If reading Piketty’s columns brings back bad memories of tough times of the recent past, it also helps make sense of recent...

WHY SAVE THE BANKERS?

AND OTHER ESSAYS ON OUR ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL CRISIS

“In the long run, patrimonial capitalism is the only kind that can exist.” The noted scholar of inequality (Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 2014, etc.) looks at recent events through an economist’s lens.

These columns from Libération, the leftist newsmagazine founded by Jean-Paul Sartre, span the years 2008 to the near-present and focus largely on European matters, especially the crisis of the Eurozone in the last few years and its predecessor meltdown in the wake of the global financial downturn of 2007. This odd period, Piketty remarks, is characterized by a decline in income even as wealth increases markedly—a seeming contradiction but all of a piece with how fortunes are amassed and transferred. Even though “one certainly senses mounting public exasperation with the explosion of supersalaries for executives and traders over the past thirty years,” the author finds good economic reasons for the bailout of banks and bankers that followed the earlier crisis. His arguments often stray into moral realms, as when he decries the “obscene salaries” that accompany “senseless risk-taking behavior” on the parts of players within the financial system. Piketty also grumbles that getting decent worldwide governance of the financial system “will probably take many more crises.” Many of his pieces are comparatively easy to follow for readers without much knowledge of economics, especially when he picks apart topics that defy classical economic logic (“Do you understand anything about the carbon tax?” one piece from 2009 begins); in this he resembles Paul Krugman, who similarly writes clearly on complex topics. However, many of the other pieces require at least some knowledge of European affairs and of economics alike, as with his excursus on how Italian public debt is constructed.

If reading Piketty’s columns brings back bad memories of tough times of the recent past, it also helps make sense of recent financial history. Just be prepared for a mental workout.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-66332-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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