An essential contribution to the discussion of free speech and its online enemies.

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SPEECH POLICE

THE GLOBAL STRUGGLE TO GOVERN THE INTERNET

Policing the internet is necessary, but which entity shall we entrust with doing that work?

Governments fear a decentralized internet, but individuals should be alarmed about the centralization that has been firming up, “dominated by the corporate imperatives of advertising and data mining.” So writes Kaye (Law/Univ. of California, Irvine), the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, in this lucid exploration of the internet, which has become the domain of media and commercial monopolies instead of the earlier one in which numerous individual bloggers and publications were influential. Owned by Google, YouTube, for instance, has no incentive to clean up posts that fuel discord and hatred. Nor does Facebook: “There is no denying that they make a lot of money from a model that serves up video after video, or post after post, that takes one further and further away from verifiable information and toward the clickbait world of disinformation that intends to meaningfully deceive an audience." Instead, it is in the corporate interest to hide behind claims of free speech that until recently sheltered the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones. Entities such as the European Union and the U.N. are now pressing companies to police such speech under penalty of heavy fines, with legitimate information at risk of being cast away along with hate speech. Kaye proposes the application of human rights law to address some of these concerns, and he advocates better transparency and accountability as well as civilian oversight and democratic governance, since “whoever is in charge will have massive power over the future of civic space and freedom of expression worldwide.” Usefully, the author draws on examples from around the world, especially places where access to information is a literal matter of life and death, such as Syria and Myanmar. While corporate dominance is an undeniable threat to free speech for its own sake, he also observes, provocatively, that “fighting disinformation begins with governments telling the truth.”

An essential contribution to the discussion of free speech and its online enemies.

Pub Date: June 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9997454-8-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Columbia Global Reports

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2019

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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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