Refreshingly optimistic; in our diversity lies great strength, Levin writes, a strength that can be tapped once all the...

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THE FRACTURED REPUBLIC

RENEWING AMERICA’S SOCIAL CONTRACT IN THE AGE OF INDIVIDUALISM

A voice of both reason and establishment conservatism offers a prescription for renewed political discourse and bipartisan action.

You won’t hear many liberals saying that conservative voices make for healthy political balance, or vice versa. Levin (The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, 2013, etc.), founder of the journal National Affairs and a distinguished student of Edmund Burke, understands that a middle lies between left and right. The right tends to complaints of moral apocalypse and jeremiad: as the author notes, if you had told a conservative 60 years ago that out-of-wedlock birth would increase tenfold to the present, “he probably would have painted a nightmarish spectacle that would bear little resemblance to our relatively thriving society.” Conversely, the left tends to alarmist talk about economic matters, especially inequality, “in ways that suggest that the sky could fall on our society any minute.” Can there be middle ground? Yes, writes Levin, in ways that accommodate some of the best things about both traditions while decentralizing power to “create a constructive tension that can help us to make the most of democratic capitalism.” The operative word is “constructive,” and this in the place of what Levin criticizes as the tendency of both political wings to fall into golden-age nostalgia that does not admit of much action, the left for the 1960s and the right for the ’80s. Some of the author’s proposals are too lightly sketched to test, but they are interesting all the same. One example is his call to privatize certain public services but at the same time allow other public services to compete in the open market—allowing, for instance, post offices to double as banks, a note that Bernie Sanders has been sounding of late. Against “fracture and deconsolidation,” Levin even suggests that “Right” and “Left” designations may not be useful.

Refreshingly optimistic; in our diversity lies great strength, Levin writes, a strength that can be tapped once all the rancor is put aside. Highly recommended for readers of whatever political stripe.

Pub Date: May 24, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-465-06196-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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