A pleasure for the fiscally minded and a good introduction to applied economics for readers with a smattering of theory.



Invisible hand, meet trickle-down: a lightly learned but deep-reaching look at classic economic problems through the lens of classical economics.

Business schools across the land teach a set of canonical precepts: The free market is good and self-correcting, corporations have the sole duty of maximizing return for shareholders, and commerce is indifferent to larger matters of ethics. But are all those points true? Also, are they useful in addressing obdurate problems that seem custom-coined for our time, such as, in the face of economy-must-grow models, the future seems the province of low productivity and lower expansion? Enter BBC broadcaster and Oxford economist Yueh (China's Growth: The Making of an Economic Superpower, 2013, etc.), who turns to Robert Solow, “the author of the workhorse of economic growth models,” for guidance. She also goes against Solow and on to the ground of endogenous growth theory but returns with a humane prescription: Just as Solow located growth in, among other things, how workers are treated, maybe we can learn to retool. (Yueh adds that Solow, still at work in his 90s, also counsels relaxing some: “learning to adjust, to adapt, is not a bad thing for economists to learn.”) And what of quantitative easing in recessive economies? Well, throw Keynes into the mix, then see what Milton Friedman would say about whether increasing the monetary supply is the right thing to do. Concludes Yueh, with sidestepping befitting a careful economist, “it’s fair to say the jury is largely still out.” The author, who once ran for Congress as a kind of made-for-TV thought experiment, has solid, interesting things to say about globalization, human capital, and kindred matters and a correct sense for which economist to bring to the problem at hand, whether Paul Samuelson (“the last of the great general economists”) or Alfred Marshall, the anti-socialist who still supported redistribution—with qualifications.

A pleasure for the fiscally minded and a good introduction to applied economics for readers with a smattering of theory.

Pub Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-18053-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


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 declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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