Moyo clearly identifies systemic problems that the democracies—or what’s left of them—would do well to address.

EDGE OF CHAOS

WHY DEMOCRACY IS FAILING TO DELIVER ECONOMIC GROWTH—AND HOW TO FIX IT

Zambian-born economist Moyo (Winner Take All: China’s Race for Resources and What It Means for the World, 2012, etc.) takes on thorny questions of economic and political stagnation.

Is democracy an essential component of market freedom? No, writes the author. As the command economy of China demonstrates, “many aspects of how the Chinese political class manages its economy are antithetical to the Western values of democracy and free markets.” That does not keep Western investors away, for China has demonstrated a commitment to things that Western democracies, by Moyo’s account, have abandoned: the idea of constant economic growth and, with it, investment in infrastructure, health care, education, and other public goods that enhance political stability. By contrast, the West is ground down in stagnation, endemic poverty and inequality, and political unrest, all of which “suggest that democracy is not a prerequisite of economic growth.” For Moyo, that economic growth is a sine qua non: without it, the developing world cannot attain developed status, and the developed world cannot flourish. Democratic capitalism may be preferred to other systems, but it has shortcomings that play out in the economic and political spheres. If democracies are to endure, she writes, then inequality must be combatted and elections need to be truly competitive and involve more than mere duopolies. The fundamental enemy of growth and democracy alike is “short-termism,” behavior that ignores the long view in favor of immediate returns and gratification. For example, “a less politicized and more long-term-focused education policy would help circumvent the problem in which the United States ranks among the highest in terms of education spending per capita but in some respects is among the worst in education outcomes when compared against its advanced country peers.” Although the writing is sometimes clunky and the argument repetitive, the author’s program of remedy is provocative and of much interest to advocates of growth.

Moyo clearly identifies systemic problems that the democracies—or what’s left of them—would do well to address.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-465-09746-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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