SOCIAL SECURITY WORKS!

WHY SOCIAL SECURITY ISN’T GOING BROKE AND HOW EXPANDING IT WILL HELP US ALL

A hard-hitting kickoff to the 2016 election campaign.

A call to arms to defend Social Security from sneak attack.

Co-authors Altman (The Battle for Social Security: From FDR's Vision to Bush's Gamble, 2005, etc.) and Kingson (Social Work/Syracuse Univ.; Lessons from Joan: Living and Loving with Cancer, a Husband's Story, 2006, etc.), who both served as staff advisers to the 1982 National Commission on Social Security and were founding board members of the National Academy on Social Insurance, expose the method of guerrilla warfare still employed by conservatives to undermine the social-welfare system. “This is not a time to accept further cuts to our Social Security as 'reasonable compromise,' as little 'tweaks,' that will do no lasting harm,” they write. On the contrary, they believe what is required is an expansion of the social-welfare system to achieve “greater economic security for all of America's working families.” A first step is to counter “the misinformation...so deeply imbedded in the minds of the general public”—e.g., the false claim that Social Security is economically unsustainable and imposes an unacceptable burden on the younger generation. In his cogent foreword, David Cay Johnston (Undivided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality, 2014, etc.) describes this misinformation and reminds readers that the preamble to the Constitution includes a statement of the need to “promote the general Welfare.” Altman and Kingson provide a historical overview of social legislation since the passage of the original Social Security Act in 1935, give a detailed explanation about why the Social Security trust fund is solvent and will remain so, and explain why conservatives have been unable to derail the system due to broad-based popular support. Even Ronald Reagan, the champion of reducing the role of government, recognized that Social Security (dubbed by House Speaker Tip O'Neill as “the third rail of politics”) was unopposable.

A hard-hitting kickoff to the 2016 election campaign.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62097-037-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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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