Economics for the 99 percent who don’t know moral hazard from opportunity cost: lively, intelligent and readily accessible.

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ECONOMICS

THE USER'S GUIDE

The dismal science rendered undismally, even spryly, by economist Chang (Economics/Cambridge Univ.; 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, 2011, etc.).

A certain online bookseller, news reports will tell you, is behaving monopolistically. That’s not strictly accurate: There are other places to buy books, but few are as powerful in the marketplace, so much so that publishers walk in fear of it. That makes the bookseller something between an oligopsony and a monopsony. Writes Chang, “Oligopolistic firms cannot manipulate their markets as much as a monopolistic firm can, but they may deliberately collude to maximize their profits by not undercutting each other’s prices—this is known as a cartel.” Conversely, he notes, oligopsonistic and monopsonistic firms were “considered to be theoretical curiosities even a few decades ago,” but they’re very real today—and more important than monopolies in shaping economies. In other words, it’s not your grandfather’s economic scene out there, far less Karl Marx’s. That makes Chang’s note on historical schools particularly important: He observes that most economic schools, from the right-leaning Austrians to the centrist Keynesians to the leftist Marxists, “all share a class-based vision of society.” He helpfully adds that no one school holds a monopoly on the truth, though the free-market school has increasingly been proved out of touch thanks to the development of the idea of asymmetric information—in a situation when buyer knows something that seller doesn’t and vice versa, no market can be truly free. This leads Chang into the currently hot area of inequality, on which he takes a measured stance that won’t displease followers of Thomas Piketty’s recent critique of predatory capitalism. In the end, Chang urges readers to become “active economic citizen[s],” which, he adds, isn’t as hard as it might seem.

Economics for the 99 percent who don’t know moral hazard from opportunity cost: lively, intelligent and readily accessible.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62040-812-4

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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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

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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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