Reading between the lines, White is recommending much more—and therein lies controversy, especially when it comes to...

AMERICA'S FISCAL CONSTITUTION

ITS TRIUMPH AND COLLAPSE

Looking to beat up on George W. Bush some more? There’s plenty of ammunition in this chronicle of the collapse of federal fiscal discipline during the previous administration.

The federal government is no stranger to debt, writes former Houston mayor and Texas gubernatorial candidate White. But by virtue of “informal but well-understood rules, an unwritten constitution,” the government, from the end of the Revolutionary War through 9/11, borrowed during severe downturns to make up for lost revenue and then promptly balanced the budget. It also borrowed to expand national borders, as with the Louisiana Purchase, and in times of war—though it also financed war with new and expanded taxes. That ended in 2001, when, for the first time in American history, the Bush administration took the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq off the books and financed them strictly by debt, which flies in the face of all fiscal wisdom. Moreover, the Bush administration even pressed to lower taxes; only John McCain and two other Republicans, White notes, “opposed cutting taxes during war” by voting against a Bush-fomented bill that did just that. Writing in vigorous, plain English, the author turns a few falsehoods on their heads while making his argument—e.g., Franklin Roosevelt did not sink the nation into debt through federal spending in the Depression; the Social Security trust is sound; it would not harm the economy to balance the budget. White’s battle is certainly uphill, given that both parties have become accustomed to staggering levels of debt that he warns are unsustainable. However, rather than merely argue in the abstract, the author undergirds his case by recommending specific steps to alleviate the crisis, including, among others, establishing solely tax-financed budgets and putting bonds up for national election.

Reading between the lines, White is recommending much more—and therein lies controversy, especially when it comes to military spending. A book that deserves much attention.

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61039-343-0

Page Count: 576

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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