Wessel doesn’t tell you how to think, but he does give you the facts to think more clearly about what needs to be done.

RED INK

INSIDE THE HIGH-STAKES POLITICS OF THE FEDERAL BUDGET

Accessible overview of America’s contentious deficit politics by the Wall Street Journal’s economics editor.

Anticipating another summer of posturing and gridlock over the federal budget as President Obama’s re-election hopes and the majority of both houses of Congress hang in the balance, Wessel (In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke’s War on the Great Panic, 2009, etc.) provides a slender but highly informative volume designed to give voters a grip on what exactly is at stake in this corrosive battle. He begins by clarifying some common misunderstandings: Almost two-thirds of the budget gets spent automatically, with or without the consent or amendment of the current Congress; the U.S. defense budget exceeds those of the next 17 largest powers (including Russia and China) combined; Americans pay less of their income in taxes than citizens of any other developed nation, and have been paying less and less in taxes for 30 years. Wessel then tries to answer the most basic questions about the deficit: how we got here, where the money goes and comes from, and why we need to solve the problem sooner rather than later. He’s the least successful on the last question; the best argument seems to be, “Because everyone thinks so.” Wessel cites experts from left and right, including Paul Krugman and Paul Ryan, among others, without stating a preference for any side. (The hero of the story seems to be Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a nonideological Democrat who, as a congressman, helped forge agreements that made the surpluses of the 1990s possible.) Without explicitly recommending a course, Wessel makes clear that a solution to the problem would necessarily be repugnant to all sides and would include some major changes to entitlement programs as well as increases in taxes for at least several years.

Wessel doesn’t tell you how to think, but he does give you the facts to think more clearly about what needs to be done.

Pub Date: July 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7704-3614-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Crown Business

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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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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