AMERICAN WORK

BLACK AND WHITE LABOR SINCE 1600

A well-researched but unbalanced study of the interelation of race and labor in American history. Bancroft Prizewinning historian Jones (Brandeis Univ.; The Dispossesed, 1992; Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, 1985) sets out to explore how and why black and white workers have been treated differently throughout American history, both before and after emancipation. Her study begins with a look at the failed policy of enslaving Indians and the subsequent practice of importing African slaves. Some black slaves in the South won or bought their freedom, but most free blacks found themselves either with few prospects as far as skilled labor was concerned or compelled to work for the same people to whom they had been enslaved. Meanwhile, in the mostly ``free'' North, job competition between free blacks and whites often exploded in violence; immigrants from Ireland and elsewhere would destroy black property and assault African-Americans who they felt were vying for their jobs. This is one of the primary paradoxes that Jones addresses: White Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries could simultaneously view blacks as intellectually and functionally inferior and yet fear that these perceived inferiors could take their jobs. The truth, of course, is that prejudicial hiring practices kept this from happening, even after the passing of civil rights legislation in the 20th century. Unions, while giving lip service to brotherhood and equality, were likewise discriminatory toward racial minorities. Disappointingly, Jones devotes much of the book to the period from early settlements up to the Civil War. The discussion of work-related discrimination in the 20th century, by contrast, seems too terse and insufficiently detailed. For instance, the fate of the laws meant to enforce equal opportunity and affirmative action doesn't get the close attention that it requires. In the end, the subject is probably too large for one volume. Nonetheless, this is a useful and sobering work. (34 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-393-04561-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1997

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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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