A powerful exposé of an underdiscussed downside to the digital revolution.

THROWING ROCKS AT THE GOOGLE BUS

HOW GROWTH BECAME THE ENEMY OF PROSPERITY

Rushkoff (Theory and Digital Economics/CUNY, Queens; Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, 2013, etc.) looks behind marketing hype to examine the nexus of digital technology and the economy.

Taking issue with those who extol the virtues of the intermediary role of platforms like taxi-service replacement Uber or hotel alternative Airbnb, the author relentlessly peels back layers of confusion and obfuscation and reveals how these successful businesses have been brought into existence on the back of the government's original investment in the Internet. In Rushkoff's view, online businesses—whether the older, established ones like Amazon, Netflix, and Paypal or newer startups—are best seen as extensions of the advertising and marketing industries. He contends that it is the users of these companies that constitute their major “product,” and their “likes,” reposts, and “favorites” became vastly important (books and movie rentals are just means to the end). User preferences and data become grist for the mill of big data companies, who execute complex analytical work-ups for their customers. These digital platforms have consistently wreaked havoc across broad sectors of the market—one of the earliest and most obvious examples is what Amazon did to the book business. “Monopolistic commerce platforms are not true peer-to-peer systems,” writes the author, “and they are anything but freeing.” The results are often job loss, declining living standards, and depreciated assets. As Rushkoff shrewdly notes, “the job of the company is to extract value from local communities and pay it to investors. Its customer base, as well as its employee population, ultimately grows poorer.” The author then extrapolates further: “you can only extract value from a region or market segment for so long before it has nothing left to pay with.” Rushkoff hopes that the software creating the problems can also help organize a shift toward more equitable solutions.

A powerful exposé of an underdiscussed downside to the digital revolution.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61723-017-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 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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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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