A 2016 Gallup survey ranked big business as second only to Congress as the country’s least-trusted institution. This fawning...

BIG BUSINESS

A LOVE LETTER TO AN AMERICAN ANTI-HERO

A paean to large business corporations.

Many Americans are anti-business—especially young people, Bernie Sanders supporters, the media, ordinary (distrustful) citizens, and Trump supporters—because they have “negative misconceptions,” writes Cowen (Chair, Economics/George Mason Univ.; Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals, 2018, etc.). In viewing corporations as “apparently selfish, profit-maximizing, even sometimes corrupt entities,” writes the author, such critics underrate the benefits of American business, which “makes most of the stuff we enjoy and consume” and “gives most of us jobs.” Indeed, “we don’t love business enough.” A popular blogger (marginalrevolution.com) and free-marketeer who admires Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, Cowen offers a highly accessible polemic touting the wonders of corporate America, which has “never been more productive, more tolerant, and more cooperative” and provides “a ray of normalcy and predictability” at a time of “weirdness” in government. He continues, “business helps carve out spaces for love, friendship, creativity, and human caring by producing the resources that make our lives not just tolerable but comfortable.” Beyond such praises, the author offers chapters on specific areas—“Are Businesses More Fraudulent than the Rest of Us?” “Are the Big Tech Companies Evil?” and “Crony Capitalism”—in which he dismisses concerns about business monopoly, political power, and fraud, insisting that “limitations of human nature” (not inherent flaws of capitalism) drive corporate behavior. “The propensity of business to commit fraud is essentially just an extension of the propensity of people to commit fraud,” he writes. Cowen makes some concessions to critics, noting the “problematic” invasion of privacy by tech giants like Google and Facebook and the “ripping off” of consumers by entire sectors of the corporate economy. But on the whole, business remains “one of the most beneficial and fundamental institutions in American life.”

A 2016 Gallup survey ranked big business as second only to Congress as the country’s least-trusted institution. This fawning book won’t change many minds.

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-11054-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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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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