THE BANKERS

THE NEXT GENERATION

Much has happened to America's depository institutions in the more than two decades since Mayer wrote The Bankers, and his elegant update provides an informed guide to the convulsive change that has brought a remote, buttoned-down profession into the rowdy, high-tech world of financial services. Before assessing the past, present, and future of banking, the author assesses the nature of money, a demanding task that nonetheless permits him to examine the role commercial banks play in the way debts were, are, and could be paid. Moving on to ATMs, so-called smart cards, and the Internet's boundless potential, he documents why even multinational banks have good reason to fear problem-solving enterprises like Microsoft that have been poaching on their hitherto protected precincts. Mayer next evaluates the decline of bank lending, a drop that occurred despite mergers which have created regional and national powerhouses. He also offers an astute appreciation of the concurrent trend to gamble in futures trading, a high-stakes zero-sum game in which risky derivative instruments are trumps. Having reviewed the sudden death of the UK's venerable Barings Bank (to date, the highest profile casualty of casino capitalism), the author casts a cold eye on the S&L disaster in America. From this sore subject, he segues gracefully into a detailed appraisal of the many agencies that regulate the domestic banking industry in one way or another. In a concluding chapter, Mayer ventures provocative opinions on the successful efforts of the Federal Reserve System (which has a vested interest in sorting checks) to stymie private-sector rivals eager to establish a utility-like clearinghouse system that would offer universal access (at reasonable rates) to individuals and entities needing to transfer money in or out of the country. Engrossing and perceptive perspectives on developments that could signal the twilight of traditional over-the-counter banking.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 1997

ISBN: 0-525-93865-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1996

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

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

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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