Against this backdrop, so-called natural monopolies like Microsoft look benign. Eye-opening and sure to make libertarian...

WEALTH SECRETS OF THE ONE PERCENT

A MODERN MANUAL TO GETTING MARVELOUSLY, OBSCENELY RICH

Of robber barons, monopsonists, and oligarchs, in which it’s revealed that the free market is anything but free.

Want to become “obscenely” rich, as the subtitle of this illuminating book has it? Well, the best bet is to be born that way. The next best bet is to have a “wealth secret,” the better-mousetrap sine qua non for building an empire. Economic forecaster Wilkin, head of business research at Oxford Economics, has good fun looking at how some fabulously rich people got to be that way. Though he teases a bit with the thought that you and I can “exploit their wealth secrets to become fabulously rich” as well, in the end, his book becomes a subtle, between-the-lines indictment of capitalism as it is mostly practiced these days. For instance, as Wilkin notes, the aspiring wealthy person doesn’t want a level playing field—far from it. Nor does he or she want competition, for competition is messy and tedious, and “when masters of wealth secrets compete, they do not compete in the market” but instead, the courtroom and other arenas where they can effectively destroy their enemies without having to face them on the shelves and divide the market. This was the way of the great 19th-century robber barons, too, as with John D. Rockefeller, “strangling his competitors with cartels,” and his ilk, who regarded competition as “that oppressive force that prevents great men from achieving fortunes commensurate with their greatness.” Thus it is in emerging markets, where Wilkin counsels would-be monopolists to head, since corrupt political systems favor creative and extralegal ways of securing the startup money necessary to become a tycoon. And besides, he writes, “it’s good to go where no one else wants to go.”

Against this backdrop, so-called natural monopolies like Microsoft look benign. Eye-opening and sure to make libertarian heads explode.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-37893-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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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 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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