Category Archives: Books

A few interesting economic and other titbits

The ramifications of the wealth inequality problem so troubling to Western economists and policy makers is also affecting China. A new research paper by five authors, including Piketty and Saez, reveals that in 1978 the highest earning Chinese 10% took home about 25% of national income before taxes. By 2015, the take of the top 10% had risen to two-fifths of total income. The richest 10% now control about 70% of private wealth in China, up from 40% in 1995. The inequality issue was somewhat mitigated by China’s rapid economic growth. Between 1978 and 2015, the income level of the poorer half of the Chinese population quintupled. During the same time period in the United States, the income level of the bottom half of the population declined by 1%.

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Book Review: Born on Third Base

Full disclosure: Chuck Collins, the author of Born on Third Base, is a personal friend and a colleague at the Institute for Policy Studies. So, after he gave me a copy at the conclusion of a workshop on economic inequality to which I had been invited only at his urging, it was out of friendship that I cracked it open on the plane ride home the next day.

But that’s not what made me get choked up reading the preface. Out of the thousand odd books I’ve read in my life, I don’t recall that happening before.

Born on Third Base is an important book, and a throughly enjoyable one. Chuck’s perspective is not unique, but it is rare. As the great-grandson of Oscar Mayer, Chuck truly was born on third base. At a young age, he did something remarkable. He gave away his wealth. Since then, he’s spent the better part of his career working against economic injustice. Continue reading

Book Review: They Were Soldiers: How The Wounded Return from America’s Wars — The Untold Story

Tammy and I have a running joke about how easily she sobs during a movie or when reading a book and how I never do.

Not this time. Reading Ann Jones’ They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars: The Untold Story, I didn’t just sob, but broke down a few times. They were anger-fueled breakdowns, but breakdowns nonetheless.  Continue reading

Book Reviews: America’s War for the Greater Middle East and Tomorrow’s Battlefield

By coincidence, I read, back-to-back, two closely connected books: America’s War for the Greater Middle East, by Andrew Bacevich, and Tomorrow’s Battlefield, by Nick Turse. I’ll discuss them in the order in which I should have read them.

America’s War for the Greater Middle East is masterful. Bacevich walks through the last 36 years of constant U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, starting with the failed effort in 1980 to rescue the American hostages in Iran. He ties together the common threads, each step along the way explaining the flawed reasoning, the flawed premises, and the hubris underlying America’s military efforts. Both the analysis and the presentation are superb. For those seeking an understanding of why we’ve stumbled from one ill-conceived military adventure to the next, regardless of which party or which President is in power, America’s War for the Greater Middle East is a must read.

It’d be impossible to convey Bacevich’s brilliance with one excerpt. Nonetheless, here’s one passage, abbreviated a bit, which I found particularly compelling: Continue reading

Book Review: Listen Liberal

Ever get the feeling the Democratic Party isn’t very deeply concerned about economic inequality? You have plenty of company. And in Thomas Frank’s Listen Liberal, you’ll find confirmation and an explanation.

In a blistering critique of the Democratic Party, Frank explains the metamorphosis that’s taken place since the 1972 election. The party of the working class has evolved into the party of the professional class. No longer does the party answer to workers and their unions. Instead, it caters to Silicon Valley geniuses, Wall Street money managers, lawyers, and others in the so-called “knowledge industry.”

Drawing on the Clinton and Obama presidencies, the experience in states and cities where Democrats are firmly in control, and Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, Frank makes a powerful case. Continue reading

Book Review: Dark Money

I recently finished Jane Mayer’s Dark Money.

In a word: Stunning.

If you read one book about politics this year, make it Dark Money. This book is about much, much more than campaign finance. It’s about more than the Koch brothers, although they certainly are at the epicenter of the story. What it’s really about is how a group of perhaps two hundred insanely rich, megalomaniacal Americans who see themselves as masters of the universe have methodically seized power over the Republican Party. At every level.

And, if you follow Blog for Arizona, you’ll recognize two of the central players: Sean Noble and Randy Kendrick. Our own BlueMeanie has reported on their mischief over the years. Turns out, he under-reported it. What a surprise, huh? A couple Arizonans were major players in a plutocratic scheme to undermine our democracy. Who’d a thunk it?

Spoiler alert: There’s not a happy ending. Not yet, at least.

If you’re interested enough in politics to read this blog, Dark Money is a must read.