Brown’s portrait of an ideal market is speculative in the ordinary sense of the word, but, even if likely to be dismissed by...

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BUDDHIST ECONOMICS

AN ENLIGHTENED APPROACH TO THE DISMAL SCIENCE

In a Hobbesian marketplace full of predators and lambs, an economist offers a case for being a little nicer—and more mindful.

A primary tenet of Buddhism is that, given that all life involves suffering, we are at our best when minimizing another’s travails. In the economic sense, this involves a chain of Pareto improvements—transactions, that is, in which everyone is left better off than before. That’s the ideal, seldom realized. In Buddhist economics, one hopes for the same all-around benefit. To gauge how it works in a particular society, writes Brown (Director, Center for Work, Technology, and Society/Univ. of California), “we look at the distribution of well-being across its population, including equal access to opportunity.” Such an economy hinges on a recognition of the primacy of public goods, including ready access to education and other human-capital resources, and it requires a full reckoning of what an economist would call externalities: the costs of pollution attendant in burning a gallon of gas. In this calculus, the old laws of supply and demand yield to a new understanding, to “new prices and outputs that reflect our new interdependent values.” Naturally, such an understanding also involves a redistribution of wealth within Western economies and from richer to poorer countries, a kind of large-scale international socialism. Lest anyone dismiss Brown’s program as pure pie in the sky—though there is that—she offers the example of the Buddhist country of Bhutan, which “introduced the idea of using a Gross National Happiness (GNH) index in place of GDP to measure the nation’s prosperity and well-being.” And with lessened suffering and a few more dollars in the pocket, why wouldn’t one be measurably happier?

Brown’s portrait of an ideal market is speculative in the ordinary sense of the word, but, even if likely to be dismissed by the financier class, it makes for an attractive prospectus.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63286-366-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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