A fair-minded exposition of a politically loaded subject.

TAXING OURSELVES

A CITIZEN’S GUIDE TO THE GREAT DEBATE OVER TAX REFORM

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...

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 timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

STILLNESS IS THE KEY

An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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