NEW AMERICAN BLUES

A JOURNEY THROUGH POVERTY TO DEMOCRACY

Sociologist Shorris (Latinos, 1992, etc.) uses anecdotal evidence to humanize this overview of poverty in America while presenting his own very personal point of view on how to remedy it. The result of traveling the country and viewing the worst of American poverty, this study offers views of often ignored impoverished areas (e.g., northern Florida, Jewish Brooklyn) as well as the heavily scrutinized inner city. Shorris coins a unique terminology to define and unite these disparate scenarios—he speaks of the ``surround of force,'' the word ``force'' implying not violence, but the pressures (drugs, hunger, inadequate health care) that plague nearly all poor people. Furthermore, Shorris is careful to make the distinction between ``relative'' and ``absolute'' poverty, noting that American poverty is relative because, via the medium of television, poor Americans are able to see their nonimpoverished countrymen. Shorris's background in academics and philosophy (he was a teenage scholarship student at the University of Chicago in the late 1950s) is apparent, not only through his Aristotelian belief that a political life is the remedy for the problem at hand, but also in his thesis (put to the test in the so-called Clemente Course that he documents in the book's second half) that an education in the humanities could be the solution to multigenerational poverty. While it has become a bit of a truism that only education can truly help the poor, Shorris's innovation is in his emphasis on a liberal education on the order of the Chicago curriculum as he experienced it. While Shorris chooses some curious enemies (for example, while approving of New Deal programs that put the poor to work, he criticizes President Clinton for supporting workfare) and shows his age with his inability to understand inner-city artistic forms like graffiti and hip-hop, he genuinely cares—a characteristic noticeably lacking in many who claim to want to eliminate poverty. (First serial to Harper's)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-393-04554-4

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1997

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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