PLACEBOCRACY AND OTHER AILMENTS

A CLASSICAL LIBERAL TAKE ON AMERICA TODAY

A heavy-handed yet ideologically coherent take on contemporary politics.

A classical liberal offers a wide-ranging discussion of American political and social ills.

As a Renaissance man who worked in construction, firefighting, oil-spill cleanup, and the commercial maritime industry before becoming a lawyer, Hartwig is drawn to the multifaceted lives and intellectual curiosity of Thomas Jefferson and the other men who founded the United States. As a classical liberal, the author is also deeply sympathetic to their philosophy of limited government. Rather than signaling a new age of American politics, he sees the election of Donald Trump as president reflecting how far the U.S. has departed from its classical liberal moorings to became a “Placebocracy,” in which the government “devises solutions that appear to solve the problems of its constituents, while actually making things worse.” Because of Hartwig’s atypical ideological roots, readers across the political spectrum are likely to, at various intervals, nod in agreement at his hot, forceful views or want to toss his book aside. Like many on the left, the author places the declining incomes of middle-class Americans, corporate subsides, and preferential tax treatment for the rich at the center of the nation’s decline and rails against “short sighted” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, religious fundamentalism, and “corporate monoliths.” Alternately, he joins many on the right in his occasional screeds against Hollywood celebrities, the “pop science” of climate change, and the “political correctness” that polices “any banter whatsoever involving ethnicity, culture, gender…or the myriad of other topics that used to be considered benign.” He is most passionate in his intriguing critiques of the American educational system, which is not only another example of an inept government at work, but has become “infected” with “political correctness” and “partisan politics” as well. In his comprehensive book, Hartwig presents eloquent and consistent arguments that eschew right or left paradigms, offering many rich details. But, given the author’s self-professed predilections toward history, many scholars will bristle at some of his superficial interpretations. Jefferson would be shocked, for instance, to read that his Federalist rival John Adams—the man he called a “monarch” and who signed the big-government, anti–free speech Sedition Act—was a man committed to forestalling the “excesses of the state.”

A heavy-handed yet ideologically coherent take on contemporary politics. (acknowledgements, "Recommended Reading (A Partial List) / Bibliography")

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59152-260-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Yucca Ash Press

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2020

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

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POVERTY, BY AMERICA

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

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A thoughtful program for eradicating poverty from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted.

“America’s poverty is not for lack of resources,” writes Desmond. “We lack something else.” That something else is compassion, in part, but it’s also the lack of a social system that insists that everyone pull their weight—and that includes the corporations and wealthy individuals who, the IRS estimates, get away without paying upward of $1 trillion per year. Desmond, who grew up in modest circumstances and suffered poverty in young adulthood, points to the deleterious effects of being poor—among countless others, the precarity of health care and housing (with no meaningful controls on rent), lack of transportation, the constant threat of losing one’s job due to illness, and the need to care for dependent children. It does not help, Desmond adds, that so few working people are represented by unions or that Black Americans, even those who have followed the “three rules” (graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait until marriage to have children), are far likelier to be poor than their White compatriots. Furthermore, so many full-time jobs are being recast as contracted, fire-at-will gigs, “not a break from the norm as much as an extension of it, a continuation of corporations finding new ways to limit their obligations to workers.” By Desmond’s reckoning, besides amending these conditions, it would not take a miracle to eliminate poverty: about $177 billion, which would help end hunger and homelessness and “make immense headway in driving down the many agonizing correlates of poverty, like violence, sickness, and despair.” These are matters requiring systemic reform, which will in turn require Americans to elect officials who will enact that reform. And all of us, the author urges, must become “poverty abolitionists…refusing to live as unwitting enemies of the poor.” Fortune 500 CEOs won’t like Desmond’s message for rewriting the social contract—which is precisely the point.

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593239919

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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