HANDS OFF

WHY THE GOVERNMENT IS A MENACE TO ECONOMIC HEALTH

A laissez-faire economist's back-to-basics restatement of the case against Washington's active involvement in commercial affairs. In providing what amounts to a people's guide to the unfortunate outcomes of government intervention, the author (Susan Lee's ABZs of Economics, 1987) focuses on the American economy decade by decade during the period 196095. First, however, she offers a series of short, lucid takes on ways in which Big Brother has gummed up the works in the recent past. Examples range from the stock market crash of 1987 through the substantive costs of pervasive regulation, the uncertainties created by constant changes in fiscal (i.e., tax) policy, the loss of purchasing power caused by double-digit inflation, and the impact of budget deficits on capital as well as credit markets. In Lee's book, Keynesians are most to blame for the perdurable delusion that government can make a decisive economic difference on the upside (e.g., by keeping unemployment low, moderating swings in the business cycle, and otherwise providing shelter from the storm). But the heyday of fine-tuning advocates, Lee points out, was during the 1960s, a decade that, with postWW II expansion of trade and other factors, would have produced spectacular growth no matter who was at the wheel. The author goes on to note that the promise of managing the economy has bipartisan appeal, as attested by the unavailing efforts of Richard Nixon, an avowed conservative, to solve trade and domestic problems with wage/price controls. His White House successors, Lee argues, have fared little better; indeed, with occasional assistance from OPEC, natural disasters, and election- minded legislators, chief executives have precipitated more calamities (stagflation, unanticipated recessions, et al.) than recoveries. The wisest course, Lee concludes, would be for the voting public to accept less government and more responsibility. An informative primer with an attitude.

Pub Date: April 15, 1996

ISBN: 0-684-81442-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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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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