We’ve done a little batch of summer updates on the current political and economic books during the last couple of weeks – and here’s the message:
2012 – a bleak picture.
- It’s the Middle Class, Stupid (Carville & Greenberg): We’ve failed. The Middle Class is broken.
- Our Divided Political Heart (E. J. Dionne): Polarization, Extremism and drift from the founding principles and values.
- Twilight of the Elites (MSNBC Chris Hayes): Meritocracy is lost.
- End the Depression Now! (Paul Krugman): Unemployment ruins lives. We are actually in a Depression.
- It’s Even Worse Than It Looks (Mann & Ornstein): Congress is defunct, politics is tribal, most of the blame lies with the GOP.
- The Betrayal of the American Dream (Barlett & Steele): Social mobility is gone, the Dream is an Illusion, the Middle Class is systematically ravaged.
So now we’re reading this:
It’s been fixed before.
For some inspiration.
This book has a promising, if not a bit academic introduction – pointing to the current drift from pragmatism and mixed center as the philosophical basis of the United States, to a one-note mentality centered around a deceptive concept of individualism. A drift from “yes, both” to “this only”.
E. J. Dionne makes the case:
At the heart of this book is a view that American history is defined by an irrepressible and ongoing tension between two core values: our love of individualism and our reverence for community.
(..) We are not very skilled at balance anymore. That is why we have lost our gift for reasoning together.
(..) The United States rose to global preeminence because in accepting our commitments to both individualism and community, we were able to see democratic government as a constructive force in our national life and to use it in creative ways.
(..) We must recover our respect for balance and remember its central role in our history. We are a nation of individualists who care passionately about community.
To the no compromise crowd:
This extreme individualism sees the “common good” not as a worthy objective but as a manipulative slogan disguising a lust for power by government bureaucrats and the ideological ambitions of left-wing utopians. This view has transformed both American conservatism and the Republican Party.
And to protective government, something that failed:
In our history, government has far more frequently been a liberating force that operated on behalf of the many. This has been true not just since the New Deal but also from the beginning of our national experiment.
(..) The intervention of democratic government has often been necessary to protect individuals from concentrated private power. It is government’s failure to live up to this duty that gave rise to the anti–Wall Street protests.
The introduction is beautifully written, very thoughtful and detailed, but dancing a little bit around WHY things have changed like this.
But a good read so far.
Posted in Blog
Tagged america, book review, books, change, dionne, jefferson, news, pragmatism, stuff, wapo, yes both
This latest book by James Carville and Stan Greenberg was a little bit of a disappointment, mostly because of a messy style – but also because there was very little news or fresh analysis on politics or economics. But it is important stuff.
From the opening:
WE ARE WRITING THIS BOOK BECAUSE WE FAILED AND THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH
There’s no other way to put it. We failed. It is as simple as that. Both of us have spent our lives focused on what’s happening with working people and seeing them get a fair shake for a hard day’s work—seeing them get the chance to move up the ladder and be honored. We put the middle class at the center of the world, because you can’t have an America without a middle class.
Well, we failed, and we have got to do better, and that’s why we are writing this book.
And this chart sums up the basis for the book:
Income distribution – something changed in the late 1970′s.
Chicago in the old days.
Found a new book the other day: Boss by Mike Royko.
The style is great – so is the time period. Chapter two is all about the very strictly confined neighborhoods in the 1910′s of Chicago. Blacks, Italians, Irish, Bohemians, Lithuanians and Jews lived and worked mostly within in their own quarters, and quickly learned to hate and fear everyone else.
After a black man was stoned to death when he swam across the wrong side of the beach – large race riots commenced and left 38 dead and hundreds with serious injuries.
Future Mayor Richard J. Daley was only 17 years at the time – and he never confirmed or denied if he took any part in the violence.
More on the riots here.
Indian Ocean as the new nexus.
This was a bit disappointing. Kaplan has written many good books, but this one got lost from the outset.
Main thesis is interesting, if not good. The western-dominated 20th century is now gone, with the Atlantic as a protagonist. Now it’s time for the Indian Ocean to be the center of things, as a nexus between between Asia, Mideast and partly Africa.
