Richly inclusive and wonderfully hopeful, Pogany’s theories are dense with dark matter, but lively.

RETHINKING THE WORLD

Economist Pogany presents his new historical materialism to explain the unfolding of history.

Certainly there are elements of chance, randomness and entropy involved, writes Pogany, but the flow of history is a material process, “the complexifying self-organization of interconnected, brain-anchored codes on a global scale.” Once readers get beyond the leaf storm of his theory’s new wordplay, most will understand that the author is addressing how a burgeoning population will contend with the Earth’s material limitations and ideological flounderings, and perhaps even emerge with a higher form of cohesive global organization and decision making. He locates and expands upon the emergence of global systems after the French Revolution, a laissez faire period up to World War I, and a chaotic transition until the end of World War II, when a mixed economy/weak multilateralism attained steady state. Today, cultural evolution (the transformation of the mind, productive forces and relations, ethics, consciousness, language and intentionality, all at once) has taken us to the apex of the current global system. The fruits of past thought, technological advance and the progress of scientific thinking–the sum total of what is in our collective heads–will propel us materially to the next, more socio-economically humane, level (though vested interests may make it a bloody event). Since accumulated knowledge and inventive thinking is a crucial part of Pogany’s evolutionary materialism, he understandably brings a vast number of ideas to the table for examination. He chews through them with vigor, from Karl Polanyi (a favorite) to Karl Marx (historically necessary), inviting the reader into his own head to observe his material processes–and, once there, to grow skeptical (has cultural evolution really “moderated the fierceness of competition among its own ranks”?), nod your head in agreement with the value of the economic transformation curve, or marvel that “life is autocatalytic entropy defiance.”

Richly inclusive and wonderfully hopeful, Pogany’s theories are dense with dark matter, but lively.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2006

ISBN: 0-595-41079-0

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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