A vigorous argument for a more humane capitalism.



A deconstruction of a famed mogul’s harmful influence on American business.

Gelles, the “Corner Office” columnist for the New York Times, focuses on Jack Welch (1935-2020), CEO of GE from 1981 to 2001, whom he sees as “the personification of American, alpha-male capitalism, a pin-striped conquistador with the spoils to prove it.” Welch joined GE in 1960 after completing a doctorate in chemical engineering, soon rising through the company’s ranks. Notoriously “impatient, impulsive, and crass” as well as ambitious and energetic, when he took over as CEO, he lost no time inaugurating his vision—and that of economist Milton Friedman—of “maximizing profits at the expense of all else.” GE had been known as a caring company that gave its workers exceptional benefits. Welch shattered that reputation, enacting massive layoffs, carrying out extensive mergers and acquisitions, and turning GE into “a giant unregulated bank.” When Welch ascended at GE, writes Gelles, “half of GE’s earnings came from businesses dating back to the Edison era: motors, wiring, and appliances. Yet Welch, an extremist in all he did, drastically overcorrected. Instead of trying to fix American manufacturing, he effectively abandoned it, and would soon start shuttering factories around the country and shipping jobs overseas.” His influence was far-reaching. By the time he retired, 16 public companies were run by men “who had studied at his knee.” However, remarked a Goldman Sachs board member, “they were just cost cutters. And you can’t cost-cut your way to prosperity.” Gelles capably traces GE’s downfall from being the most valuable company in the world in 1993 to its begging for a bailout in 2008, and he exposes the many business titans who followed Welch’s strategies. He sees hope, however, in the “handful of idealistic capitalists”—leading businesses such as Unilever, PayPal, Patagonia, and Seventh Generation—who consider their companies’ impacts on employees, the environment, and society.

A vigorous argument for a more humane capitalism.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982176-44-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


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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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“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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