Idealistic and stronger in description than prescription, but a provocative essay nonetheless.

READ REVIEW

THE COMMON GOOD

Reich (Public Policy/Univ. of California; Saving Capitalism, 2015, etc.) takes a note from Adam Smith and runs with it in this spirited defense of the public sphere.

The best economy may be one in which unrestrained trade occurs in keeping with the laws of supply and demand, but it is also one in which human needs are met and externalities such as environmental costs are taken into account. In this new gilded age, writes the author, the common good is often ignored, even if a few interesting things are happening. For one thing, Donald Trump “has at least brought us back to first principles….Trump has got us talking about democracy versus tyranny.” The president and his ilk have also gotten us talking about whether there is such a thing as a social contract or a public domain after all. In this brief but well-argued treatise, Reich contrasts shareholder and stakeholder capitalism, the excesses of the former often explained away by the notion that the executive has a fiduciary obligation to increase returns to shareholders no matter what the cost. “The argument is tautological,” writes the author. “It assumes that investors are the only people worthy of consideration. What about the common good?” The enemies of the common good are countless, from latter-day slumlords to deregulated megabanks and untrammeled hedge funds, all of which disregard the rules society has evolved to keep transactions fair, “tacit rules that can be exploited by people who view them as opportunities for selfish gain rather than as social constraints.” Reich examines the rise of ruleless society as a function of declining trust in social institutions. Against all this, among other things—and now borrowing a page from Sandra Day O’Connor—the author urges a renewal of civic education to enable people “to work with others to separate facts and logic from values and beliefs,” including, one assumes, the belief that it is acceptable to rob the public blind.

Idealistic and stronger in description than prescription, but a provocative essay nonetheless.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52049-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

more