An appealing, very different approach to a pressing problem.

READ REVIEW

SCARCITY

WHY HAVING TOO LITTLE MEANS SO MUCH

An intriguing discussion of poverty and scarcity that uses the tools of behavioral economics and offers some different approaches to mitigation.

Mullainathan (Economics/Harvard Univ.; co-author: Policy and Choice: Public Finance Through the Lens of Behavioral Economics, 2011, etc.) and Shafir (Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.; editor: The Behavioral Foundations of Public Policy, 2012, etc.) compare scarcity in different forms—financial, but also in relation to time, diet and loneliness—reporting on psychological tests and human and organizational activity to develop their idea that scarcity can be approached from a cognitive standpoint. The authors discuss the concept of “tunneling,” in which focus is so tightly confined that alternate or broader considerations are excluded, and “bandwidth tax,” where “poverty itself taxes the mind…reduces fluid intelligence and executive control." The authors stress that their approach to scarcity is different than that of economists. They distinguish between “physical scarcity,” which they say “is ubiquitous,” and “the feeling of scarcity,” which is not. They examine the mechanics of payday loans and the way market vendors in the Indian city of Chennai finance inventory, and they discuss how choices are constrained by habits of thought. They insist that scarcity “is not merely the gap between resources and desires on average.” Managing slack, as well as relative plenty, matters as much as managing scarcity, and incentives prove more powerful than education in changing habits. “As we contemplate the better management of scarcity,” they write, “we should remember that scarcity often begins with abundance. The crunch just before a deadline often originates with ample time used ineffectively in the weeks preceding it. The months just before harvest are particularly cash tight because money was not spent well in the easy months following last harvest.”

An appealing, very different approach to a pressing problem.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9264-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more