Not exactly an independent point of view but one that will surely provoke much curiosity.

BERKSHIRE BEYOND BUFFETT

THE ENDURING VALUE OF VALUES

Cunningham (Business Law/George Washington Univ.; Contracts in the Real World: Stories of Popular Contracts and Why They Matter, 2012, etc.) discusses whether Berkshire Hathaway, the investment vehicle for billionaire Warren Buffett, will outlive the death of its founder and why.

As the editor and publisher of Buffett's annual letters to Berkshire's shareholders and someone who knows his subject personally, the author will no doubt be considered an authoritative source by most readers. Cunningham also consulted with other Berkshire insiders, including owners—e.g., Buffett's son Howard, a co-director of Berkshire, and Buffett’s partner, Charlie Munger, formerly of Wesco Financial—and managers of operating subsidiaries. The author provides a full history and profile of Berkshire's major subsidiaries, as well as the company's Class A shareholders. Cunningham isn’t just interested in the history of Buffett and Berkshire, however. He is in search of the protective “moat” that shelters Buffett's creation from competitors seeking to increase their market shares. Initially, the author thought it might be Buffett himself or that it was predicated on the “float” of his insurance companies (the difference between claims paid out and premiums paid in). The author concludes that Berkshire is protected by its unique culture, which constitutes its potential for survival. Organizationally complex and “highly decentralized,” with twice the number of separate business units as General Electric, Berkshire embraces family-owned businesses, like Benjamin Moore Paints, as well as self-starters. It is a publicly quoted company that also owns private companies and franchises like Dairy Queen. Cunningham believes that the disparate businesses are held together by their shared beliefs about the ethical purposes and responsibilities of business. These traits have also combined to allow them to successfully avoid the pitfalls of buyouts, asset stripping, public offerings and indebtedness.

Not exactly an independent point of view but one that will surely provoke much curiosity.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0231170048

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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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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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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