An insightful piercing of the veil of nation-states to reveal capitalism’s frightening, anti-democratic tendencies.

A review of libertarian threats to democracy and a debunking of the myth that nation-states govern the world.

In this richly documented exposé, Slobodian, professor of the history of ideas at Wellesley and author of Globalists: The End of Empire and the Rise of Neoliberalism, describes the thinking behind attempts to create pockets of unfettered capitalism that turn citizens into consumers and governments into afterthoughts. Free market radicals, writes the author, long for “an agile, relentlessly mobile fortress for capital, protected from the grasping hands of the populace seeking a more equitable present and future.” This utopia is to be achieved using “zones of exception” where taxes are minimal, if not wholly eliminated, government regulations have been eviscerated, labor laws are nonexistent, and investors can conceal their assets. These duty-free districts, charter cities, innovation hubs, gated communities, enterprise zones, and tax havens currently number over 5,400 around the world, and more than 1,000 have appeared in the past decade. “Capitalism works by punching holes in the nation-state,” writes Slobodian, so that the “the lineaments of a future society without a state [can] come into definition.” The author draws on the ideas of such “neoliberal luminaries” as Milton Friedman, Paul Romer, and Balaji Srinivasan, noting their fascination with the political fragmentation of the Middle Ages and the capital-friendly confines of Hong Kong, Singapore, Liechtenstein, and Dubai. Slobodian also explains how their ideas have intersected with development corporations in London; the gated community of Sea Ranch in California, whose planner called it “a kibbutz without the socialism”; the opportunities posed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union; and the cryptocurrency fantasies of tech libertarians. Behind many of these anarcho-capitalists’ most revered examples, however, are tightly organized authoritarian regimes, as opposed to government’s absence. This, though, is simply another reason to reject democracy.

An insightful piercing of the veil of nation-states to reveal capitalism’s frightening, anti-democratic tendencies.

Pub Date: April 4, 2023

ISBN: 9781250753892

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2023


A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

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


Deliberately provocative, with much for left-inclined activists to ponder.

A wide-ranging critique of leftist politics as not being left enough.

Continuing his examination of progressive reform movements begun with The Cult of Smart, Marxist analyst deBoer takes on a left wing that, like all political movements, is subject to “the inertia of established systems.” The great moment for the left, he suggests, ought to have been the summer of 2020, when the murder of George Floyd and the accumulated crimes of Donald Trump should have led to more than a minor upheaval. In Minneapolis, he writes, first came the call from the city council to abolish the police, then make reforms, then cut the budget; the grace note was “an increase in funding to the very department it had recently set about to dissolve.” What happened? The author answers with the observation that it is largely those who can afford it who populate the ranks of the progressive movement, and they find other things to do after a while, even as those who stand to benefit most from progressive reform “lack the cultural capital and economic stability to have a presence in our national media and politics.” The resulting “elite capture” explains why the Democratic Party is so ineffectual in truly representing minority and working-class constituents. Dispirited, deBoer writes, “no great American revolution is coming in the early twenty-first century.” Accommodation to gradualism was once counted heresy among doctrinaire Marxists, but deBoer holds that it’s likely the only truly available path toward even small-scale gains. Meanwhile, he scourges nonprofits for diluting the tax base. It would be better, he argues, to tax those who can afford it rather than allowing deductible donations and “reducing the availability of public funds for public uses.” Usefully, the author also argues that identity politics centering on difference will never build a left movement, which instead must find common cause against conservatism and fascism.

Deliberately provocative, with much for left-inclined activists to ponder.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9781668016015

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

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