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Books to Read

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Books to Consider

Every once in a while I come across books that add to our general knowledge of our society and history and how history relates to the current era of society and politics. As I learn of them and their worth, I will post them here with a short comment on the book.

Autumn of The Empire, by Joshua Clover
A brief excerpt from the LA Review of Book:

For a brief period, our various ministers (official and not) insisted that no one had seen the crisis coming, and indeed that no one could have seen it coming. Like so many stories of the moment, this one would not last. The reputed unforeseeability of the bust was a kind of alibi, of course, by virtue of which the bubble-inflators could claim to have had the best intentions. Alan Greenspan was foremost among these bubblistas, with Robert Rubin close behind. Had anyone known, of course we would have done things differently.

But this alibi was itself a bubble. As with the economy itself, once the alibi bubble burst, and the wishful thinking and corruption leaked out, the underlying facts began to present themselves. A couple, or several, okay really quite a few folks had called it. Robert Shiller of the Case-Shiller Home Price Index rose to the fore among them; he had called the dotcom bust as well. Nouriel Roubini, business prof and head of the consulting outfit Roubini Global Economics, achieved media ubiquity — his dire forecasts and dour demeanor would earn him the title of “Dr. Doom.” Dean Baker, founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, had not only issued warnings, but in 2004 sold his home in a recently gentrified quarter of Washington, DC — the gentleman’s way of betting against the market. Then there are the less gentlemanly sorts found in Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, who made millions and billions by seeing it coming.

This sounds like a really interesting book to add to one’s summer reading list.

A NEW BOOKS TO READ – 1/20/2012

A new book on the global economy has been released. The Growth Map: Economic Opportunity in the BRICs and Beyond , by Jim O’Neill, is a must read for those interested in global economics.

In 2001, Jim O’Neill predicted the fastest growing economies of the past decade. Now he’s back to explore the new growth markets we should all be watching closely today.

It’s been ten years since Jim O’Neill conceived of the BRIC acronym. He and his team made a startling prediction: Four developing nations- Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRICs)-would overtake the six largest Western economies within forty years. The BRIC analysis permanently changed the world of global investing, and its accuracy has stood the test of time.

The Growth Map features O’Neill’s personal account of the BRIC phenomenon, how it has evolved, and where those four key nations currently stand after a turbulent decade. And the book also offers an equally bold prediction about the “Next Eleven” countries: Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and Vietnam. These developing nations may not seem exceptional today, but they offer exciting opportunities for investors over the next decade, just as BRIC did before them.

O’Neill also shares several compelling insights about the world economy. He reveals the value for growing countries in being “willing to play” by meaningfully committing to policies that encourage further growth and engagement with globalization. He explains how the g20 can adjust to better incorporate the BRICs and to better reflect the balance of the global economy.

Finally, O’Neill makes the counterintuitive claim that good things can quite often come from crises. While established economic powers may see the rise of the BRICs as a threat, international trade benefits us all over the long term. Likewise, the recent financial crisis revealed deep problems in our economic systems, problems we now have the opportunity to fix.

A work of astute and absorbing analysis, The Growth Map is an indispensable guide for every investor and every participant in the global economy. Anyone who wants to understand the developing world would do well to heed the man called “one of the most sought-after economic commentators on the planet.” (The Telegraph)

O’Neill’s readers says his predictions are invariably correct and provides a brilliant and insightful analysis of the dynamic forces that are changing our world and the lives of millions of people.

Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson

How did the widening gap between haves and have-nots—even worse, the haves and have-mores—come about? In the past 30 years, the top 1 percent have enjoyed 36 percent of all the income growth generated in the U.S. economy. Treating the growing socioeconomic gap like a whodunit, Hacker and Pierson painstakingly detail the gap between the superrich and everyone else. They paint a portrait of a nation that has fallen behind other developed nations in the widening income gap among its citizens. Worse, the wealth gap cannot be explained away by a lack of education or skills. Even among the well educated, a chasm has developed between the middle class and the wealthy. Whodunit? The U.S. government, which details changes in taxation and public policy, particularly regarding the financial markets, which have favored the wealthy at the expense of others over the last 30 years. Finally, they consider the long-term implications of this troubling trend and offer some encouraging signs—health care and financial reform, however anemic—and a growing discontent with the status quo.

Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus – Rick Perlstein

The sudden rise of Tea Party conservatives shocked the pundits and caused people in general to wonder where this movement suddenly came from. But it’s not new. It’s been part of the conservative movement for 40 years, ever since the campaign to elect Barry Goldwater came into being. This is the story of how the conservative movement took over the Republican Party and changed it.

To really understand the origins of the Tea Party and the rise of modern conservatism, you need to read this book.

Not every presidential election is worth a book more than a quarter-century after the last ballot has been counted. The 1964 race was different, though, and author Rick Perlstein knows exactly why. That year, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Democrat, trounced his opponent, Barry Goldwater, a Republican senator from Arizona, in a blowout of historic proportions. The conservative wing of the GOP, which had toiled for so long as the minority partner in a coalition dominated by more liberal brethren, finally had risen to power and nominated one of its own, only to see him crash in terrible splendor. It looked like a death, but it was really a birth: a harrowing introduction to politics that would serve conservatives well in the years ahead as they went on to great success. Conservatives learned a lot in 1964:

  • It was learning how to act: how letters got written, how doors got knocked on, how co-workers could be won over on the coffee break, how to print a bumper sticker and how to pry one off with a razor blade; how to put together a network whose force exceeded the sum of its parts by orders of magnitude; how to talk to a reporter, how to picket, and how, if need be, to infiltrate–how to make the anger boiling inside you ennobling, productive, powerful, instead of embittering.

