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THE PRIVATEERS

HOW BILLIONAIRES CREATED A CULTURE WAR AND SOLD SCHOOL VOUCHERS

A well-researched book for the public policy crowd.

A professor of education policy examines how a small group of wealthy conservatives developed a rationale to privatize schools and support school vouchers.

Cowen, “an expert on school choice who spent formative professional years working with and around leading voucher advocates,” makes a solid argument that vouchers do more harm than good. To demonstrate his point, he examines the individuals and organizations that have promoted—and continue to promote—voucher programs. He begins by showing how the voucher concept originated as a reaction to Brown v. Board of Education. At the beginning, Milton Friedman suggested that parents, rather than government, should have the right to determine where their children went to school. The emergence of a powerful conservative movement (and figures like Charles Koch and Betsy DeVos) a few decades later brought the issue to the cultural fore. Cowen examines the development of the first voucher program in Milwaukee in the early 1990s and how the wealthy, right-wing Bradley Foundation used its money and political influence to “legitimate vouchers as a school reform strategy.” A federally funded program in Washington, D.C., which was itself shepherded into existence by conservative “foot soldiers,” followed. Turning to his own experiences, Cowen suggests that research advocating voucher programs is itself the product of the same wealthy, Christian nationalist networks. At the same time, that research has not been enough to counter the “utter, empirical disaster” that the school voucher system became in the 2010s. Donald Trump reignited the voucher controversy, transforming it into an ideological debate that would have repercussions in later Supreme Court rulings that allowed parents to use voucher money on private religious schools. While this book will likely not interest general readers, educators and education-policy specialists will no doubt appreciate Cowen’s attention to detail and thoroughness.

A well-researched book for the public policy crowd.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2024

ISBN: 9781682539101

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Harvard Education Press

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2024

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WHAT THIS COMEDIAN SAID WILL SHOCK YOU

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

The comedian argues that the arts of moderation and common sense must be reinvigorated.

Some people are born snarky, some become snarky, and some have snarkiness thrust upon them. Judging from this book, Maher—host of HBO’s Real Time program and author of The New New Rules and When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden—is all three. As a comedian, he has a great deal of leeway to make fun of people in politics, and he often delivers hilarious swipes with a deadpan face. The author describes himself as a traditional liberal, with a disdain for Republicans (especially the MAGA variety) and a belief in free speech and personal freedom. He claims that he has stayed much the same for more than 20 years, while the left, he argues, has marched toward intolerance. He sees an addiction to extremism on both sides of the aisle, which fosters the belief that anyone who disagrees with you must be an enemy to be destroyed. However, Maher has always displayed his own streaks of extremism, and his scorched-earth takedowns eventually become problematic. The author has something nasty to say about everyone, it seems, and the sarcastic tone starts after more than 300 pages. As has been the case throughout his career, Maher is best taken in small doses. The book is worth reading for the author’s often spot-on skewering of inept politicians and celebrities, but it might be advisable to occasionally dip into it rather than read the whole thing in one sitting. Some parts of the text are hilarious, but others are merely insulting. Maher is undeniably talented, but some restraint would have produced a better book.

Maher calls out idiocy wherever he sees it, with a comedic delivery that veers between a stiletto and a sledgehammer.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9781668051351

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

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. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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