A provocative challenge to the tendency to elevate ideology over thoughtfulness. The author amply shows how “stability is...

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WHY SAFETY CAN BE DANGEROUS AND HOW DANGER MAKES US SAFE

Societies and economies “are not inherently stable,” writes Wall Street Journal chief economics commentator Ip (The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World, 2010) in this eye-opening book about risk-taking and crisis.

The author contends that our successful quest for safety and stability is constantly undermined by increased risk-taking and greater dangers, and he believes “we are going to have to re-examine” the premises as well as their results. Miami's growth as a population center, like the buildup of the Jersey shore, has increased the dangers associated with storms, but governments continue to justify their existence and claim to deliver both economic and political stability. Ip insists that as progress occurs, there is also “an equally irrepressible drive to make things bigger and more complicated.” In addition to discussing finance and economics, the author references natural disasters and efforts to make what we do safer—e.g., effects of anti-lock brakes and hard helmets for footballers. For him, there is a trade-off between the benefits and their unintended consequences, and the author discerns a pattern: the safer we feel at any time, the closer we may be to greater risk and danger (see how the widespread use of antibiotics has reduced their effectiveness). Ip argues for a nonideological approach employing prudence and carefulness, and he explains what he identifies as a dichotomy between “engineers” and “ecologists.” Engineers believe man will find solutions to any problem. Ecologists, like those who thought forest fires should be allowed to burn themselves out, think things should be left alone. Ip locates similar tensions within government, economics, and finance. He wisely advocates taking “the best of both” while exercising restraint “and not ask[ing] too much of them.”

A provocative challenge to the tendency to elevate ideology over thoughtfulness. The author amply shows how “stability is blissful, but it may also be illusory, hiding the buildup of hidden risks or nurturing behavior that will bring the stability to an end.”

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-28604-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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