Not much new here, but detailed, intelligent analysis makes this an excellent primer on a perpetually thorny issue.

THE FREEDOM AGENDA

WHY AMERICA MUST SPREAD DEMOCRACY (JUST NOT THE WAY GEORGE BUSH DID)

New York Times Magazine contributor Traub (The Best Intentions, 2006, etc.) analyzes the history and future of America’s role in spreading democracy abroad.

The author takes his title from the phrase generally used to describe the policy articulated in President Bush’s second inaugural address: “the survival of liberty in our lands increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” Traub traces the history of this messianic idea back to the turn of the 20th century, when American forces swept into the Philippines and fumblingly attempted to convert the island nation into a modern democracy. He touches upon similar efforts made by presidents Wilson and Truman but spends most of his time on America’s response, both at home and abroad, to the communist and later Islamist threat. The subtitle reveals Traub’s slant, but his criticisms of the Bush administration are couched in a dispassionate, journalistic tone, eschewing righteous denunciations to focus on questions of efficacy. Oddly, the author doesn’t spend much time explaining “why America must spread democracy.” Instead, he operates as a scientist, cracking open the notion of democracy to see what it consists of, examining why it works in some places but not in others. Like all good reporters, Traub distrusts simple solutions, looking instead at the complex, competing evaluations of democracy’s importance in world affairs. He has no sympathy for those who find some people “unready” for a government chosen at the ballot box, nor for those who think democracy is simply a matter of ballot boxes and ignore the impact of history, economics and institutions. He clearly fears a future America, chastened by the Bush administration’s failures abroad, unwilling to respond to the calls of people around the world who yearn for a stake in their governments.

Not much new here, but detailed, intelligent analysis makes this an excellent primer on a perpetually thorny issue.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-15847-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2008

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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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