A mostly accessible survey of the financial scene. Readers take note: Buy gold, land and art—and hunker down.



Behind Door No. 1 is inflation. Behind Door No. 2 is deflation. Neither is pretty—however, assures financial counselor and intelligence adviser Rickards (Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis, 2011), one or the other lies in our path.

The thought that the world’s economic systems are doomed to collapse anytime soon might be dismissed as the stuff of the tinfoil-hat crowd. Quickly entering into the realm not of paranoia but of fiscal wonkiness, Rickards examines the many ways this might come about—through financial cyberterrorism, for instance, or simply the unwieldiness of banks too big to fail but that surely will. “Large banks are not necessary to global finance,” he writes, and particularly dangerous to the health of the world economy is their flourishing trade in derivatives, which “serve practically no purpose save to enrich bankers through opaque pricing and to deceive investors through off-the-balance-sheet accounting.” On the matter of off-the-sheet calculations, Rickards notes that the common excuse—that times may be tough but at least we don’t have inflation—is a smoke screen: Allowing for “alternative methods” of accounting, real inflation is probably 9 percent annually, gauged by the prices of milk, bread and other inelastic goods. Rickards rides an old hobbyhorse of fiscal conservatives, namely, the tragedy of our abandonment of the gold standard (under Richard Nixon, of all presidents) and the desirability of readopting it—and real gold at that, and not its derivatives. Though the collapse he foretells will induce chaos, he assures his readers that it is not necessarily inevitable, though avoiding it is unlikely. As he writes in a rare moment of drama, “as the dollar’s 9/11 moment approaches, the system is blinking red.”

A mostly accessible survey of the financial scene. Readers take note: Buy gold, land and art—and hunker down.

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59184-670-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


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 declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


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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