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

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

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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