HYPERCAPITALISM

THE MODERN ECONOMY, ITS VALUES, AND HOW TO CHANGE THEM

Something to leave under the tree for that relative who can’t get enough of Ayn Rand, insistent that there are values to...

“Overeducated cartoonist” Gonick, the pen behind numerous cartoon guides to scientific and historical subjects (The Cartoon History of the Universe, etc.), returns with this look at the reigning economic system of the day.

Hypercapitalism, Kasser (Chair, Psychology/Knox Coll.; Lucy in the Mind of Lennon, 2013, etc.) writes in his accompanying text, is “a system that celebrates materialism, consumerism, and status.” It does so, he continues, at the expense of other values that could be more important, such as community, public education, environmental quality, and other like matters. Psychological studies indicate that those who fall under the spell of consumerist cultism care demonstrably less for such things as treating other people fairly and not ravaging the planet. That a psychologist and not an economist is writing about economic matters is telling, for the thrust of the argument is really one of values: not the price-setting values of supply and demand but instead those that determine whether one needs a gadget and whether by buying it he or she will improve someone else’s life. “The idea here,” writes Kasser, “is to be mindful of one’s values and act accordingly when buying things.” Of course, as an alarmed postindustrialist might say, if everyone were to act on such values, then the entire enterprise would collapse—which, the authors suggest, is the whole point, substituting an entrepreneurial spirit for saving the world for making a fortune. Those who are familiar with Gonick’s pleasingly Mad-influenced style will find no surprises in his straightforward presentation, and Kasser doesn’t deliver much news—indeed, his argument is reminiscent of the pop-cultural criticism of Vance Packard, Erich Fromm, and Alvin Toffler of decades past. Still, though it lacks the punch of a Piketty or a Stiglitz, it’s a timely counter to those who celebrate predatory economics as the best of all possible financial worlds.

Something to leave under the tree for that relative who can’t get enough of Ayn Rand, insistent that there are values to cherish other than selfishness.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62097-282-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

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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