THE MYTH OF FREE TRADE

A PLAN FOR AMERICA'S ECONOMIC REVIVAL

Southern Methodist University professor Batra, whose contributions to economics are about on a par with what creationists have done for earth science, is at it again. This time, the author of The Great Depression of 1990 and other nonconformist rants takes on Adam Smith and laissez-faire, making what he confidently asserts is ``the first...systematic and cogent case for protectionism.'' With frequent breaks to settle his scores with his ``vociferous critics,'' and with reminders of the timely warnings he offered an inattentive establishment in years past, Batra takes the position that manufacturing, not trade, is the main source of a modern nation's prosperity. Free trade, he contends, has proved a disaster for the US since the 1970's, undermining domestic industry and precipitating a sharp drop in inflation-adjusted wages for up to 80% of the population. Assuming that American suppliers can't produce goods as cheaply or as well as offshore rivals that have access to a vast pool of low-cost labor, Batra gets down to business with a series of provocative proposals for remedial action. The centerpiece of his program (dubbed ``competitive protectionism'') is an immediate hike in import duties from the current average of 5% to at least 40%. And while shielding US enterprise from foreign predators, the author would ensure that there are no dominant, let alone monopolistic, firms in any field. This master plan, Batra maintains, could not only put America's productivity and real income into orbit but also trigger steep declines in budget deficits, energy prices, and global pollution. Beyond his self-serving analyses of legislation like the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 (which he repeatedly refers to as ``Hawley-Smoot''), Batra seems more intent on creating a plausible populist agenda than in getting at the truth of complex economic issues. A perversely contrarian tract, then, more notable for shock than for substance. (Charts and tabular material throughout)

Pub Date: June 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-684-19592-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1993

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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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