WHO PROSPERS?

HOW CULTURAL VALUES SHAPE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL SUCCESS

Harrison, a sometime director of development programs for the US Agency for International Development, argues that the extent to which countries are economically and politically ``successful'' is principally determined by cultural factors. Why are some countries prosperous and democratic while others poor and politically oppressed? According to Harrison, the main reason is a country's values and attitudes. He finds that four factors are especially important: the ``radius of trust,'' or degree to which the members of a society identify with one another; the ``rigor'' of the ethical system; the way authority is exercised; and attitudes about work, innovation, saving, and profit. Harrison's thesis is advertised by his publishers as ``myth-shattering,'' but his conclusion surely comes as no surprise—that the most successful cultures, according to his criteria, have been those most influenced by the Protestant work ethic and Western values of democracy and individual rights. This view does become controversial, although no less predictable, in the chapters that analyze in cultural terms the relative performance of Asian-, Mexican-, and Afro-Americans, and in the closing essay about the danger of overall decline in the US. The argument that the recent success of countries like Japan, Taiwan, and Korea can be traced to their Confucian traditions is less familiar and more interesting in the light of the common Western assumption that progress depends on individualism. On the whole, Harrison has no trouble showing the general importance of culture as a factor of national success, and he provides many pertinent examples. But his stronger claim that culture is the principal determinant of success is never substantiated. His method is to pile up evidence favoring his view while doing little to confront or even record possible counterarguments. A compendium of useful information that delivers less than it claims as a social-scientific argument.

Pub Date: July 15, 1992

ISBN: 0-465-01634-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1992

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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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