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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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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