A historically informed and logical economic blueprint with the practicality of a hand-tool, and a vision guided by the...



If not capitalism, what then? asks journalist and activist Albert as he proffers this dogged, humanist alternative to private enterprise.

Let's admit, suggests Albert (a founder of Z Magazine and South End Press), that capitalism has its downside: the zero-sum me-first logic, the downplaying of public good and prioritizing of private good, the decline of diversity as globalization swamps quality with quantity, not to mention antisocial investment, toxic individualism, ecological decay, and absurd income disparities. Albert rejects capitalism, but he also rejects the typical alternatives, such as market socialism and green bioregionalism; instead, he offers, in detail and with examples, participatory economics, or “parecon.” It's an ugly name for a surprisingly elegant economic system owned in equal part by all citizens. Those most affected have the most say in specific decisions. All jobs include “some rote work and some creative work” to eliminate disproportionate power and status. Within limits, pay reflects effort, “the only factor influencing performance over which an individual has any control.” The participatory planning process “utilizes cooperative communication of mutually informed preferences via a variety of simple communicative and organizing principles and means.” Albert’s design is remarkable for its applicability, for weighing social opportunity costs in pursuing a general equilibrium of allocation (“if we produce peanuts, how much of other things will we have to give up?”), and in its admission of imperfection and elements that will need special attention, like its busybody economics and its dictatorship of the sociable. Despite invocation of such romantic figures as Spanish anarchists and French communards, this is still the dismal science, complete with lots of repetition and phrases like “consumption calculated according to the IFB-generated indicative prices and adjusted for MLK's above-average collective consumption request.” But it’s also a science that could possibly generate widespread gratification in everyday economic life.

A historically informed and logical economic blueprint with the practicality of a hand-tool, and a vision guided by the desire to find nobility in work.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-85984-698-X

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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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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