There’s much for the alarmist here but food for thought for the calm investor, too.

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THE ROAD TO RUIN

THE GLOBAL ELITES' SECRET PLAN FOR THE NEXT FINANCIAL CRISIS

Can owning a Chagall keep the wolf from the door? In a time of a predatory capitalism that is beginning to feed on itself, that and a knowledge of complexity theory might get you more than a cup of coffee.

Granted, financial consultant Rickards (The New Case for Gold, 2016, etc.) has been crying Ragnarök for a long time. Even so, the subtitle of this latest may be a touch more breathless than the contents really call for. Never mind that the author does indeed urge on his readers the thesis that the elite, whoever they may be—George Soros, to be sure, but Christopher Dodd?—have three things on their agenda: “world money, world taxation, and world order.” The conspiracy theory stuff never goes away, but when Rickards’ text settles down into its nerdier tropes, it gets interesting, if a little daunting. The author argues that the complex global financial system is now largely immune to analysis by the static tools of classical economics; “complex systems,” he rightly remarks, “behave in a completely different manner from equilibrium systems.” Number crunching begins to look like a secondary tool to the wind-reading skills of psychological forecasting: who’s going to freak out first, and when? Examining such things as Bayesian probability (the “theorem is messy, but it’s still better than nothing”), scaling metrics, and density functions, Rickards makes a good case to get smarter to how people actually think, which is seldom logical and seldom smart. He concludes, in the more sober and less conspiracy-minded portion of this double-edged book, with a view of what a well-structured, wealth-preserving portfolio might look like in a time when wealth creation is ebbing but wealth extraction—from your pocket, that is—is rising. Among its components are bonds and land, of course, but also, not surprisingly, “physical gold and silver…(coins and bars, no numismatics)” and, more surprisingly, museum-quality fine art.

There’s much for the alarmist here but food for thought for the calm investor, too.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59184-808-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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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Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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