A buckle-your-seatbelts, swiftly moving tour of the new economic landscape.

AVERAGE IS OVER

POWERING AMERICA BEYOND THE AGE OF THE GREAT STAGNATION

Economist and social commentator Cowen (Economics/George Mason Univ.; An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, 2012, etc.) urges us to prepare for “the age of genius machines.”

The good news for the coming decades: Who you know, where you’re from or where you went to school will matter less than ever before when it comes to finding remunerative, satisfying work. Be advised, though: We’re headed for a “hyper-meritocracy,” where only the 10 to 15 percent of us whose skills complement intelligent machines will find that happy niche in a polarized labor market. To explain the shape of the future, Cowen looks to the world of freestyle chess, where collaboration between even a minimally competent player and a computer is already sufficiently powerful to reliably defeat a grandmaster. From the highly regularized environment of this game and others, he extrapolates a freestyle future where new technologies increasingly alter our interactions with each other and our world. A sprightly, widely allusive stylist, Cowen points to numerous present-day examples—we already live in a world where Google is the most frequently consulted “doctor,” where Match.com guides many love lives, where GPS directs our travels—to help sketch the contours of the future. He examines the implications of this new man/intelligent-machine alliance for the workplace in many sectors of our economy, where self-motivators and team workers will be especially prized; for education, where professors will become more like impresarios; and for science, where problems will become too complex for any single person to solve. This new world of work will feature vast income inequality—Cowen too readily dismisses the prospects for deep social unrest this may engender—and will leave much of the nation looking like today’s Texas, where the mix of cheap housing, plentiful jobs and lower-quality public services have accounted for the Lone Star boom, despite the national recession.

A buckle-your-seatbelts, swiftly moving tour of the new economic landscape.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-525-95373-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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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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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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