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STILL BROKE

WALMART'S REMARKABLE TRANSFORMATION AND THE LIMITS OF SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS CAPITALISM

A well-written account of a corporate American juggernaut and its implications for society as a whole.

A detailed examination of the retail behemoth.

By the early 2000s, Walmart was often cited as the worst example of “a race-to-the-bottom brand of capitalism,” eliminating competition and chronically underpaying its huge workforce. Then, starting in 2015, Walmart implemented a series of measures, from pay increases to expanded opportunities for its employees, that prompted even skeptics to rethink the company’s image as a bastion of unfettered corporate evil. Wartzman, most recently the author of The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America (2017) and a longtime critic of Walmart, wanted to explore the company’s complex journey and image. When Sam Walton opened the first Walmart in Arkansas in 1962, he emphasized low prices, quality products, and serving rural areas; the company went public in 1970 and went on to become one of the nation’s biggest retailers. Walton engendered employee loyalty through profit sharing and stock options, but he also intentionally kept wages low and vehemently opposed efforts to organize labor. After he died in 1992, both outsiders and employees felt the company abandoned any dedication to taking care of its employees in favor of solely cutting costs. Over time, the company improved efforts to be sustainable, was rightfully praised for its efforts during Hurricane Katrina, and expanded worker training; yet “where it had the most direct control—deciding how much to pay its workers—it hadn’t moved an inch.” In 2016, Walmart finally raised its minimum hourly wage to $10 after decades of pressure from labor efforts. Even with the increase, writes the author, “the average full-time employee at the company was still going to be making less than $26,000 a year.” Wartzman’s investigation of the company in all its complexity is thoroughly researched, and he deftly and meaningfully connects the issue of chronically low wages at Walmart to a larger undervaluation of the labor of millions of Americans.

A well-written account of a corporate American juggernaut and its implications for society as a whole.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5417-5799-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2022

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THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

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. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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POVERTY, BY AMERICA

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

A thoughtful program for eradicating poverty from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted.

“America’s poverty is not for lack of resources,” writes Desmond. “We lack something else.” That something else is compassion, in part, but it’s also the lack of a social system that insists that everyone pull their weight—and that includes the corporations and wealthy individuals who, the IRS estimates, get away without paying upward of $1 trillion per year. Desmond, who grew up in modest circumstances and suffered poverty in young adulthood, points to the deleterious effects of being poor—among countless others, the precarity of health care and housing (with no meaningful controls on rent), lack of transportation, the constant threat of losing one’s job due to illness, and the need to care for dependent children. It does not help, Desmond adds, that so few working people are represented by unions or that Black Americans, even those who have followed the “three rules” (graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait until marriage to have children), are far likelier to be poor than their White compatriots. Furthermore, so many full-time jobs are being recast as contracted, fire-at-will gigs, “not a break from the norm as much as an extension of it, a continuation of corporations finding new ways to limit their obligations to workers.” By Desmond’s reckoning, besides amending these conditions, it would not take a miracle to eliminate poverty: about $177 billion, which would help end hunger and homelessness and “make immense headway in driving down the many agonizing correlates of poverty, like violence, sickness, and despair.” These are matters requiring systemic reform, which will in turn require Americans to elect officials who will enact that reform. And all of us, the author urges, must become “poverty abolitionists…refusing to live as unwitting enemies of the poor.” Fortune 500 CEOs won’t like Desmond’s message for rewriting the social contract—which is precisely the point.

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593239919

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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