A clear, readable account of economic cycles past and present.



A straightforward, conservative history of economic crises in America.

In this well-written and informative debut, Hafele pulls no punches—recessions, depressions and economic downturns are murder on people and businesses alike. Yet the author remains an optimist, sure that economic ups and downs are part and parcel of capitalism, which he ultimately defends mightily. His argument is unabashedly conservative. He believes that higher taxes mean higher unemployment, and he’s not a fan of regulation. On the economic policies of Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt during the Great Depression, he writes, “The creation of rules regarding quotas, wages, hours worked, etcetera applied to most everyone, and resulted in a caging of the animal spirits.” This one-sided view may alienate some readers, although it’s difficult to argue that Hafele doesn’t know what he’s talking about. His knowledge of economic history is extensive and clearly presented, and he does a fine job of using other countries’ economic histories to help illuminate America’s. At times, however, he slips, using language and images that convey an old-fashioned sensibility at odds with the book’s primary focus, which is the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009. For instance, when discussing the “decline in the underwriting standards for residential housing,” he writes, “I grew up with the rule that you saved 20% of the purchase price before buying the starter home, as well as the wife’s dream home”—a personal notion that may be true but rings funny at a time when more single women than single men purchase houses. He can be slightly insensitive at times, too, referring to this issue as “The Burger King Guy Syndrome”—that is, “houses-for-all-including-the-drive-thru-attendant-at-BK-way.” Nevertheless, Hafele offers a comprehensive study, one that shows rather convincingly the cycles involved in economic crises. His analysis on the latest recession is not particularly illuminating, though it is solid and well-argued. His writing is clear, accessible and erudite, and readers will learn from the book even if they don’t always agree with it.

A clear, readable account of economic cycles past and present.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-1493742172

Page Count: 222

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 10, 2014

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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. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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