A provocative case, and one that those who feel undervalued in the present economy will surely appreciate.

THE PROFIT PARADOX

HOW THRIVING FIRMS THREATEN THE FUTURE OF WORK

A sharply argued thesis that one effect of all-powerful corporations is the suppression of wages for working people across the board.

Productivity has risen markedly since 1980, writes Barcelona-based economist Eeckhout, “yet what most workers get in exchange for producing that output has not kept up.” Indeed, wages have fallen, especially for “unskilled workers” and those without a college education. Even skilled professionals are losing ground. Meanwhile, corporations such as Amazon and Google have become near monopolies. The labor share of the economy, as Eeckhout puts it formally—though this book requires no background in economics to understand—was about 65% in 1980 and is below 58% today. “A decline of seven percentage points—or 10 percent—may seem tiny,” he adds, “but that includes the earnings of…top earners, and not just the low-paid workers.” Given the inequalities in today’s winner-take-all economy, workers understandably feel that they have no stake in the game and no vested interest in seeing that the system is maintained, giving rise to political unrest. In a novel, intriguing argument, Eeckhout holds that Amazon and other monopolies could well afford to lower their costs, which would mean more volume, yet they keep their prices high in order to curb demand and keep labor costs down while maintaining market power. The author notes that whereas the two largest retailers before the Depression, Sears and A&P, had a market share of just 3%, Walmart and Amazon today “account for 15 percent of retail sales.” Yet antitrust regulators, as well as politicians of all stripes, are silent. Eeckhout proposes that existing antitrust laws be brought to bear to force higher wages as well as to pry data from the hands of corporations and back into the purview of the consumers who generate it.

A provocative case, and one that those who feel undervalued in the present economy will surely appreciate.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-691-21447-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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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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