An invigorating bit of future-trend prognosticating, generally positive, if warning direly of global gridlock if trends...

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NO ONE AT THE WHEEL

DRIVERLESS CARS AND THE ROAD OF THE FUTURE

“In just a few years, all cars will be partially or fully autonomous.” Are we hapless drivers ready?

It’s safe to say that few people on the planet know more about guiding vehicles from place to place than Schwartz, an engineer who served as New York City’s traffic commissioner for years. In this book, which closely follows the city government’s decision to rein in Uber and Lyft drivers, the author emerges as a not-entirely-uncritical advocate of autonomous vehicles, which promise to do all kinds of good things for crowded roadways, with a lot of ifs attached—e.g., if governments everywhere “ensure that people are privileged over cars, and that in the rush to innovate, unsafe or untested vehicles are not allowed to come on the market.” The author notes that Uber employs “a lobbying troop that is larger than Walmart’s” and spends millions on pressing its case. Given that he believes Uber and other disruptive transportation companies will continue to do so given the vast—potentially trillions of dollars—amount of money involved, cars may very well be privileged over people. For all that, Schwartz advocates moving forward with plans to introduce AVs into the transportation mix along with other steps to discourage individual ownership of vehicles, at least in cities—for, as he also notes, the vast number of vehicle trips are taken with single occupants going to places no more than a mile from home, trips that can easily be accommodated by other forms of transportation. The author contrasts some of the amazingly pedestrian-unfriendly cities of today (Athens, Greece, anyone?) with visions for a future where cars are kept at a safe distance from walkers and cyclists—but where cars, thus carefully limited and regulated, still hold a place in a vibrant suite of transportation options.

An invigorating bit of future-trend prognosticating, generally positive, if warning direly of global gridlock if trends continue. Urban planners, architects, and transportation activists will definitely want to take note.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61039-865-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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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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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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