BACK FROM THE BRINK

THE GREENSPAN YEARS

A detailed and sometimes fawning account of Alan Greenspan's chairmanship of the Federal Reserve Board. Two caveats: First, Beckner (a Market News Service reporter who has covered the Fed for 20 years) writes as an unabashed admirer of Greenspan, an enthusiastic champion of the Fed, and a supporter of conservative Republican politics. This is not the place to look for a balanced assessment of alternative economic goals and perspectives. Second, readers lacking knowledge of the economics and institutional setting of monetary policy will find this inaccessible. The purpose here is to chronicle events, not explain the system. Anyone not discouraged by the foregoing and possessing a keen interest in the complex world of the Fed will find this volume fascinating. Beckner's blow-by-blow account of recent Fed history is drawn from his past work as a journalist, interviews with principals, and transcripts of policy meetings. The result is a near-insider's look at the least understood yet arguably most influential body of decision-makers in the country, and the one Washington institution that rivals the Supreme Court in its addiction to secrecy. Highlights include what Beckner describes as ``Herculean'' efforts following the 1987 stock market collapse, the ever-vigilant war against inflation, and hand-wringing over the decline of the dollar. Especially interesting is the continual balancing act undertaken by Greenspan and the Fed: They make decisions loaded with political as well as economic implications while striving to appear independent and apolitical. Unfortunately, the account of the budget fiasco during the winter of 199596 is marred by partisan disgust directed at Clinton and the Democrats and adds little to previous knowledge. On the whole, however, this volume is packed full of stories that will inform and entertain the interested reader. No doubt Alan Greenspan will be one of the most appreciative of those readers.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 1997

ISBN: 0-471-16127-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Wiley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1996

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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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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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