Do the better angels of our nature demand double-digit profit? For a soft-path, smart refutation, Kwak’s book is just the...

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ECONOMISM

BAD ECONOMICS AND THE RISE OF INEQUALITY

A spry manifesto that dismantles the many suppositions of modern economic theory.

The fundamental duty of a corporation is to increase the wealth of its shareholders, is it not? It’s in all the economics textbooks, and it rolls off the tongue of financial journalists and talking heads, all defended by the supply curve and the ineluctable laws of elasticity of demand. As Kwak (Business Law and Corporate Finance/Univ. of Connecticut School of Law; co-author: White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why It Matters to You, 2012, etc.) writes, “this is why Economics 101 has become the preferred conceptual vocabulary for people who defend and even celebrate the high levels of inequality in the rich world today.” Economics as it is now taught, Kwak charges, is not really economics at all but economism, a near-religious, certainly ideological belief system on par with communism and other -isms in providing all the answers a believer would ever need. Some of the author’s criticisms are aimed at the larger greedhead culture that thrives due to economism; some of them, too, are aimed at the discipline of economics itself, which uses such things as the demand curve to justify things as reprehensible as price gouging in times of emergency. The author excoriates economics for its mathematical soullessness and its lack of attention to “historical context, critical thinking or real-world applications,” as a survey of undergraduate programs put it. He even manages to do a nice takedown, along the way, of the Leibnizian notion that this is the best of all possible worlds; for surely, he asks, there must be something better than “consumer surplus plus producer surplus.” Indeed, as he argues, the world cannot turn on economics alone, and the notion of economism that the aim of all life is to increase wealth carries the prospect of social harm.

Do the better angels of our nature demand double-digit profit? For a soft-path, smart refutation, Kwak’s book is just the ticket.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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