A hard-hitting analysis that may leave readers confused by the author’s ambivalent, punches-pulling conclusion.

LISTEN, LIBERAL

OR, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE PARTY OF THE PEOPLE?

How the party of the working class has switched its focus to well-heeled professionals, more concerned with social issues than economic inequality.

“This is a book about the failure of the Democratic Party,” writes political analyst and Baffler founding editor Frank (Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right, 2011). “What ails the Democrats?” he asks. “So bravely forthright on cultural issues, their leaders fold when confronted with matters of basic economic democracy.” Where David Halberstam once showed how reliance on “the best and the brightest” resulted in wrongheaded decisions on Vietnam, Frank builds a similar case for economic policy, as Ivy League presidents (Bill Clinton, Barack Obama) have surrounded themselves with Ivy League advisers whose perspectives aren’t those of what was once the blue-collar base of the Democratic Party: “Thus did the Party of the People turn the government over to Wall Street in the years after Wall Street had done such lasting damage to…well, the People.” Frank is particularly acidic on the Clinton presidency, calling his cabinet “a kind of yuppie Woodstock, a gathering of the highly credentialed tribes,” and claiming, “what he did as president was far outside the reach of even the most diabolical Republican.” In the author’s estimation, the hope of the Obama administration turned hopeless. Since Frank is far from a lone voice in the wilderness in his perspective, you’d think he might see allies in the Occupy movement and the Bernie Sanders campaign, but he barely acknowledges the former and makes no mention of the latter, making it seem as if more recent developments lie outside his analysis. Rather than insisting on radical reform from the left or even a third party alternative, he seems to feel that Hillary Clinton is inevitable: “I myself might vote for her,” because it would be a “terrible thing” if any of the Republicans became president.

A hard-hitting analysis that may leave readers confused by the author’s ambivalent, punches-pulling conclusion.

Pub Date: March 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62779-539-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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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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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