THE ECONOMY OF NATURE

RETHINKING THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN ECOLOGY AND ECONOMICS

Ashworth (The Late, Great Lakes, 1986) makes a plausible if not wholly credible case for the offbeat proposition that ecology and economics, in concert, could provide the best response to both the escalating cost of living and a decline in the quality of life. Noting that the natural and social sciences share a Greek root (oikos, meaning household), the author offers a series of short essays designed to show that environmentalism and for-profit enterprise have much in common. Indeed, he argues, whatever harms or is good for the biosphere injures or benefits the marketplace- -and vice versa. Along similarly pragmatic lines, Ashworth suggests that ravaging the planet and its resources is a fiscally irresponsible act akin to eating one's seed corn—or dipping into capital. To persuade the friends of earth and the friends of industry that their differences are not irreconcilable, Ashworth gets back to genuine basics. Cases in point include short takes on Econ 101 fundamentals like carrying capacity, fund flows, and the forces of supply and demand, whose relevance to the rain forests may come as news to diehard preservationists. By the same token, his low-key briefings on renewable resources and monocultures could prove thought-provoking for those who believe that protection of endangered species and old-growth timber invariably costs society too much in terms of jobs and economic growth. As for why ecologic theory is more congruent with economic theory than antithetical to it, Ashworth's explanations are unexceptionable. But theory is one thing, practice another. In failing to detail how the paradigmatic synthesis could be made to work, the author lacks the courage of his arresting convictions. It's not easy being green, and Ashworth's accommodation agenda may remind some readers of the possibly apocryphal tale about the UN functionary who opined that Arabs and Jews should sit down and settle their differences like good Christians.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 1995

ISBN: 0-395-65566-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1994

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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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Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to...

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CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.

Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the “rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy,” in Piketty’s gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author’s reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the “high inequality” camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the “supermanagers” of business rather than the “superstars” of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author’s data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.

Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.

Pub Date: March 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-674-43000-6

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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