Some readers, perhaps economists especially, will construe Hidalgo’s widely allusive musings as dotty dispatches from...

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WHY INFORMATION GROWS

THE EVOLUTION OF ORDER, FROM ATOMS TO ECONOMIES

An interdisciplinary theorist, Hidalgo, the Macro Connections group leader at the MIT Media Lab, invites us to understand the economy in an entirely different way.

In the wake of the 2008 recession, an outpouring of books—for example, J.K. Galbraith’s The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth (2014)—has criticized the insularity of economists and their unwillingness to expand the discipline’s perspective. Now comes Hidalgo (co-author: The Atlas of Economic Complexity: Mapping Paths to Prosperity, 2014) with a lens wide open. Drawing insights from chemistry, history, biology, anthropology, economics, and sociology, he urges us to see economic growth as “the social manifestation of the growth of information,” “information” defined not as meaning but rather as physical order. Hidalgo’s nontraditional approach requires careful definition of a number of words—e.g., “knowledge” and “knowhow,” “entropy” and “computation”—and occasionally a new vocabulary (the awkward but useful “personbyte” and “firmbyte”). In the world as Hidalgo sees it, a Bugatti is “an uncommon configuration of matter” whose value (new vs. crashed) depends entirely on the configuration of atoms. As he progresses from atoms to economies, Hidalgo offers a variety of startling insights about physical objects as the embodiment of information; about whirlpools as “information rich”; about markets as incarnations not of riches but of wisdom; about the limits of once-productive networks like Ford’s River Rouge; and about the perilous consequences of a social group’s isolation. He explains why the human capacity to crystalize wisdom is “geographically speckled”; why modern products no longer remain strongly associated with particular regions (Champagne with France, clocks with Switzerland); and why a trip through the birth canal is akin to time travel.

Some readers, perhaps economists especially, will construe Hidalgo’s widely allusive musings as dotty dispatches from Jonathan Swift’s Laputa; others will delight in his novel, holistic take on the dismal science. 

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-465-04899-1

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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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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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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