Mostly for scholars of economic history and highly motivated lay readers.

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LOAN SHARKS

THE BIRTH OF PREDATORY LENDING

A chronological account of money lending and loan sharking with an emphasis on practices in the United States in the past 200 years.

In this scholarly history of predatory lending and usury, Geisst (Economics and Finance/Manhattan Coll.; Beggar Thy Neighbor: A History of Usury and Debt, 2013, etc.), who has written extensively about these issues, discusses lending in a sweeping way rather than just emphasizing illegally or immorally high interest rates. The chronology is sometimes difficult to follow, partly because of the massive (and impressive) amount of detail and partly because of mostly dense prose. At times, the author’s argument is difficult to keep straight, as he states repeatedly that usurious limits rightly vary according to historical era, who is lending and who is borrowing, and unpredictable shifts by Congress, executive branch regulatory agencies, and the courts. In a postscript, Geisst states that it’s doubtful agreement can be reached about the intellectual underpinnings of a standard usury ceiling. As a result, writes the author, the debate over what constitutes predatory lending “becomes fruitless and never-ending.” At certain junctures, the author refers to contemporary payday lending, an eternally hot-button issue because of its impact on low-income borrowers, especially those who cannot read or speak English well. However, because the bulk of the narrative stops in the 1930s, its instructiveness about modern payday lending is limited. Geisst is most interesting when he connects predatory lending to other social ills, such as alcoholism. Supporters of Prohibition successfully argued to policymakers that individuals fairly labeled alcoholics tended to become easy prey for predatory lenders because their inebriation made individual and family management of money extremely difficult. “Loan sharking in its many forms,” writes the author, “has caused stock market panics, structural banking problems, and often has impeded economic recovery after severe economic downturns.”

Mostly for scholars of economic history and highly motivated lay readers.

Pub Date: April 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8157-2900-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Brookings Institution Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

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 deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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