I am in the process of intently reading three superb books on America’s current anemic social and economic position. By what I have read so far, all three of these books speak directly to my deep concern for our country’s doomed path of progression: exclusivism; unless this path changes. Following are some reviews of these books.
The top 1 percent of Americans control 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. And, as Joseph E. Stiglitz explains, while those at the top enjoy the best health care, education, and benefits of wealth, they fail to realize that “their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live.”
Stiglitz draws on his deep understanding of economics to show that growing inequality is not inevitable: moneyed interests compound their wealth by stifling true, dynamic capitalism. They have made America the most unequal advanced industrial country while crippling growth, trampling on the rule of law, and undermining democracy. The result: a divided society that cannot tackle its most pressing problems. With characteristic insight, Stiglitz examines our current state, then teases out its implications for democracy, for monetary and budgetary policy, and for globalization. He closes with a plan for a more just and prosperous future.
The other two books in which I am engrossed are the Nobel Prize Winner in Economics, Paul Krugman’s End This Depression Now and the book I am foaming at the mouth to finish, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks by co-authors Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein.
The Great Recession is more than four years old—and counting. Yet, as Paul Krugman points out in this powerful volley, “Nations rich in resources, talent, and knowledge—all the ingredients for prosperity and a decent standard of living for all—remain in a state of intense pain.”
How bad have things gotten? How did we get stuck in what now can only be called a depression? And above all, how do we free ourselves? Krugman pursues these questions with his characteristic lucidity and insight. He has a powerful message for anyone who has suffered over these past four years—a quick, strong recovery is just one step away, if our leaders can find the “intellectual clarity and political will” to end this depression now.
And on Mann’s and Ornstein’s book —
Acrimony and hyper-partisanship have seeped into every part of the political process. Congress is deadlocked and its approval ratings are at record lows. America’s two main political parties have given up their traditions of compromise, endangering our very system of constitutional democracy. And one of these parties has taken on the role of insurgent outlier; the Republicans have become ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise, and ardently opposed to the established social and economic policy regime.
In It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein identify two overriding problems that have led Congress—and the United States—to the brink of institutional collapse. The first is the serious mismatch between our political parties, which have become as vehemently adversarial as parliamentary parties, and a governing system that, unlike a parliamentary democracy, makes it extremely difficult for majorities to act. Second, while both parties participate in tribal warfare, both sides are not equally culpable. The political system faces what the authors call “asymmetric polarization,” with the Republican Party implacably refusing to allow anything that might help the Democrats politically, no matter the cost.
With dysfunction rooted in long-term political trends, a coarsened political culture and a new partisan media, the authors conclude that there is no “silver bullet” reform that can solve everything. But they offer a panoply of useful ideas and reforms, endorsing some solutions, like greater public participation and institutional restructuring of the House and Senate, while debunking others, like independent or third-party candidates. Above all, they call on the media as well as the public at large to focus on the true causes of dysfunction rather than just throwing the bums out every election cycle. Until voters learn to act strategically to reward problem solving and punish obstruction, American democracy will remain in serious danger.
As I have written about adequately throughout my WordPress blog, exclusivism, elitism, and mob-egotism seriously, seriously threaten modern democracies and ultimately this planet. Apparently Stiglitz, Krugman, Mann, and Ornstein would more less agree, particularly in a socio-economic context. Ah, humbly I need to restate that: I apparently agree with them. Or perhaps the five of us all agree.
But I will not jump too hastily to conclusions. I will completely finish these three fine works and THEN incorporate their problem-identifications, solutions, and ideals into my views and opinions for a better nation and world. Come to think of it, I can probably merge polyamory and the open-swinger lifestyle (grinning and laughing) into my viewpoint as well!