A welcome addition to business and financial history, illuminating little-known aspects of the early republic.

THE FOUNDERS AND FINANCE

HOW HAMILTON, GALLATIN, AND OTHER IMMIGRANTS FORGED A NEW ECONOMY

The U.S. financial system was a creation of aliens—i.e., immigrants, who are numbered among the founding lights of the country.

If you think the current system is a mess, consider the national economy after the American Revolution. The country was broke after fighting Britain, and it had what Pulitzer Prize winner McCraw (Business History Emeritus/Harvard Business School; Prophet of Innovation: Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction, 2007, etc.) notes was “the highest public debt it has ever experienced, measured against the income of its government.” For reasons that are not readily apparent, the new Americans were not adept at financial matters. In the first 50 years of nationhood, only six of 60 Cabinet members were foreign-born, and five of them were secretaries of the treasury. Two were Albert Gallatin and Alexander Hamilton; statues of both, McCraw notes, anchor the present treasury, next door to the White House. Hamilton, from St. Nevis, was a firm believer in federal power and an advocate of strong central-state solutions to various problems, including putting down rebellions of the sort that had been raised against the British crown. Gallatin, from Switzerland, was better born than Hamilton but ventured across the ocean because he “seemed to believe that Rousseau’s notions about the moral virtues of nature might be realized in the United States.” Hamilton was an urbanite and Gallatin a Daniel Boone of sorts, settling far beyond the Appalachians, but both introduced practices of banking, taxing and borrowing that were foundational. Further, because they were philosophically so different, they also introduced tensions that continue to be with us today, including the idea of taxation in the first place.

A welcome addition to business and financial history, illuminating little-known aspects of the early republic.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-674-06692-2

Page Count: 460

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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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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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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