A nice takedown, particularly in its acknowledgement that the deck is always stacked against “participants in a vast...

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POUND FOOLISH

EXPOSING THE DARK SIDE OF THE PERSONAL FINANCE INDUSTRY

Dishy dirt on the “financialization” of American life and the hordes of carrion-pickers who swarm us in the hope of lifting still more dollars from our pockets.

By Forbes.com blogger and former Los Angeles Times writer Olen’s account, this financialization was a bit haphazard and not entirely well-planned-out. The IRA, for example, was intended as a supplement to other retirement measures, whereas “what we today think of as the natural retirement planning landscape started as an accident, a 1978 shift in the tax code designed to clarify a few highly technical points about profit-sharing plans offered by many corporations to high-ranking employees.” Lest it make you feel cuddly to think that your retirement account has its source in something meant for the rich and powerful, Olen observes that it’s a mook’s game these days: Whereas in the 1950s, only 5 percent of Americans were in the stock market, by 2000, that had gone up to fully half, with a vast industry peeling off dollars in the form of management fees, commissions and so forth. The stock market and its ancillaries received promotion as “a way to gain wealth we could not gain through conventional savings or earnings strategies.” Unconventional means risky, as a generation of shorn investors has recently come to appreciate, but that risk doesn’t stop us from wanting to try our luck again—and that brings in a bunch of Olen’s bugaboos, including the “wealth creation seminar business” and people like Suze Orman, “whose riches came from…lecturing the rest of us on our inability to manage our funds.”

A nice takedown, particularly in its acknowledgement that the deck is always stacked against “participants in a vast experiment” of the deregulated marketplace—namely, the little guys.

Pub Date: Dec. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59184-489-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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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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