Some familiarity with economic principles will benefit readers, but its conclusions are both accessible and urgent.

UNEQUAL GAINS

AMERICAN GROWTH AND INEQUALITY SINCE 1700

A long-view look at a problem that has been vexing economists and policymakers lately—namely, financial and social inequality.

In theory, America is a society not riven by the class divisions of old Europe, and in the beginning, with some exceptions, American colonists were indeed equally not-well-to-do. Independence, write Lindert (Economics/Univ. of California, Davis; Growing Public: Social Spending and Economic Growth since the Eighteenth Century, 2004, etc.) and Williamson (Emeritus, Economics/Harvard Univ.; Trade and Poverty: When the Third World Fell Behind, 2011, etc.), was an expensive proposition, with incomes falling as much as 30 percent. The early republic, however, was an economic phenomenon, and with the steady expansion of the nation into the continental interior, fortunes were built—though, as the authors note, history had a way of intervening, as when the Civil War served as a modest equalizer in the South even as it built still larger fortunes in the North. Of particular interest in this cliometric account are the factors that the authors identify in the making of “the Great Leveling,” which followed the Gilded Age and persisted into the 1970s. “While educational attainment, measured as the average years of schooling completed by adults, advanced by nearly one school year per decade during the Great Leveling,” they write, “a marked deceleration followed.” The lesson here is that education is both a powerful economic engine and a democratizing force. At times critical of the Piketty school of thought, the authors further identify other factors in our present levels of inequality, including the refusal to regulate the financial industry, to fund education, and to tax large inheritances. The opportunities to end inequality are as obvious as C-notes dropped on the ground, they write in closing: “Of course, the fact that they are still lying there testifies to the political difficulty of bending over to pick them up.”

Some familiarity with economic principles will benefit readers, but its conclusions are both accessible and urgent.

Pub Date: May 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-691-17049-7

Page Count: 424

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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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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