by César Hidalgo ‧ RELEASE DATE: June 2, 2015
Some readers, perhaps economists especially, will construe Hidalgo’s widely allusive musings as dotty dispatches from...
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
Page Count: 220
Publisher: Basic Books
Review Posted Online: March 31, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015
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by Daniel Kahneman ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 1, 2011
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
Page Count: 512
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2011
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011
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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.
“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
Page Count: 432
Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019
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