An arguable thesis, perhaps, but an evenhanded view of a topic generating much heat.

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INEQUALITY

WHAT EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW

Economist Galbraith (Univ. of Texas; The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth, 2014, etc.) ventures an anti-Pikettian view of the sharply divisive fact that not all wallets are created equal.

In strictest economic terms, inequality is not a bad thing; it “generates the competition that determines status and standing and prestige,” writes the author, and therefore serves as a driver of economic progress. Galbraith, who allows that it’s hard to separate politics from the idealized world of numbers and formulas, enumerates several kinds of inequality, of which one in particular, income inequality, is hard to measure: income is often hidden, tax records obscured, numbers skewed for (mostly) political reasons. The French economist Thomas Piketty has made the same observation, most recently with regard to tax statistics. Galbraith, though, sharply departs from Piketty on many points, arguing, for one thing, that income inequality has become “less certain and inexorable after 2000 than it was before” and that after the crisis of 2008, inequalities have declined slightly. This seems counterintuitive given the pronounced gulf between the haves and the have-nots, as does Galbraith’s assertion that richer societies are generally more equal than poorer ones because “a rich society, by definition, must have a large middle class.” Given another trend, the steady erosion of the middle class, this again seems questionable, at least for the U.S., but Galbraith defends his arguments capably. At times his prose, generally dry but accessible, catches fire, as when he writes in favor of the inheritance tax in light of “the privileged, feckless, and lazy brats that the original founders of great fortunes tend to spawn.” Readers with economics and political science backgrounds will benefit most from the book, and they alone are likely to be interested in such things as his account of inequality in history and his political excurses on, for instance, “whether egalitarian societies do better on the battlefield than their unequal opponents.”

An arguable thesis, perhaps, but an evenhanded view of a topic generating much heat.

Pub Date: March 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-19-025046-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

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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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