A sober, refreshingly nonpartisan discussion of the place of unions in the modern economy.

The Rise and Fall of the Unions' Empire: The Political Quandary

An analytical appraisal of the state of unions in the United States, including a detailed history of their rise, evolution and eventual decline.

Tull is a lifelong union man who’s now the retired president of a unionized construction company; he also has a doctorate in business administration, with a specialization in labor relations. His debut is both a history and a diagnosis, chronicling the development of unions in the United States as well as dissecting the contemporary diminishment of their power. When unions first emerged as a response to an economy radically transformed by the Industrial Revolution, they were hailed as instruments of worker protection and social progress, supported by both political parties. However, they also cultivated public suspicion and were often seen as self-interested cabals of greed, communist sympathizers and opponents of free trade. Today, unions suffer from steadily declining membership; increases in low-skilled, immigrant labor; the staunch opposition of the Republican Party; and a massively shifting economy. Tull provides a comprehensive overview, detailing major victories such as President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 executive order certifying collective bargaining as a legal right and defeats such as President Ronald Reagan’s rough treatment of striking air-traffic controllers in 1981. The work touches upon several current controversies with delicacy and aplomb, such as the legality of the “card check” method of labor organizing, the prevalence of right-to-work laws and the productivity of strikes. He also discusses, with unusual candor, the important distinction between public and private unions, acknowledging the excesses of the former. Although he’s a committed union supporter, his evenhanded treatment of the issues is admirable. For example, during a discussion of charter schools, one of the highlights of the book, he bluntly criticizes teacher unions: “If the teachers’ unions are not willing to relax their unreasonable demands, they will find themselves continuing to lose membership.” In the final analysis, Tull argues that even Democratic Party dominance of Congress and the executive branch wouldn’t be enough to revitalize unions in the United States: They’ll need a thoroughgoing self-reinvention to become relevant again.

A sober, refreshingly nonpartisan discussion of the place of unions in the modern economy.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-1490552767

Page Count: 222

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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. 30, 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. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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