THE END OF JAPAN INC.

AND HOW THE NEW JAPAN WILL LOOK

A savvy journalist's timely take on the evanescence of Japan's economic invincibility. Fresh from a stint as Tokyo bureau chief for The Economist, Wood (Boom and Bust, 1989) argues convincingly that the island nation poses a fading threat to Asian as well as Western rivals. Among other woes, he asserts, Dai Nihon's industrial base is burdened by overcapacity and swollen payrolls. The kind of mass dismissals that have kept America's labor costs at acceptable levels, the author observes, are inevitable if Japan is to remain competitive in world markets. By his tellingly detailed account, moreover, the country's financial institutions are not only primitive by Western standards but also vulnerable to future shocks created by the deflation of overvalued assets (in particular, urban property) and a rigged securities market that is not geared to provide corporations with either venture or expansion capital. Nor is Japan abreast, let alone ahead, of the pack in advanced technologies like computer software and wireless communications, which could offset declining demand for entertainment goods (TVs, VCRs, et al.). Wood points out as well that scandals have fractured the so-called iron triangle (business, the once-vaunted bureaucracy, professional politicians), effectively ending the Liberal Democratic Party's dominion and making Japan's governance more Italianate than Asian. He goes on to predict that civil disorders are likely once private enterprise starts downsizing and bargain-minded consumers systematically seek better deals in the nation's protected retail marketplace. In the meantime, the US is no longer willing to overlook the sharp practices of an ally no longer needed as a Pacific Basin buffer against the erstwhile Soviet Union. The subtitle notwithstanding, the text offers precious few perspectives on how Japan might emerge from its possibly convulsive renewal and restructuring. A worst-case audit that, if longer on reportage than analysis, provides ample evidence that Japan's challenge to the Global Village's economy has been put on hold by a host of home-front problems.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-671-50145-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994

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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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