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. 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...


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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