Tag Archives: capitalism

Shake, Rattle and Roll

Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future by Robert B. Reich (Knopf, $14.95, 192 pages)

Robert Reich’s Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future is sectioned into three parts.   In the first two sections, Reich offers arguments for why America’s growing inequality is bad.   The third offers ideas for fixing it.

Part One argues that growing inequality makes it impossible for America’s middle class to consume as much as they produce without going into debt.   The reason for the 2008 meltdown, he argues, was not that Americans had merely spent beyond their means or that Wall Street speculators had trashed the economy, though these he argues were true.   Rather, “their (middle class Americans) means had not kept up with what the larger economy could and should have been able to provide them.”   This is the reason behind the economic collapse.

Part one is the best section of the book.   Reich’s analysis is concise, though well supported.   The argumentation is spot on.   He makes strong points, develops them and supports them without wandering too far from his central theme.   He doesn’t simplify things, but manages to explain them well.

Part two argues that growing inequality will have dangerous social implications if nothing is done to change the direction.   This section begins with a thought experiment involving a fictional future party of populist radicals.   The argument Reich makes here is that capitalism has to be saved from itself.   If the middle class can’t achieve the things they used to, radicals will harness their populist anger and the end result will be the destruction of the economy and capitalism.

The specifics of the thought experiment are a little silly, though not entirely implausible.   It’s also a drawback that he lumps all of the populist anger together into one category.   That’s a bit insulting to middle class intellligence, but maybe Reich is right.   In any case, his main point – that capitalism needs to be saved from itself – is poignant.

Part three cobbles together a  lot of small possible situations, notably changes to tax codes, getting money out of politics, and a complete expansion of Medicare.

The drawback to section three is that there aren’t a lot of connections among the small solutions he cobbles together.   None of them are politically viable.   Reich ends by suggesting that the only real way forward is if financial corporations and the financial elite heed his warning and save capitalism from itself.

The Good:  Reich’s analysis of the structural problem under-girding the American economy appears to be accurate.   His argument is well supported by short at only 147 pages.

The Bad:  Sections two and three of the book simply aren’t as good as the first section.   Section two is purely speculative.   The argument is valid, but the specifics are impractical.   Section three disappoints in its presentation of solutions, which are not politically feasible.

The Bottom Line:  Aftershock is required reading for any progressive wanting to understand the structural economic problem behind the economic meltdown and the barriers to fixing it.   Well recommended.

Trevor Kidd

You can read more from Trevor Kidd at http://trevorkidd.com/ .

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The Art of Choosing

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

The notion of choosing is so complex that there are now two popular books on the subject.   Each was written by an author who is an expert in their field of study.   Scientific writer Jonah Lehrer provides examples of how the brain and neurology affect the choices we make in How We Decide.   Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business at Columbia University, explores the notion of choice in her recently published book, The Art of Choosing, focusing primarily on psychology; however, she also views choice from the perspectives of business, philosophy, public policy and medicine.

Dr. Iyengar draws upon her personal experience, a vast network of academic associates and other experts, including Lehrer, to achieve her goal of broadening the reader’s perspective and understanding of the implications of the notion of choice.   She encourages her reader to engage in self-exploration in order to make more informed decisions.   In true professorial style, Dr. Iyengar supports her approach with accounts of past scientific experiments, both human and animal.   The tone of her writing in the opening chapter is calm and patient.   It is clear that she expects the reader to pay close attention.

The story of her parents’ marriage in chapter two is engaging and thought-provoking; however, other aspects of this chapter are dry and academic.   There is also a sharp contrast between the description of her parents’ Sikh wedding and what might easily be the text of a general survey course in psychology.   One heavily academic sentence contains 65 words.

The reader must employ perseverance in wading through Dr. Iyengar’s expansive discussion of the concept of the cultural differences between socialism and capitalism as they relate to choice.   Her notion of striving “for a metaphorical multilingualism” takes on a note of proselytizing that seems out of sync for a book that purports to be about making informed personal choices.   There is a disconnect between the colloquial and academic voices that Dr. Iyengar uses as she brings the reader along on her journey of exploring the concept of choice.

By the fourth chapter the book settles into a pleasant, advice-giving counselor’s voice.   There are well-related concepts and suggestions for making personal choices.   While these helpful hints are supported using psychological terms, Dr. Iyengar brings in popular references to illustrate her points such as the television show “Lie to Me” and the rental of movies using Netflix.

The seventh and final chapter brings the matter of choice down to the most personal aspect, that of making medical and other unpleasant decisions.   It is here that the reader is fully engaged via role-playing scenarios concerning life and death.   The concepts of worth and value are well developed and they lead the reader to the inevitable conclusion that choice involves price and responsibility.   Clearly, there is no surefire solution to the challenge of making a selection given the wide array of choices available today, whether it is among the many breakfast cereals in the supermarket or in deciding which path to take in life.

The Art of Choosing illustrates several approaches to making sense of the puzzle of life that so many authors and readers find challenging.   This book does a good job of providing an overall survey of the topic and, although a bit disjointed, provides the reader with food for thought.   However, if this reviewer were asked to choose which book someone with an interest in the subject should purchase, it would be How We Decide.   Author Jonah Lehrer begins each chapter with a compelling vignette that illustrates the aspect of decision-making being addressed.   His writing style is smooth, authoritative and entertaining.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer is well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

 The Art of Choosing is available from Twelve Books and in audiobook form from Hachette Audio.   How We Decide is available in trade paperback (Mariner Books, $14.95, 320 pages) and as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.

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