A sober consideration of the decline of American democracy.
After a hotly disputed presidential election, there’s been much discussion about the fundamental health of the democratic process in the United States. Neff (Vision for America, 2014), an economist, argues that its legitimacy has been thoroughly compromised. The reason: economic inequality. He begins with an analysis of poverty, and he contends that the lack of a living minimum wage forces a considerable number of people into poverty and drives up taxes by compelling a vast number of government programs. He asserts that higher wages, combined with mandatory health insurance, a government-run pension plan, and some other innovations could alleviate these problems. Neff also criticizes the tax code, saying that the richest people and corporations don’t contribute nearly enough in taxes. He then assesses the United States’ malfunctioning political structures, concluding that a two-party system and the gerrymandering of congressional districts has all but ensured divisive partisanship. The result of such rigged political and economic systems, he says, is substantive oligarchy, thinly disguised as democratic opportunity: “For some, freedom means manipulating the system and creating opportunities in their favor, as a way to achieve success for themselves,” he notes. “The result will be an unbalanced society that is destroying the democratic system.” Neff’s prose is crystal-clear, even-tempered, and free of the ad hominem attacks that typically infect political tracts. That said, this is certainly a partisan book, although the author does candidly state his liberal point of view. It’s also a short book—less than 150 pages long—and Neff simply tries to pack too much into it, resulting in overly condensed arguments that flirt with oversimplification. For example, a section on private prisons seems possibly unnecessary, and another on the philosophical roots of libertarianism is, at best, a threadbare account. However, Neff does provide lucid, reasonable solutions to real problems, and that alone makes this book a worthwhile contribution.
A sensible and refreshingly restrained discussion of the nation’s deficiencies.