), and Pareto by understanding that whatever the social structure, “the underlying distribution of wealth and income could not be affected”—or, in other words, that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

A dense, numerically knotty, bracing companion to contemporary economic thinkers on the problem of inequality.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2023

ISBN: 9780674264144

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2023

MAGIC WORDS

WHAT TO SAY TO GET YOUR WAY

Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.

Want to get ahead in business? Consult a dictionary.

By Wharton School professor Berger’s account, much of the art of persuasion lies in the art of choosing the right word. Want to jump ahead of others waiting in line to use a photocopy machine, even if they’re grizzled New Yorkers? Throw a because into the equation (“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”), and you’re likely to get your way. Want someone to do your copying for you? Then change your verbs to nouns: not “Can you help me?” but “Can you be a helper?” As Berger notes, there’s a subtle psychological shift at play when a person becomes not a mere instrument in helping but instead acquires an identity as a helper. It’s the little things, one supposes, and the author offers some interesting strategies that eager readers will want to try out. Instead of alienating a listener with the omniscient should, as in “You should do this,” try could instead: “Well, you could…” induces all concerned “to recognize that there might be other possibilities.” Berger’s counsel that one should use abstractions contradicts his admonition to use concrete language, and it doesn’t help matters to say that each is appropriate to a particular situation, while grammarians will wince at his suggestion that a nerve-calming exercise to “try talking to yourself in the third person (‘You can do it!’)” in fact invokes the second person. Still, there are plenty of useful insights, particularly for students of advertising and public speaking. It’s intriguing to note that appeals to God are less effective in securing a loan than a simple affirmative such as “I pay all bills…on time”), and it’s helpful to keep in mind that “the right words used at the right time can have immense power.”

Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.

Pub Date: March 7, 2023

ISBN: 9780063204935

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper Business

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

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

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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