A somber, important warning that’s likely to cause readers to wonder about the safety of their assets, if not fear for the...

COLLUSION

HOW CENTRAL BANKERS RIGGED THE WORLD

Wall Street executive Prins (All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power, 2014, etc.) delivers a sharp-edged critique of the hegemony of central banks over the world’s economies.

Central banks, supporting too-big-to-fail banking conglomerates, are skilled practitioners of what the author calls “money conjuring,” wherein “the cost of money is rendered abnormally cheap.” Through the trickle-downish machinery of quantitative easement, the very banks that brought on the financial crisis now remembered as the Great Recession reward themselves. In 2017, she notes, U.S. banks used 99 percent of their earnings to buy their own stocks and pay out dividends to their shareholders even as the easement was, at least in theory, supposed to loosen the purse strings and set more money loose in the broader economy. The closeness of central, government-allied banks with their private counterparts, including revolving-door jobs, has meant that regulators are all too willing to overlook excesses and violations; even in moments of financial turmoil brought on by the banks, the “conjurers” and the speculators are rarely blamed. The intervention of central banks in the marketplace, Prins adds, has mostly had the effect of distorting that marketplace by supporting a banking system that requires serious overhaul in the place of mere infusions of cheap money—and this money rarely finds its way into the hands of ordinary borrowers, and certainly not at the cheap rates the banks enjoy. Given that the central banks and those private counterparts have successfully resisted meaningful reform—witness the Trump administration’s efforts to scrap what little regulation there is—the likelihood of a repeat of 2008 seems high indeed. “It only takes one domino to fall to wipe them all out,” Prins warns in closing. “It will again begin with the banks, cripple the markets, and devastate the global economy.”

A somber, important warning that’s likely to cause readers to wonder about the safety of their assets, if not fear for the near-term future.

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-56858-562-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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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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