Compelling stories at the intersection of entrepreneurial aspirations, personal obligations, and public policy.

SAVING MAIN STREET

SMALL BUSINESS IN THE TIME OF COVID-19

A Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist reports on how small-business owners in northeast Pennsylvania—and one in New York City—weathered the challenges posed by the pandemic.

In the best of times, running a small business is a precarious proposition; the pandemic made it nearly impossible. In early 2020, Rivlin, author of Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.―How the Working Poor Became Big Business, among other books, set out to document how a handful of businesses dealt with the precipitous decline in customers, unrelenting mortgage and utility bills, and costs that escalated as supply chains faltered. Among others, these include Vilma’s Hair Salon, Cusumano’s Italian restaurant, Lech’s Pharmacy, J.R.’s Hallmark, and Sol Cacao, a chocolate bar business. During the pandemic, owners worried about their employees and rethought their businesses. They navigated shifting shutdown orders and mask mandates and applied for financial assistance from the federal and state governments. Making matters worse was the lack of a “coordinated federal plan”; each state made its own rules. In addition, there were the constant threats posed by large restaurant and pharmaceutical chains, retail behemoths such as Walmart, and, of course, Amazon. These large corporations not only undercut their prices; they also gutted the downtown centers that brought in customers. Politicians might celebrate small businesses for being essential to living in a community and for embodying the independent spirit that ostensibly defines the American character, but economic policy always favors big business. That many businesses survived was due, in part, to the loyalty of employees and customers, the support of local business associations, and governmental grants and loans that carried them through the worst of the pandemic. For Rivlin, though, most important were business owners’ “creativity and fortitude,” the tenacity and improvisational talent to get the job done.

Compelling stories at the intersection of entrepreneurial aspirations, personal obligations, and public policy.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-306596-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper Business

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2022

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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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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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