These were practical lessons that anybody in politics must pick up. For conservatives, the rough indoctrination came in 1964, and Perlstein (who is not a conservative) tells their story in detail and with panache. Before the Storm is not a history of conservative ideas (for that, read The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, by George Nash), but a chronicle of how these ideas began to matter in politics. The victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980–to say nothing of Newt Gingrich in 1994 and George W. Bush in 2000–might not have been possible without the glorious failure of Barry Goldwater in 1964. As Perlstein writes, “You lost in 1964. But something remained after 1964: a movement. An army. An army that could lose a battle, suck it up, regroup, then live to fight a thousand battles more.”

Rebuttal to Book Review: Forgotten Conservatives in American History
January 15, 2013

Thomas JeffersonOn the American Conservative website, Stephen M. Klugewicz favorably reviewed the book, Forgotten Conservatives in American History by Brion McClanahan and Clyde Wilson. The main thesis of the book, to which Klugewicz approves, is that many forgotten great American conservatives have been ignored by history professors, etc, who have chosen a liberal – or progressive – definition of history that excludes those who these three consider great conservatives.

I have a hard time accepting many of the people noted in the review are real conservatives, in the Burkean sense. My take on Burke, whose ideas I only know from cursory reading, is that he would have been appalled by the South choosing secession, or war, as several of the author’s – and the reviewer – choices advocated. In addition, the authors’ bent towards Southern Civil War arguments on State’s Rights reveals a thorough misunderstanding the volatile and varied arguments that occurred throughout the 13 states during the development of the Constitution.

MIT’s Pauline Maier’s Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 provides an excellent description, taken from newspaper accounts, personal diaries, and legislative records of the time, of the often hyperbolic arguments that occurred throughout the states. One of the biggest arguments was, indeed, over states’ rights. But unlike what we now hear of states’ rights vs federal government, it was whether states’ rights (e.g. state governments) took precedence over “the people.”

Several delegates to the convention, mainly from southern slave holding states, argued that states’ rights should be primary while the rights of the people were secondary. Obviously, that argument was lost to anyone seriously reading the Constitution, but the compromise the delegates chose was to limit federal powers to such things as affected all citizens and to not end slavery.

It should be noted, too, that Madison, Randolph, and Mason – all of Southern states – first wrote letters to each other and then to Jefferson and finally to Washington advocating the idea of a Constitutional Convention, rather than attending the upcoming, though lowly attended, Confederation Congress and putting their ideas before that Congress.

It was these men who saw first saw the states’ rights issue as unworkable for a strong, economically healthy, growing nation. Individual state coinage valuations, individual state debts, and disparate taxation had failed in their opinions. The new nation, they argued, needed a strong central government with one currency for trade stability and one main taxation method to stabilize the crushing states’ debt and one strong central government to bring all the states together into one cohesive whole.

So, in a larger sense, the notion of states’ rights as envisioned by many pre-Civil War separatists as well as by some now completely misreads history and the arguments that caught up the entire 13 colonies, from editorial writers to barkeeps to farmers and everyone in between, prior to the passage of the Constitution.

I’m not a conservative in the current definition of that term. I probably would be considered more Burkean with a bit of Adam Smith and more than a bit of TR domestic economic progressivism. Of course, many of my beliefs and leanings comes from having studied European history, especially social history, from the Dark Ages forward. As well as having lived a fairly long and well traveled life within the U.S.

Thus, many of those greats whom the authors applaud I find more than a bit elitist and regressive. HL Mencken, for example, positively hated average workers while glorifying what he considered to be his class: the educated, well heeled aristocrats of society. His works and comments fairly drips of disdain for average workers. As for Cleveland, while he ran a clean administration (something almost new during that age of political corruption,) his fiscal policies probably led to the rise of the riots and silver policy arguments sparked in the West mainly by farmers who were being destroyed by the railroads.

So, what I see in this book review is an argument for conservatism based on protecting the economic elite regardless of every other citizen’s economic outlook as well as a general misunderstanding of the founding of the Constitution.

I understand the desire for movement conservatives to rewrite history that favors their side of the political and ideological aisle as well as their desire to cast about for conservative American heroes, I find many of their heroes to be less than heroes and the arguments in favor of those heroes lacking in general scholarship as well understanding of a nation moving forwards towards “a more perfect union.”

No union can be perfect if nearly half the nation, either in the past or the future, is left out of, ignored by, or excluded from the decision making process. History is the process of progressive change towards more equality of opportunity and decision making. Conservatives fail history’s lessons if they seek to promote a brand of conservatism that glorifies economic elitism over opportunities for the many.

The truly great accomplishments of TR’s progressivism and FDR’s populism and Ike’s understanding of the common man was that average Americans, without power and money, were able to break out of their family history, create new businesses and industries, and rise to wealth.

Thus, the modern conservative movement’s attempt to rewrite history in order to gain its own movement heroes seems a futile effort at best and a fallacy at worst. Nothing will stop history from moving towards a more equitable and open future.

Written by Valerie Curl

July 20, 2011 at 7:59 PM

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