A fruitful argument against the politics of “simple-minded populism,” eminently worthy of consideration and debate.

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THE FUTURE OF FREEDOM

ILLIBERAL DEMOCRACY AT HOME AND ABROAD

The problem with democracy is that it lets just about everyone have a say.

Or so would go an inelegant rendition of Newsweek International editor Zakaria’s more sophisticated argument, which is akin to those of, say, Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama in the Big Idea school of political criticism. Briefly, Zakaria holds that some of the features we take for granted in democracy, such as universal adult suffrage, are recent innovations that overlie, and now threaten to obscure, far more important aspects of “constitutional liberalism—the rule of law, private property rights, and . . . separated powers and free speech and assembly.” These ideals, “best symbolized not by the mass plebiscite but the impartial judge,” are the true hallmarks of democracy, but they are not the ones that Americans, at least, think of when that golden term is uttered, and not the ones that are called to mind when the talk turns to spreading one-man, one-vote democracy around the world, which is a peculiarly American project. (“Think of it this way,” Zakaria intones, “if France had been the world’s leading power for the last century, would 18-year-olds wearing jeans in restaurants come up to you and say, ‘Hi, I’m John and I’ll be your waiter today’?”) The rest of the world, and particularly the Arab and Asian quarters, is not much interested in this power-sharing ideal—which in any event, by Zakaria’s account, so often tends to lead to the tyranny of the majority and “the erosion of liberty, the manipulation of freedom, and the decay of a common life.” Zakaria’s arguments are, of course, arguable, but they are interesting and provocative at the same time. His passing notes are more intriguing, culled from statistical tables and academic journal articles, on the material and political conditions required if a democracy of any kind is to endure: per-capita income and GDP above $6,000, an independent judiciary, an incorrupt central bank.

A fruitful argument against the politics of “simple-minded populism,” eminently worthy of consideration and debate.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-04764-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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