A fresh, lightly written look at issues noteworthy for their complexity; just the book for the budding economist in the...

THE GROWTH DELUSION

WEALTH, POVERTY, AND THE WELL-BEING OF NATIONS

Of economic growth and its discontents—and of new ways to gauge all of them.

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell,” the environmental curmudgeon Edward Abbey was fond of saying. One suspects that Financial Times associate editor Pilling would endorse the view, though he puts things less stridently in this studied look at economic growth and its measures and mismeasures. “Economics,” he writes, “can present a distorted view of the world.” True enough, especially because a sine qua non of modern economics is gross domestic product, a calculation of all the things that happen in an economy. But as the author memorably notes, GDP is morally indifferent: it “likes pollution,” because money is spent to clean up environmental messes, and “likes crime because it is fond of large police forces and repairing broken windows.” War and catastrophe? No problem, from a GDP point of view. Pilling examines some of the ways that renegade economists have proposed to consider the true health of an economy, with all the externalities of economic activity taken into account, from various equations to happiness rankings to the Genuine Progress Index, one of the more interesting “measures of economic welfare.” Refreshingly, the author’s approach does not require much background in economics, though a little familiarity with some of its key concepts would be helpful. He writes clearly about such new approaches as trying to enumerate the “services” nature provides—by which we can ponder what the survival of bees is worth, given their contributions to pollinating crops, and can think about the “existence value” of the great apes. Throughout, Pilling presses the point that the economy, as he writes, “is not real” but instead is shorthand for talking about trillions of transactions; in the same way, GDP “is just a clever way of measuring some of the stuff that we humans get up to.”

A fresh, lightly written look at issues noteworthy for their complexity; just the book for the budding economist in the house.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-57250-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tim Duggan Books/Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more