THE NATURE OF RISK

STOCK MARKET SURVIVAL AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

A veteran Wall Streeter, Mamis argued for technical (as opposed to fundamental) analysis of stock prices in When to Sell (1977) and How to Buy (1982). In the charmingly existential text at hand, however, he goes well beyond his demandingly interpretive discipline to reflect on larger issues. To achieve success in either life or the market, Mamis points out, individuals must act before they know enough, meaning there are hazards involved. He observes, for instance, that investors who hesitate may catch only the last 20% of a bull move and thus assume a disproportionate share of risk. Among other problems, the author notes, those under pressure (i.e., at risk) often let emotion determine their responses. Since experience instills concern as well as confidence, he says, many people (having been coerced into socially acceptable behavior patterns since childhood) become paralyzed at critical junctures in their personal and financial lives. Taking as a given the premise that ``the market climbs a wall of worry,'' Mamis advises readers to trust their intuition (not instincts) whether trading equities, falling in love, or engaging in other more or less gainful pursuits. Incurring informed risks, he asserts, can prove a liberating proposition whose reward is not necessarily a payoff, but a balance. By this, Mamis means the satisfaction that accrues from playing a game (or role) to win, rather than not to lose, from start to finish. In addition to an abundance of Zen-like pronouncements (e.g., ``death is the extreme of risk''; ``like sex, money distorts our senses''), he offers a full measure of contrarian counsel on a wealth of subjects—from gold (a commodity Mamis cites as an impotent hedge during recent market breaks) through indexing (an investment approach that reduces responsibility without curbing risk) and diversification (a system ``designed to protect the dumb''). Thought-provoking perspectives on the market and life as tests that never end.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-201-57770-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Addison-Wesley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1991

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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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Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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