BUSINESS AS A CALLING

WORK AND THE EXAMINED LIFE

A spirited defense of commerce as a worthy career and of democratic capitalism as the best socioeconomic system among known alternatives. Like John M. Hood (The Heroic Enterprise, page 504), Novak (The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1992, etc.) finds much to admire. Indeed, he argues that business has a vested interest in goodness if only because it cannot advance in the absence of such cardinal virtues as cooperation, courage, honesty, industry, innovation, practicality, and realism. The author goes on to document the many ways in which for-profit concerns benefit host communities and the wider world simply by measuring up to their basic obligations—creating new jobs, earning appropriate returns on investments, producing wealth, promoting respect for the rule of law, satisfying customers, et al. He also notes ways in which trade unions might play more constructive roles in an era of corporate downsizing, e.g., by organizing labor collectives to offer pools of skilled contract workers to employers. Novak (a sometime seminarian who makes no secret of his Roman Catholic faith) is at pains to couch his message in ecumenical rather than ecclesiastic terms. To this end, he dwells on studies indicating that, among America's elites, businesspeople trail only the clergy and military officers in the degree of their religiosity. While the author cites the achievements of a wealth of entrepreneurs and executives, moreover, he singles out Andrew Carnegie for extended attention as a sort of secular saint. In particular, Novak is fascinated by the ÇmigrÇ industrialist's resolve to give away all his riches before he died. The author devotes the best part of his concluding chapter to this largesse and what he believes are the lessons to be learned from it. Vocational counseling of an unusual order, as tough-minded as it is good-hearted. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 11, 1996

ISBN: 0-684-82748-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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