A basically pessimistic assessment certain to be disputed by those working to solve the problem.

THE REPROACH OF HUNGER

FOOD, JUSTICE, AND MONEY IN THE 21ST CENTURY

A densely written critical analysis of the current approach to ending world hunger, calling into question the optimism of such technocrat philanthropists as Bill Gates.

Rieff, whose most recent book was a memoir about the death of his mother, Susan Sontag (Swimming in a Sea of Death, 2008), has returned to the broader themes of his earlier books (At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention, 2005, etc.), this time focusing on the global food crisis. After first describing the crisis and its multiple causes, the author concludes “that the central question is how to reform it if, indeed, it is not too late to do so.” At the core of the book is a chapter titled “Philanthrocapitalism: A [Self-]Love Story,” which charges that private business, the most politically influential, least regulated, and least democratically accountable sector, is currently entrusted with the welfare and the fate of the powerless and the hungry. The author disputes the view that the political, social, and cultural challenges of the global food crisis can be overcome if only enough money and intelligence are applied. He asserts that “the fundamental problems of the world have always been moral not technological” and that “farming is a culture, not just a means of production.” Rieff provides no ready answers to the food crisis but argues that we must start looking at the problem in a different way. He has clearly done his homework, and the text is rife with references to, and commentary on, the books and essays of others. What is missing is clarity; too often, Rieff builds his sentences like a set of Russian nesting dolls, obscuring an idea by folding in multiple subordinate clauses and parenthetical asides. This is not the most effective approach for this kind of book, which requires sharp ideas expressed clearly; end-of-chapter summaries would have helped general readers.

A basically pessimistic assessment certain to be disputed by those working to solve the problem.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4391-2387-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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