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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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

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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