A gentle, clear, and accessible hornbook that should crowd out many other general texts.

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NAKED ECONOMICS

UNDRESSING THE DISMAL SCIENCE

In just a few easy lessons, economics journalist Wheelan can teach the most innocent reader to think like an economist.

In an effortless, sprightly manner, Wheelan takes us from basic concepts to the most current economic difficulties. Old Man Malthus was wrong, we now know (there’s plenty to eat), but the once-dismal science still has direct application to our present-day lives. The amoral marketplace is not a zero-sum game, but sometimes the market, like French democracy, doesn’t quite work right. That’s why Honda Civics lose head-on confrontations with Ford Explorers. Can you explain why Israel’s gross domestic product is twice that of Saudi Arabia? Maximizing utility, incentive, and human capital may have something to do with it, and so may public policy, as the author demonstrates. He intelligibly bares consequential concepts like “adverse selection,” “deadweight loss,” “asymmetry of information,” and “purchasing power parity”; he nicely explains the difference between fiscal and monetary policy and the Fed’s job, as well as why it matters. Just how economic depression and virulent inflation wreak havoc is made clear. He tells us why the role of our government is largely helpful. (Are you really able to get bin Laden on your own?) Of course, when it comes to government intervention, there are cons along with the pros. (Health care, for example.) Are you discomfited by the policies of the World Bank or the activities of the IMF? Keep reading. You will probably be convinced that on the whole and in the long run globalization is a good thing. (Whether historical forces will work against it and bring on a worldwide depression is yet to be seen). The workings of the financial markets are made simple. Meanwhile, Wheelan’s investment advice, conforming to the immutable laws of economics, is patently sane: save, invest, diversify for the long run, and eschew get-rich-quick schemes.

A gentle, clear, and accessible hornbook that should crowd out many other general texts.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-393-04982-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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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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Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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