THE GREAT GAME

THE EMERGENCE OF WALL STREET AS A WORLD POWER, 1653-2000

This sparkling account (the basis for a forthcoming CNBC TV special) finds in Wall Street a remarkable microcosm for American invention, eccentricity, and double-dealing. Compressing centuries of economic arcana and dozens of complicated characters into a concise history is no easy task. But Gordon (Hamilton’s Blessing, 1997, not reviewed), an American Heritage business-history columnist and a commentator for PRI’s —Marketplace,— manages to make it all go down smoothly. He shows how from the time of its original Dutch builders, Wall Street assumed a cosmopolitan, commercial character. Opposing this tendency was the Jeffersonian suspicion of any central banking system, leading America’s financial markets to rely for their smooth functioning not on the government but on the sense and good will of individual companies. Although this lack of interference permitted the rise of such financial geniuses as —Commodore— Vanderbilt, J.P. Morgan, and Charles Merrill, it also gave free rein to Wall Street’s classic rogues, including Ivan Boesky, Richard Whitney, Jay Gould, and Jim Fisk. (The last two pulled off what Gordon, with ironic grandeur, describes as —the greatest single act of financial derring-do in the history of the Street.—) Gordon discloses how Wall Street was responsible for many major institutions taken for granted in American life, including modern accounting, fast food, and zoning laws. When he’s not serving up delicious trivia, Gordon expertly analyzes the trends that spurred Wall Street and consolidated its power. Especially important was technology: the Erie Canal, which sparked business for its brokers; the telegraph, which solidified New York City’s place as the nation’s financial capital; and computers, which resulted in globalization and the integration of the world’s financial markets in the last few decades. Refreshingly free of ideological cant, Gordon happily chastises the excesses of both government micromanagement (leading, for example, to robber barons— bribery of state legislatures) and free-market capitalism (the adored, still unprofitable Amazon.com). American business history depicted with infectious delight. (16 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-83287-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1999

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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 declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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