A welcome cross-examination of a concept that seems as natural as sunlight but that, like every other human construct, is...



We all know that statistics can lie. But what about one of the greatest statistical measures of all, Gross Domestic Product?

British science writer and BBC presenter Masood (International Science Policy/Imperial Coll. London; Science and Islam: A History, 2008, etc.) offers a provocation from start to finish, one that, though accessible to lay readers, will be most meaningful to those concerned with economic policy and development. GDP, he argues, is by the nature of its definition tilted to advanced economies, and it layers in hedges such as “effective demand” to condition tried-and-true formulas of the past. In the postwar era, he writes, the predecessor of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development pushed the use of the Depression-era GDP measure “as a system of accounting to assure richer nations that the assistance they were providing under the Marshall Plan wasn’t being misspent and was contributing to the growth of economies.” The problem, as development economists such as Mahbub ul Haq have argued, is that GDP doesn’t account for aspects of the unofficial economy that are so important in developing countries, such as barter and job sharing. Neither does it account for externalities such as the value of available clean water, bringing the concept of GDP under criticism from environmental activists as well as economists. Masood examines the history and evolution of GDP, which seems to have the overall effect of making rich nations seem richer and poor nations poorer than they actually are and which therefore makes rich nations resistant to modifying or dropping it as a standard. The author further considers alternate methods of gauging economic activity, such as ul Haq’s Human Development Index and the so-called Gross National Happiness standard, which are useful in quantifying “job satisfaction, volunteering, friendships, or other kinds of life satisfaction that do not involve money.”

A welcome cross-examination of a concept that seems as natural as sunlight but that, like every other human construct, is shot through with both politics and flaws.

Pub Date: June 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-68177-137-3

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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