A book to be enjoyed by ideologues and non-ideologues of all stripes because it is not a tract for Republicans, Democrats or...

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WHITE HOUSE BURNING

THE FOUNDING FATHERS, OUR NATIONAL DEBT, AND WHY IT MATTERS TO YOU

A detailed, lucid, sure-to-be controversial account of whether the massive national debt of the U.S. government actually matters.

Johnson (Entrepreneurship and Management/MIT) and Kwak (Univ. of Connecticut School of Law), who collaborated on 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown (2010), explain how the national debt began to grow, why it is willfully misrepresented by politicians and misunderstood by much of the citizenry and whether it is ever likely to cripple the richest nation in the world. Their especially valuable insight is that the national debt is a major problem only if it is perceived as a problem. Because politicians have advertised the debt as a problem, perception has overtaken reality. For the typical American voter, the conundrum becomes one of individual responsibility versus collective responsibility. Government measures to reduce the national debt by reducing assistance to individuals means those individuals will have to assume more responsibility for their health care, retirement accounts, formal education, transportation and workplace safety. On the other hand, government measures meant to protect vulnerable members of society will have to be financed through the assumption of greater debt, unless political leaders are willing to increase taxes on businesses as well as wealthy individuals. This is complicated stuff, but the clarity of explanations from Johnson and Kwak ease the pain. The authors are especially strong in their demonstration of the fallacy of likening government debt to the debt of an individual family. Many families are morally opposed to debt in their household and may assume that government debt is a moral issue. Johnson and Kwak explain why morality should have little place in any sane debate about the amount of national debt.

A book to be enjoyed by ideologues and non-ideologues of all stripes because it is not a tract for Republicans, Democrats or any other partisan organization.

Pub Date: April 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-90696-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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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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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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