A refreshingly rosy assessment of how far many of us have come from the days when life was uniformly nasty, brutish, and...

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PROGRESS

TEN REASONS TO LOOK FORWARD TO THE FUTURE

Cato Institute senior fellow Norberg (Financial Fiasco: How America's Infatuation with Home Ownership and Easy Money Created the Economic Crisis, 2009, etc.) surveys human history and finds “things have been getting better—overwhelmingly so.”

In this brightly written, upbeat book, the Swedish author blends facts, anecdotes, and official statistics to describe “humanity’s triumph” in achieving the present unparalleled level of global living standards. By virtually every measure—food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the environment, literacy, freedom, equality, the conditions of childhood—life has improved for most people, writes the author. Much of the progress stems from 18th-century Enlightenment thinkers, who believed “the world could steadily improve if reason was set free,” thereby encouraging innovation and problem-solving. Major breakthroughs have fed upon one another: better access to food and health care, for example, have made it possible to work more and ensured “even better nutrition and even better health.” Growths in wealth, knowledge, trade, and technology have been chief animating forces. As a result, humanity has enjoyed a remarkable array of life improvements, often overlooked in our daily preoccupation with bad news: average life expectancy in the world has gone from 31 years in 1900 to 71 today. Malnutrition in Peru has declined by 76 percent since 1990. Global literacy jumped from 21 percent in 1900 to 86 percent in 2015. Poverty dropped by 24 percent in India between 1993 and 2012. Slavery, which existed worldwide in 1800, has been formally banned everywhere. Norberg reminds us that throughout history, parents often had to bury their children. He notes certain individuals have played key roles: Maurice Hilleman, developer of the measles vaccine, is among those who saved the most lives in history. While acknowledging the mayhem, hunger, and poverty still facing much of the world, the author remains optimistic that human ingenuity will prevail in shaping the future.

A refreshingly rosy assessment of how far many of us have come from the days when life was uniformly nasty, brutish, and short.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78074-950-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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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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