An exhilarating record of intellectual engagement.

THE VANISHING AMERICAN DREAM

A FRANK LOOK AT THE ECONOMIC REALITIES FACING MIDDLE- AND LOWER-INCOME AMERICANS

A work focuses on a symposium devoted to diagnosing and curing the socioeconomic ailments that plague the lower and middle classes in America.

According to Ludwig, the editor of this volume and the organizer of the discussions at Yale Law School it documents, the lower and middle classes in the United States are desperately falling behind. They are the victims of an “economic tsunami” ravaging them for some time, the effects thrown into grimly sharp relief by the recent pandemic, of which they are “bearing the brunt of the burden.” The crisis is sometimes obscured by an overemphasis on standard economic indices, like the gross domestic product, which fails to capture the heart of the problem. Stagnating and even declining wages and a dearth of employment opportunities as well as the rising costs of basic necessities like shelter, education, and health care have left many in the nation embattled. In spring 2019, Ludwig brought together an impressive assemblage of luminaries to discuss this issue, culled from academia, government, and the world of commerce, including Lawrence H. Summers, the economist, former secretary of the Treasury, and former president of Harvard; Deval Patrick—the former Massachusetts governor, who delivered the keynote address—and Sarah Bloom Raskin, the former deputy secretary of the Treasury. The discussion is subdivided into three panels that investigate the nature of the problem, the possible responses at the national level, and the possible strategies at the local level. The editor not only brings together an accomplished coterie of participants, but also a diverse one. The highlights often involve the principled disagreement among the speakers, exchanges that manage to be edifying, spirited, and unfailingly civil, no small feat in the currently overcharged political climate. Furthermore, the topics touched on are wide-ranging, including the impact of technology on inequality, the exclusivity of elite education, macroeconomic strategies for increasing employment, and the rise of White nationalism and populism. In this lively and engrossing work, Ludwig presents a model of public discourse—informed, multidisciplinary, and shorn of myopic ideological commitments.

An exhilarating record of intellectual engagement.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63331-044-5

Page Count: 275

Publisher: Disruption Books

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2020

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An intellectually probing analysis.

ON VIOLENCE AND ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

A wide-ranging investigation of gender, power, and abuse.

British literary scholar and cultural critic Rose examines the impetus for and experience of violence, especially against women. Casting a wide net, she considers sexual predation and harassment; violence against transgender women, including by feminists who engage in “the coercive violence of gendering”; violence depicted in literary fiction; South Africa, where a woman is murdered every three hours and Cape Town is known as the rape capital of the world; and violence against migrant women and children. Although Rose focuses mainly on male violence, she argues that violence is not inherent in masculinity, and she takes issue with feminists who see women “solely or predominantly as the victims of their histories.” Nevertheless, she calls sexual harassment “the great male performative, the act through which a man aims to convince his target not only that he is the one with the power, which is true, but also that his power and his sexuality are one and the same thing.” Though she does not believe “that all women are at risk from all men,” she concedes “that a woman does not say she is scared of a man without cause and that when she does so, we must listen.” Drawing on Freudian psychoanalytic theory, Rose sees violence as “part of the psyche,” characterizing violent behavior as “a crime of the deepest thoughtlessness. It is a sign that the mind has brutally blocked itself.” Feminists, she asserts, must reckon with “the extraordinary, often painful and mostly overlooked range of what the human mind is capable of.” Like Hannah Arendt, Rose sees violence as “a form of entitlement” inflamed by “illegitimate and/or waning power.” The abuse of refugees and asylum seekers, for example, reflects “the violence of colonial expansion” as well as a “fight to preserve the privilege of the few against the many.”

An intellectually probing analysis.

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-28421-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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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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