The most complete and authoritative account to date of the response of the central bankers to the global financial crisis.

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THE ALCHEMISTS

THREE CENTRAL BANKERS AND A WORLD ON FIRE

Holding that monetary policy is too subtle and complex to entrust to politicians beholden to the whims of an uninformed electorate, Washington Post financial columnist Irwin convincingly argues that independent central banks are an essential element of responsible economic stewardship.

The author rises to the defense of those who control the money supply, delivering a paean to central banking and the almost mystical power it wields over the economy. His characterization of Ben Bernanke, Jean-Claude Trichet and Mervyn King, leaders of the Fed, the ECB and the Bank of England, respectively, as almost demigods is perhaps a bit hyperbolic; he claims that their actions in 2007 and 2008 “would create the world to come.” Unexpected wit and an eye for drama keep the meticulously researched minutiae of monetary policy from reading too much like a baseball box score, but readers without a background in economics or finance may find all of the jargon bewildering. Irwin is effusive in his praise for the overall performance of the central banks. He singles out Bernanke specifically for his measured response and political savvy, while King, who “seemed to disdain bankers personally, and was privately contemptuous of their views,” receives mixed marks for his failure to play well with others. The close personal relationships of the three, forged over countless hours communing in exclusive clubs and at the sidelines of global conferences, are contrasted favorably with the messy backbiting and rabble-rousing of the political process. Enlightening chapters about the winding history of central banking and the People’s Bank of China have less to do with the main narrative but add depth to the book as a whole, making it an indispensable resource for anyone seeking to understand the role played by the guardians of the economy.

The most complete and authoritative account to date of the response of the central bankers to the global financial crisis.

Pub Date: April 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59420-462-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2013

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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 deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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