PREPARING FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

After reading this gloomy exercise in futurology, even the most cockeyed optimists will feel justified in hiding under their bedcovers as the turn of the century approaches. Kennedy (History/Yale Univ.) explores again, with wider and more contemporary applications, a principal theme of his controversial bestseller, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987): that we must factor nonmilitary elements into traditional equations of national security. Kennedy can be provocative and prescient: his notion of ``global overreach'' in that earlier book, for instance, was borne out by the collapse of the Soviet Union and by the severe strains on the American economy. This time, he attempts to show how transnational forces, beyond the control of individual countries, inevitably will create world instability. Behind this unrest is a Malthusian population explosion (the world had 2 billion inhabitants in 1925, compared with 5.3 billion in 1990) that will be exacerbated by environmental dangers, the new global economy, robotics, and biotechnology. Kennedy guesses who the winners and losers will be in this changed world (Japan, with its highly educated, cohesive population and technological orientation, will fare better than the US, with its aging, multiethnic populace). Even the industrialized North will not be immune from the mass migrations and deteriorating environment of the Third World. Kennedy is most insightful in pointing out overlooked factors underlying crises: the fast-growing, youthful, impatient masses behind the Intifada and the troubles of Northern Ireland, for example, or the loss of forests and topsoil fueling the Haitian migration to the US. He regards economic growth as a zero-sum game that will damage an environmentally fragile planet, however, and he offers few remedies to avert the catastrophes he sees looming. Brilliant and discerning on the inevitable pressures on the rich North from the developing world (e.g., from Somalia)—but only hard-core Cassandras will accept Kennedy's pessimism about nations' inability to mobilize the will or resources to change the planet.

Pub Date: March 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-394-58443-0

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1993

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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