A fair-minded exposition of a politically loaded subject.




Economists Slemrod (Univ. of Michigan) and Bakija (Williams Coll.) provide a sometimes dense but mostly easy-to-read road map of the US tax system.

The authors discuss the progressivity of the graduated income tax in great detail, explaining how it yields more revenue than corporate taxes, penalizes savings (by taxing interest), and can be considered superior to the flat tax (which is simpler but not progressive) but inferior to the value-added tax (or VAT, widely used in Europe) because of its complexity and many loopholes. Readers, especially conservative ones, will be surprised to hear that there is no direct link between tax rates and prosperity. Rates in the US haven’t changed much over the past 50 years, even during periods of stellar growth, whereas in Europe (where taxes are higher) growth has often proceeded ahead of the US. Slemrod and Bakija also outline factors most laymen don’t consider when discussing (or complaining about) the topic. Any discussion of tax reform, for example, has to take into consideration what it costs to comply with the rules as well as how much we spend enforcing them. Taxpayers blow around $100 billion a year figuring their taxes; the IRS has a budget of $8 billion. Given these figures, policymakers and legislators (and, by extension, the voters) must be held to blame for the nation’s tax woes, not the IRS. The authors’ prescriptions for reform are myriad and leave no clear avenues. The efficiency of the flat tax might (but probably won’t) compensate for its regressive nature. The VAT in theory is cheaper to enforce than the income tax, but in Europe it costs the same or more. A national sales tax appears very easy, but it would break the economy. It’s possible to catch oneself reading but not comprehending the extended proofs that accompany these proposals. Given the usual opacity of the subject, however, Slemrod and Bakija are as clear as glass.

A fair-minded exposition of a politically loaded subject.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-262-19429-5

Page Count: 312

Publisher: MIT Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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 deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.


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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