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

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. 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017


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


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

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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