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Unchecked and Unbalanced: How the Discrepancy Between Knowledge and Power Caused the Financial Crisis and Threatens Democracy (Hoover Studies in Politics, Economics, and Society) [Hardcover]

by Arnold Kling
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 16, 2009 144220124X 978-1442201248 1st
In Unchecked and Unbalanced, Arnold Kling provides a blueprint for those who are skeptical of political and financial elitism. At the heart of Kling's argument is the growing discrepancy between two phenomena: knowledge is becoming more diffuse, while political power is becoming more concentrated.

Kling sees this knowledge/power discrepancy at the heart of the financial crisis of 2008. Financial industry executives and regulatory officials lacked the ability to fathom the complexity of the system that had emerged. And, in response, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke, said that they required still more power, including $700 billion to purchase "toxic assets" from banks.

Kling warns that increased concentration of power is a problem, not a panacea, for our modern world and suggests reforms designed to curb the growth of government and allow citizens greater control over the allocation of public goods.

Published in cooperation with the Hoover Institution

Editorial Reviews


This is essential reading on the political dangers facing us today and the risk of excess centralization. Arnold Kling is one of my favorite commentators. (Tyler Cowen, Professor of Economics at George Mason University and contributor to the blog The Marginal Revolution)

If it seems to you as if politicians and government officials are getting dumber, Arnold Kling has the explanation: As their power grows, they know less of what they need to know to exercise it wisely. Kling offers a remedy that is likely to arouse interest in the electorate, and apprehension in officialdom. (Glenn Reynolds, Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at University of Tennessee and author of the blog instapundit)

Unchecked and Unbalanced is an interesting book….The questions Kling asks are not always the ones I would have asked, but they are thought provoking nonetheless. (Independent Review: A Journal of Political Economy, Spring 2011)

About the Author

Arnold Kling was an economist on the staff of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System from 1980-1986 and served as a senior economist at Freddie Mac from 1986-1994.

Product Details

  • Series: Hoover Studies in Politics, Economics, and Society
  • Hardcover: 136 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 1st edition (December 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 144220124X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1442201248
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #162,993 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very useful insights on political philosophy December 6, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've been following Arnold Kling for a while now on his blog (EconLog) and have recently purchased his other book, From Poverty to Prosperity: Intangible Assets, Hidden Liabilities and The Lasting Triumph over Scarcity. While I don't always agree with all of his ideas, I think he offers some valuable insights that relatively few other economists or public intellectuals seem to be discussing.

Unchecked and Unbalanced: How the Discrepancy between Knowledge and Power Caused the Financial Crisis and Threatens Democracy was a relatively short read, consisting of three main chapters. I felt the book could have benefited from some tighter editing and expansion of content that supported the main thesis, which dealt with the knowledge/power discrepancy in modern society. However, I understand that in order to capitalize on the topic of last year's financial crisis, it was probably necessary to issue the book in its current form. It would be interesting to see if a second or updated edition of this book emerges in the future, because I think the thesis wasn't as fully fleshed out as it could be.

The first chapter deals with what Kling believes were the causes of the financial crisis of 2008. My main complaint with this chapter is that it was written in a fairly technical style and used a considerable amount of jargon. I would have preferred a more plain English style for this chapter, but admittedly the topics are fairly complex, so it's probably hard to make topics like mortgage securitization, derivatives, and financial regulation understandable to an average reader.
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Kling's little book is modest in tone and title, but offers a brilliant analysis of how experts, who know less and less about what they understand, have come to believe that they understand more and more - and are at the same time rewarded with political and economic power in increasingly concentrated doses. Badly designed programs and incentives are worse than no programs or incentives at all, and that is what we have been subjected to on both sides of the Atlantic. Please read it.
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