The narrative gets a touch repetitive at points, but if you’re a foodie with a calculator, this is your book.

AN ECONOMIST GETS LUNCH

NEW RULES FOR EVERYDAY FOODIES

Food and economics meet in this entertainment by celebrity economist Cowen (The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better, 2010, etc.).

A celebrity economist? Yes, for Cowen is widely hailed for his smarter-than-freakonomics, libertarian-inclined economics blog Marginal Revolution on one hand and his D.C.-centric blog Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide on the other. Here he blends the best of both those worlds. If you’ve heard of the free-rider problem in economics, where leeches benefit from the productivity of others, then here’s a twist: “the wealthy and the myopic are the friend and supporter of the non-drinking gourmand.” In other words, the knowing customer may well choose to avoid drinking anything other than water, knowing both that the markup on alcohol and soda is astronomical and that those who buy such things effectively lower the tariff on the price of a meal, where the margins are slimmer. In economic terms, this “price discrimination” favors the teetotaler, and with nary a hint of moralizing. Cowen stops short of formulas and equations, but there’s plenty of hard, old-fashioned economic thinking in these pages—e.g., the power of immigration to improve cuisine and the bewildering array of food choices we have today as one of the blessings of free-market capitalism. Cowen is also prepared to go into the fray as a mild-mannered version of Anthony Bourdain. He writes that one shouldn’t Google “Best restaurants Washington” but instead “Washington best cauliflower dish” if one wants to escape the awfully ordinary, and he counsels that the best barbecue is to be found in small towns in joints that open and close early.

The narrative gets a touch repetitive at points, but if you’re a foodie with a calculator, this is your book.

Pub Date: April 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-525-95266-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

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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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