PEDDLING PROSPERITY

ECONOMIC SENSE AND NONSENSE IN THE AGE OF DIMINISHED EXPECTATIONS

Economists willing or able to appraise their dismal science and its arguable utility with something other than reverential solemnity are a decidedly rare breed. On the evidence of the ingratiatingly witty text at hand, however, MIT Professor Krugman (The Age of Diminished Experience, not reviewed) can and does subject a dubious discipline to the sort of analysis that could make it accessible as well as useful to the voting public. For all his wry commentary, the author is informed by a serious purpose: he wants not only to determine why the domestic economy is no longer growing at the pre-1973 rates that made America the envy of the Global Village, but also to uncover the reasons for decelerating gains in real income, an alarming spread in poverty, and related obstacles along the rocky road to perdurable prosperity. Toward these ends, he first warns that genus economicus encompasses two distinct species: academics (who pursue typically arcane research projects that, however slowly, can expand mankind's knowledge, if not immediate understanding) and policy entrepreneurs (high-profile go-getters willing to swap the approval of professional peers for acceptance by pols eager for simple, sound-bite solutions to the frequently intractable problems affecting their varied constituencies). In this cautionary context, Krugman surveys cyclical swings in ideology over the past couple of decades, starting with the successful challenge mounted by the right against Keynesian precepts, high taxation, and the welfare state. Focusing, inter alia, on the persistent expansion of federal budget deficits, he next evaluates the checkered record compiled by conservatives in power. Covered as well is the subsequent discrediting of supply- siders, the concurrent emergence of their liberal counterparts (so- called strategic traders), and the renaissance of intervention theory. At the end of the day, the author proves himself an equal- opportunity critic who remains ready to be convinced that even one- note advocates might have something to contribute. An uncommonly sensible audit of socioeconomic fads, fallacies, and fashion. (Charts and tabular material—not seen)

Pub Date: March 28, 1994

ISBN: 0-393-03602-2

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1994

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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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