A thoughtful consideration of issues in sore need of solution by democratic means.



A nuanced prescription for a politics remade in the wake of the Trump era.

“Our lives depend on the choices we make and those we are unable to make,” writes Columbia Law School professor Purdy, who opens with a thought experiment that imagines four textbooks published in 2050. One tells the story of a triumphant authoritarianism, another of political fragmentation, yet another the surrender of functions of civic life to a technocracy. “These three futures are already with us,” he notes, while the fourth and most desirable has yet to take shape: a movement of citizens who took charge of their own lives and made a history that addressed flaws in government, economic inequality, the climate change crisis, and other existential issues. Even though many of us claim that we are sick of politics, we all make demands of it: the left for reforms in policing and a stronger commitment to civil rights, for instance, and the right for nationalist trade policies and an end to immigration. A healthy body politic, writes the author, will recognize the plural, diverse nature of American society and the fact that “majority rule is not a license for the majority to do whatever it wants with everyone else.” He goes on to examine various theories of democracy and its discontents, from Alexis de Tocqueville to Samuel Huntington, the conservative theorist whose “clash of civilizations” thesis was predated by his view that democracies in action often undermine the premises of democracy itself, proven by a “minority-rule president who led a minority-rule party”—i.e., Donald Trump and the GOP. Purdy argues convincingly that reforms must address issues such as economic and social inequality, predatory capitalism, and “systems of relentless, hierarchical pressure.” The alternative is to lose democracy, he warns, which is to surrender any decision-making authority over our own lives.

A thoughtful consideration of issues in sore need of solution by democratic means.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-541-67302-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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Even if they're pie-in-the-sky exercises, Sanders’ pitched arguments bear consideration by nonbillionaires.


Everyone’s favorite avuncular socialist sends up a rousing call to remake the American way of doing business.

“In the twenty-first century we can end the vicious dog-eat-dog economy in which the vast majority struggle to survive,” writes Sanders, “while a handful of billionaires have more wealth than they could spend in a thousand lifetimes.” With that statement, the author updates an argument as old as Marx and Proudhon. In a nice play on words, he condemns “the uber-capitalist system under which we live,” showing how it benefits only the slimmest slice of the few while imposing undue burdens on everyone else. Along the way, Sanders notes that resentment over this inequality was powerful fuel for the disastrous Trump administration, since the Democratic Party thoughtlessly largely abandoned underprivileged voters in favor of “wealthy campaign contributors and the ‘beautiful people.’ ” The author looks squarely at Jeff Bezos, whose company “paid nothing in federal income taxes in 2017 and 2018.” Indeed, writes Sanders, “Bezos is the embodiment of the extreme corporate greed that shapes our times.” Aside from a few passages putting a face to avarice, Sanders lays forth a well-reasoned platform of programs to retool the American economy for greater equity, including investment in education and taking seriously a progressive (in all senses) corporate and personal taxation system to make the rich pay their fair share. In the end, he urges, “We must stop being afraid to call out capitalism and demand fundamental change to a corrupt and rigged system.” One wonders if this firebrand of a manifesto is the opening gambit in still another Sanders run for the presidency. If it is, well, the plutocrats might want to take cover for the duration.

Even if they're pie-in-the-sky exercises, Sanders’ pitched arguments bear consideration by nonbillionaires.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593238714

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2023

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“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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