Fiscal-policy wonks will find this look at the financial system illuminating, though ordinary investors and civilians will...

THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN

CENTRAL BANKS, INSTABILITY, AND AVOIDING THE NEXT COLLAPSE

The chair of Barack Obama’s Global Development Council warns that the economy is bound for more bumpiness, stress, and course-altering ahead, “potentially quite suddenly.”

El-Erian (When Markets Collide, 2008) charts the changing role of central banks in national economies and the global economy at large. Their overarching mission is to provide their home nations with a stable currency and, beyond that, stable monetary and financial operations—macro goals that are defined by government but then effected by bankers. The bankers have lately exercised more and more autonomy, though, without much direct political control and with ever expanding responsibilities to govern the “fate of the global economy.” In the case of the Federal Reserve, for instance, stability is understood to involve providing for stable prices, economically productive interest rates, and a thriving job market while reducing risk—all good goals but hard to contain under one roof. In the new climate of a post-recessionary nervousness and a sluggish recovery without the elastic rebound of previous ones, the author suggests, we seem to be in a different mode than the business cycle of old. Consequently, central banks are experimenting, even making things up as they go along, in order to jump-start economies, for instance, by putting into place negative interest rates and other “unconventional monetary policies” without any precedent or historical examples to follow. The natural result is instability from above and below, from the supply side and the demand side, and a “new normal” that the author wishes could be seen as a “new abnormal.” Central banks, their briefs thus much expanded, must do what they can to contain market volatility. As El-Erian’s discussion moves on, it becomes increasingly technical so that, by the end, readers must contemplate the challenging implications of, say, limiting exposure to “any specific set of securities that has a repeated history of suddenly losing market liquidity.”

Fiscal-policy wonks will find this look at the financial system illuminating, though ordinary investors and civilians will find it daunting.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9762-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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