Smart, sometimes-stinging prose that rejects the doctrines of strangled government and artificial austerity, doctrines that...

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THE GREAT DIVIDE

UNEQUAL SOCIETIES AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT THEM

Nobel Prize–winning economist Stiglitz (The Price of Inequality, 2012, etc.) examines some of the macro dollars-and-cents issues that separate the haves from the have-nots—and money is just of them.

Inequality kills democracy, and, the author observes, it is rapidly on the rise, more so in the United States than in any other Western country and on a par with Russia and numerous developing nations, “a club of which we should not be proud to be a member.” Stiglitz has been working in this vein for many years, but his diagnoses and prognoses take on new urgency in this time of increasing disparity. Here, the author gathers magazine and journal pieces that roughly track to the financial crisis of 2007 and its aftermath. There’s a certain degree of unavoidable repetitiveness in the collection, but the author’s weaving them together with fresh threads of commentary (on, among other things, the “Piketty phenomenon”) provides coherence and useful emphasis. It helps to have some background in economics when reading his takes on “rent-seeking behavior,” which has a very specific economic meaning, but overall, Stiglitz writes jargon-free, persuasive prose that repeatedly makes the point that inequality and all its burdens are, in the end, the results of political choices consciously made: we don’t have to live in a world of superrich, a declining middle class, and a growing pool of poverty. These political choices, he charges, have been made as much by the Obama administration as its predecessor, and many of them hinge on protecting the financial industry at the expense of the taxpayer. “We have, in a phrase, confused ends with means,” he writes. “A banking system is supposed to serve society, not the other way around.”

Smart, sometimes-stinging prose that rejects the doctrines of strangled government and artificial austerity, doctrines that require us to “pay a high economic price for our growing inequality and declining opportunity.”

Pub Date: April 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-393-24857-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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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 readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

REIMAGINING CAPITALISM IN A WORLD ON FIRE

A well-constructed critique of an economic system that, by the author’s account, is a driver of the world’s destruction.

Harvard Business School professor Henderson vigorously questions the bromide that “management’s only duty is to maximize shareholder value,” a notion advanced by Milton Friedman and accepted uncritically in business schools ever since. By that logic, writes the author, there is no reason why corporations should not fish out the oceans, raise drug prices, militate against public education (since it costs tax money), and otherwise behave ruinously and anti-socially. Many do, even though an alternative theory of business organization argues that corporations and society should enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, which includes corporate investment in what economists call public goods. Given that the history of humankind is “the story of our increasing ability to cooperate at larger and larger scales,” one would hope that in the face of environmental degradation and other threats, we might adopt the symbiotic model rather than the winner-take-all one. Problems abound, of course, including that of the “free rider,” the corporation that takes the benefits from collaborative agreements but does none of the work. Henderson examines case studies such as a large food company that emphasized environmentally responsible production and in turn built “purpose-led, sustainable living brands” and otherwise led the way in increasing shareholder value by reducing risk while building demand. The author argues that the “short-termism” that dominates corporate thinking needs to be adjusted to a longer view even though the larger problem might be better characterized as “failure of information.” Henderson closes with a set of prescriptions for bringing a more equitable economics to the personal level, one that, among other things, asks us to step outside routine—eat less meat, drive less—and become active in forcing corporations (and politicians) to be better citizens.

A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-3015-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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