A welcome antidote to apocalyptic thinking.

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FEWER, RICHER, GREENER

PROSPECTS FOR HUMANITY IN AN AGE OF ABUNDANCE

Global threats—including climate change, nuclear proliferation, and pandemics—have people worried about the future of humanity. Siegel instead argues that there is good reason to be optimistic.

At the core of the author’s thesis is the idea that the population explosion is “just about over” and that this is welcome news. “It will almost certainly end in this century,” he writes. As countries experience increased affluence and lower death rates, couples tend to have fewer children. Aided by new technologies, which enhance productivity and reduce the need to own so many things, “we are on the verge of the greatest democratization of wealth and well-being that the world has ever known,” and we will be richer “not just in money and goods, but in food, health, longevity, education, culture, safety, and just about everything else that people need and crave.” Moreover, writes Siegel, this democratized economic wealth will lead to a greener planet through protective policies and eco-technologies. The author backs up his sanguine outlook by citing dozens of economists and researchers, both historical and modern. This glut of data, often presented visually in charts and graphs, is both enlightening and cumbersome. The narrative is a remarkable resource but not a casual read. Still, Siegel does a good job of moving through dense analysis using prose that anyone can understand. He also recognizes that reaching global affluence, peace, and health has significant challenges, though his certainty that they can be overcome might seem overly optimistic in light of many grim current events. Democratizing education and technology and solving the problem of resource allocation for a population living longer are crucial. Siegel’s most salient argument is perhaps our most important goal, and it’s not simple: Everyone, in particular younger generations, must believe it can be done and that they possess the tools and minds to make a difference.

A welcome antidote to apocalyptic thinking. (b/w photos, illustrations, charts, graphs)

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-119-52689-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Wiley

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2020

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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 deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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