Well-intentioned but a chore.

ESCAPING PLATO’S CAVE

HOW AMERICA’S BLINDNESS TO THE REST OF THE WORLD THREATENS OUR SURVIVAL

An outraged screed against dissembling politicians, a benumbed public and a corporatized media that enables both.

Plato used the analogy of shadowed images flickering against a cave wall being mistaken for reality as a way of showing how most people are blind to the world around them. Long-time AP foreign correspondent Rosenblum (Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light, 2005, etc.) picks up the cave analogy 2,500 years later to underscore his argument that on issues ranging from globalization to the Mideast to the environment, Americans are ignorant, distracted by baubles and fiddling while the world burns. Only someone truly living in a cave would find this book eye-opening. Who doesn’t know that the invasion of Iraq was botched, that Wal-Mart underpays its workers, that the world is in a perilous state? Is this mostly the American public’s fault? Instead of a nuanced, sophisticated analysis, the author plods over familiar ground, interspersing stock left-wing talking points with dispatches from the AP that his editors refused to publish, accounts of luncheons with interesting people and eviscerations of stupid Americans unaware of the destruction they have wrought. Rosenblum is an engaging writer, and much can be learned when he delves into complex issues that require more than full-throated exhortations, such as in his chapter on the threat of global pandemics. Too often, however, he forgoes reportorial legwork for repetitions of the obvious. He fancies himself something of a sage for all his work and travel, and he certainly has the scars and bylines to show for it, but instead of suggesting solutions to the intractable problems we face, he stands on top of the cave, waving his arms and demanding we do something. Other than telling readers to watch the BBC and travel internationally, he is unable to say exactly what we should do.

Well-intentioned but a chore.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-312-36440-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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