Thinking about thinking – that’s what this book is about. When it debuted in 2011, it became an instant best-seller and earned multiple awards. And it’s easy to see why, even if not all the content is still relevant today. Dr. Kahneman draws on his 40 years of progressive research and expertise to craft this book, which contains some of his most important psychological insights and understandings of human thought processes. Though academic by nature, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” was written with the non-academic but still intellectually curious in mind. He uses a personable first-person voice to provide a general description for each behavioral concept that he introduces. Then he includes examples of experiments that he actually conducted that helped confirm and illustrate this behavior. Last and perhaps most important, he provides current examples about where these behaviors and concepts play out in real life – negotiations, elections, etc.
The book revolves two main “characters” that Kahneman calls System 1 and System 2. System 1 involves the unconscious and automatic processing of information that people engage in on a constant basis. System 2 is conscious thought and reasoning that gets turned on and off at different points in time. The book discusses the characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of each system. From there it evolves to discuss the interplay between the two – how they can work together, when they work against one another, and the different dilemmas or problems this may cause. Two major themes of the book are that people continuously underestimate the role automatic thought plays in their mind and that conscious thought often is “lazy” and not nearly as active as one might like to believe. (I personally do not agree with the description of lazy for conscious thought, but rather see it more as a question of sustainability and limited resources since engaging in conscious thought requires a lot of brain power that simply cannot run at full speed all the time.)
Whether you call it lazy or a question of limited resources, one major takeaway is that no one is immune to outside influence or bias. Several tools and behaviors are provided throughout that help the reader mitigate influence and bias – much of which comes down to being aware, carefully deliberating what is being asked, and spending the time and energy to think things through. This of course requires a great deal of personal discipline and yet would still never make someone fully immune to falling victim to their System 1 from time to time.
From a geopolitical perspective, these lessons and tools are extremely applicable. Developing and maintaining the ability to check assumptions at the door, confirm perceived patterns, and vet statistical information all come in to play. My personal favorite is making sure to avoid the trap of not answering a difficult question by substituting in the answer to an easier and similar (but not the same) question. All too often we get caught up in the excitement of our own ideas or conclusions and do not even question the mental process (overt and covert) used to get there. Taking the time to do this will almost certainly help improve the quality of arguments and conclusions. This book is both a fascinating and humbling read.
Allison Fedirka, analyst
There are mixed signals coming from India about the state of its economy. Until recently, officials there touted it as the fastest growing economy in the world. In April, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India said real gross domestic product growth was expected to reach 7.2 percent in 2019-20 – just slightly below an impressive average growth over the past few years of 7.5 percent. But there are increasing signs of an economic slowdown. Unemployment is in on the rise, and in the first quarter of 2019, the economy grew by just 5.8 percent. That’s now slower than China’s, so India can no longer claim to be the fastest-growing economy in the world.
But the mixed messages shouldn’t be a surprise. India is a country full of contradictions. This is especially true in financial affairs. India boasts one of the highest rates of inequality in the world. The richest 1 percent of the population owns over half of the country’s wealth. The average Indian citizen earns less than $2,000 a year, yet, according to Forbes, India has more than 100 citizens who classify as billionaires.
India’s new billionaire class is the focus of “Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age” by British journalist James Crabtree. It’s a detailed look at the country’s economic elite as well as the corruption and cronyism that have accompanied India’s economic rise. The extreme affluence and luxury enjoyed by this tiny segment of the population is perhaps best symbolized by Antilia Tower, the Mumbai home of India’s richest family. The tower more resembles a hotel than a home, rising 160 meters (525 feet) in height and featuring a six-floor parking garage. It was built by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, whose net worth is estimated to be near $50 billion. He made his wealth as the largest shareholder of oil and gas conglomerate Reliance Industries, which recently sold a 20 percent stake of its oil-to-chemicals business to Saudi Aramco. But his opulent lifestyle stands in stark contrast to the living conditions endured by millions of people who live in Mumbai’s slums. In this sense, “Billionaire Raj” is a reality check. Even among the most seemingly thriving societies, strife and poverty are never too far away.
Valentina Jovanovski, editor