A cogent reminder of the importance of federal policy, presidential leadership, and the elusiveness of economic justice.



A political autopsy describing how Democratic presidents abandoned the progressive legacy of Franklin Roosevelt and allowed economic inequality to deepen.

Kuttner, co-founder of Economic Policy Institute and The American Prospect, opens with an urgent assessment of our current political landscape: “Joe Biden’s presidency will be either a historic pivot back to New Deal economics and forward to energized democracy, or a heartbreaking interregnum between two bouts of deepening American fascism. We are facing the most momentous threat to the American republic since the Civil War.” The touchstone for his sharp analysis is the New Deal, “a model of progressive policy and politics” that was committed to economic justice. While Harry Truman left FDR’s legacy intact and Lyndon Johnson expanded it with his war on poverty and civil rights legislation that attended to issues FDR had ignored, Jimmy Carter initiated a retreat that has continued for four decades. A quarter-century of prosperity had ended, and the Democratic Party tacked to the right. Following Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama championed economic growth, Wall Street prosperity, and global trade, catering to college-educated workers and the wealthy rather than addressing racial and economic equality for the working class. Once again, economic policy was delegated to Wall Street insiders. Given this historical context and Biden’s centrist credentials, his progressivism came as a surprise, and an expansive legislative agenda and revival of the New Deal coalition of labor, the poor, and racial minorities have resurrected values neglected by previous Democratic administrations. Kuttner sees “grounds for hope” that Biden’s presidency can reverse “the hyper-concentration of capital and…the steady weakening of labor” and enable progressivism to triumph. It will do so, however, only when Democrats occupy the White House, gain majorities in Congress, and tightly regulate finance capitalism. Some readers may wish for more discussion of progressivism from below: grassroots organizations, state and local governments, and democratic socialist political movements.

A cogent reminder of the importance of federal policy, presidential leadership, and the elusiveness of economic justice.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-62097-727-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022

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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

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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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