A timely and provocative discussion of big business and its uncertain future.

Former BP chief executive Browne (Seven Elements that Changed the World: An Adventure of Ingenuity and Discovery, 2014, etc.) teams with McKinsey & Company principal Nuttall and former McKinsey consultant Stadlen to call out some systematic failures of businesses, including the failure to learn from the past.

The authors interviewed more than 80 corporate leaders from companies around the world, and McKinsey's research and surveys back the work. High on the authors’ list is the absence of adequate corporate policies and methods to deal with potentially catastrophic issues involving the communities in which they operate. They prominently flag environmental issues, including climate change in general and specific events like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Also significant are corporate corruption, scandals, and criminality. To demonstrate the convenient amnesia of corporate leaders, the authors pair recent developments—Europe's 2013 horsemeat scandal—with historical precedents such as the dreadful conditions of the meatpacking industry in early-20th-century Chicago. Browne believes that the community outreach programs known as Corporate Social Responsibility are ineffective because they are “disconnected from commercial activity and from the needs of real people.” What are the actual roles of corporations, ask the authors, “if they are no longer the drivers of employment in their industry or their local community?” Through their interviews, the authors portray a world in the midst of social upheaval and technological revolution; one result has been the large-scale loss of lesser-qualified and unqualified positions. Artificial intelligence technology, robots, and software-driven platforms—e.g., Uber, which is greatly disrupting the taxi industry—are likely here to stay. As the authors rightly note, government still has a role to play. The authors cogently argue that businesses must develop more focused “mapping” of their operations. Clearer, more precise conceptions of aims and purposes are also necessary, and outreach must be more finely honed at every level.

A timely and provocative discussion of big business and its uncertain future.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61039-697-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016


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. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011


Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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