SALE OF THE CENTURY

RUSSIA’S WILD RIDE FROM COMMUNISM TO CAPITALISM

Sharply drawn and deeply depressing, Freeland’s tale is missing only a whining country-and-western soundtrack to complete...

The sorry story of the fiasco known as the Russian capitalist economy, thoroughly if at times crassly told by correspondent Freeland.

The Russian economy hasn’t really collapsed, according to Financial Times Moscow bureau chief Freeland, since it has never stood upright to begin with—either before or since the fall of communism. What did take place was a massive redistribution of wealth after communism’s demise—along similarly unequal and unfruitful lines. Sometimes the redistribution was rude and crude—witness the rise of the Russian Mafia—but the grand-scale theft was accomplished with all the slipperiness of an eel. During the latter half of the 1990s, the author explains, while shoot-’em-up mobsters grabbed all the headlines, a small group of businessmen (the oligarchs) have grabbed Russia’s most valuable asset—its natural resources—in exchange for their political muscle. Freeland does an exquisite job of delineating the scheming, convoluted politics that shaped this arrangement—particularly those that swirled around the increasingly pathetic figure of Boris Yeltsin. She admirably sets the disastrous macroeconomic stage: Russia’s lack of civil society, its weak tax-collecting powers, its bent judges, its malleable civil servants, its complete lack of checks and balances, and the inevitability of its Soviet-era business directors staying in power. Then she sketches out the dance of death that ensued between the reformers and the oligarchs, as well as the betrayals and character assassinations and the final collapse of the upstart economy (via an IMF bailout that facilitated the flight of investment capital). Freeland stumbles only when she takes mortifying cracks at being irreverent (as in “an arbitrage trader’s wet dream” or “Wall Street’s Big Swinging Dicks”).

Sharply drawn and deeply depressing, Freeland’s tale is missing only a whining country-and-western soundtrack to complete its doleful atmosphere.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8129-3215-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

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

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

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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