People, Power, and Profits book coverFirst, let’s start with some statistics: Over the last 30 to 40 years, every major statistical measure of income inequality in the United States has increased significantly, now approaching the same extreme levels as prevailed before the Great Depression. If you visit inequality.org, the charts speak for themselves.

Over the last third of a century, the income share for the top 1 percent has doubled while the poverty rate has remained the same. The richest Americans have experienced the fastest income growth while middle class incomes have stagnated (imagine if middle class incomes had doubled and what that would mean for home ownership). From 1979 to 2017, worker productivity has increased by 138 percent while worker hourly compensation has increased by only 23 percent. The difference in wealth creation has gone to the top. In 1965, CEOs made 24 times the wages of the average production worker; in 2019, they made 185 times the average salary.

Continue reading “The Case for Progressive Capitalism: A Review of People, Power, and Profits by Joseph Stiglitz”

This View of by Life David Sloan WilsonIn the final paragraph of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin wrote, “There is grandeur in this view of life…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

From this poetic ending we get the title of David Sloan Wilson’s latest book, This View of Life, which seeks to expand the evolutionary worldview beyond the biological realm to the realm of human culture and policy.

Biology is one of the few disciplines that already has its grand unifying theory: evolution by natural selection. It’s what prompted the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky to declared in 1973 that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

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If We Can Keep It by Michael TomaskyIf I told you that America today is deeply polarized, you could remind me that America has always been deeply polarized. You could point out that the current rural/urban divide is not so dissimilar from the Jeffersonian/Hamilton divide at the country’s founding. Or that the racial divide was never greater than during the Civil War, or that class division and conflict between labor and business was never greater than during the first Gilded Age and into the Great Depression. And you’d be right.

But what you’d be missing is the fact that polarization today is very different in a subtle way. As Michael Tomasky points out in his latest book, If We Can Keep It: How the Republic Collapsed and How it Might Be Saved, while we’ve always been a polarized country, our polarization has always consisted of both conflict between political parties and within parties. The fact that you used to have, for example, several liberal Republicans and several conservative Democrats meant that bipartisan coalitions could form to negotiate, compromise, and actually pass worthwhile legislation.

Continue reading “If We Can Keep It: How the Republic Collapsed and How it Might Be Saved — Book Review”

The Ideas That Made AmericaIn The Ideas That Made America, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen provides a brief intellectual history of the United States from the first European contact to the present day, focusing on the movement of ideas across national and local borders and across time. Recognizing that new ideas are always dependent on the intellectual work of those who came before, Rosenhagen includes many of the European ideas that had a major impact on American intellectual life.

To summarize centuries of intellectual work in a short book of 180 pages is no easy task, but Rosenhagen does a reasonable job of presenting the major intellectual currents of each period. It’s well worth reading to get a high-level view of where our current ideas and conflicts originated.

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How Fascism Works book coverThe key takeaway from How Fascism Works is that fascist politics does not require or necessarily lead to a fascist state. As the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels once said, “This will always remain one the best jokes of democracy, that it gave its deadly enemies the means by which it was destroyed.”

Plato recognized this tendency over 2,000 years ago; as Jason Stanley wrote, “In book 8 of Plato’s Republic, Socrates argues that people are not naturally led to self-governance but rather seek a strong leader to follow. Democracy, by permitting freedom of speech, opens the door for a demagogue to exploit the people’s need for a strongman; the strongman will use this freedom to prey on the people’s resentments and fears.”

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Saving Capitalism book coverRobert Reich, the former US secretary of labor and professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, outlines his ideas on how to fix the current state of capitalism in his book Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few. This is a critically important book for a few reasons.

First, it exposes the meaninglessness of the “free market” vs. government intervention debate by showing that the market cannot exist in the first place without the laws, rules, contracts, and enforcement mechanisms that government creates. The relevant debate, therefore, is not between “less government” or “more regulation” but on who exactly stands to benefit or lose under the current arrangements.

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Skin in the Game book coverSkin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is, while at times thought-provoking and original, mostly contradictory and sometimes absurd.

For example:

1. I certainly won’t be the first to notice that Taleb is an a**hole. But why does he insist on presenting his views in this way? The communication of his ideas, sometimes highly original, does not require a mean-spirited or condescending tone. For however brilliant Taleb thinks he is, his skills in persuasion are severely lacking; he’s alienating a significant readership that may have otherwise been more receptive to his ideas.

Continue reading “The Self-Refuting Philosophy of Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life”