But it sounds a bit thin. Yes India and China is rising, yes Central Asia is in the middle of the Great Chessboard, and yes, the Middle East is a crossroads and strategic prize of energy and partly geopolitics. But still, the west is close to 2/3 of the world economy, and the rest of Asia is heavily dependent on Europe and US for their own health and development.
And maybe some of the problem with the whole thesis is the remnants of old thinking about the world as “one system” – as it has been for a long time. The concept of a multi-polar world is a notion of more independent and regional power centers, with perhaps less influence on each other than before. So as the Indian Ocean might become more important for the regions at the coastal rims, it doesn’t “replace” the Atlantic in any meaningful way – as the whole collection of different societies around the world has become more fragmented – and perhaps more similar to how it’s been for most of our thousands years of history.
And with that as a nudge – the rest of the book becomes more of a travel guide and cultural study of the countries in the region, and less of an analysis of global politics for the 21st century.
After reading some books by Henry Kissinger – a pattern has emerged.
First there’s an exhilarating introduction, with a vast ground covered and lots of brilliant analysis, and then…. just boring. “Diplomacy”, “Years of Renewal”, “White House Years”, it’s always the same. And with “On China” we finally realized why – he simply can’t tell a story. It’s just a dreadful account of facts for hundreds of pages, with no suspense, no arches and no emotional hooks.
So with that in mind, we’ll say that the major take-aways from this latest book were all in the first chapter, with a conceptual framework for understanding ancient chinese history and their self-perception as an eternal and supreme culture, and the intellectual differences between the games of western chess and the chinese favorite “go”. As a huge empire with heaps of enemies at its borders – their favorite game is an extensive and paranoid battle of putting out little stones on a board to encircle and defeat the stones of your opponent. The front vs. front and total defeat of chess is not that relevant in their old cultural and military experience.. Managing threats and achieving harmony more so.
So the introduction was great, but for a vivid and exciting introduction to chinese history as a story.. a bit disappointing.
Sounds good, but reality bad.
Brushing through Dick Army’s and Matt Kibbe’s Tea Party Manifesto – some different problems come to mind.
First the ideological arguments are made in a vacuum. “Less government” is a mantra, “less taxes” is a mantra, and these two things are supposed to give more liberty and freedom to the individual. Never mind that government was invented to protect the people from private money, kings and tyrants – or that some level of taxes is always necessary to provide security and basic communal services in a country.
But more than that – the book has this whiff of detached and dreamy thinking, the old trick of selling a simple and inspirational fantasy to people, and leaving out the bigger context and some harsh and upleasant realities.
Giving private money and big business more freedom means less freedom for the individual, unless you are one of them, which makes the whole thing in part a huge march of folly.
Even if the mantra of cutting spending is good and necessary.
When the young Harvard-professor was first offered a White House position from the President-Elect Richard Nixon in 1968 – he modestly asked for one week of consideration and thought before answering. Nelson Rockefeller firmly put him back on track.
From Years of Renewal:
“I demonstrated that I was not driven by an unquenchable yearning to serve in the new administration when, three days after our initial conversation, Nixon offered me the White House position in an unambiguous manner. Rather than jump at the opportunity, I displayed my academic provincialism by making the impudent request that I be given a week to reflect and to consult my friends as to whether I would jeopardize my relationship with them by serving in a Nixon Administration. Instead of showing me the door, Nixon not only gave me the week’s grace but, in a touching gesture, even supplied a reference by suggesting that I talk about him to Harvard Law School professor Lon Fuller, who had taught him at Duke.
Nelson Rockefeller, who had been on his ranch in Venezuela during my meeting with Nixon and out of telephonic reach, put an end to the travesty of having the President of the United States give personal references to a prospective assistant. When he returned forty-eight hours later, he proved less than taken by my conduct. “Nixon is taking a much bigger chance on you than you on hi,” he said, adding what should have been obvious: “Pick up the phone and accept unconditionally.” And so I did.”
Posted in Misc
Tagged book review, harvard, history, kissinger, modesty, news, nixon, politics, rockefeller, white house, years of renewal