The personal and political co-exist uneasily in this part-biography, part-polemic, part-commentary. Senator Warren has had a remarkable career as an aThe personal and political co-exist uneasily in this part-biography, part-polemic, part-commentary. Senator Warren has had a remarkable career as an academic of which I was only vaguely aware. The book provides her family life and background, and her deeply personal reasons for being a champion for those who have gotten a raw deal from the economic system. Her explanation of how bankruptcy has been a contributing factor to growing inequality and increased control of the economic system by the large banks is accessible and sensible. She references the data but doesn't go into any great depth. The geek in me wanted to see tables, graphs and charts that showed how most bankruptcies result from job loss, spouse loss or medical care. She could have explained better the types of predatory practices that lenders increase their profits by predatory practices that cripple such vulnerable families deep in debt with interest payments and leave them no exit.
Her work to protect consumers from crippling debt has had setbacks and victories, and she shares her personal triumphs and tragedies. I found the personal stories somewhat difficult to read, as if it was more than I wanted to know about her life. The personal anecdotes helped break some of the monotony, but also made the flow of the book choppy. Also, her final chapter was a narrative of her 2012 Senate campaign and mostly seemed like it needed to be part of a separate book. However, the chapter serves as a reminder that academics have little political power, and the threat that she poses to the moneyed interests by serving in the Senate. ...more
With the emergence and growth of identity politics in the United States, "White Privilege" has become a slogan of empowerment of non-whites who feel dWith the emergence and growth of identity politics in the United States, "White Privilege" has become a slogan of empowerment of non-whites who feel disenfranchised. There is overwhelming evidence that non-white people have been discriminated against beginning with the European invasion of the continent and the genocide of Native Americans. Isenberg's book documents that before the founding of the Republic, most whites in North America were also marginalized, disenfranchised, and oppressed. While most people of privilege in the US were white, but that does not mean most white people were privileged.
A clarification. I'm from Northern Appalachia, and have been called "white trash" numerous times. Sometimes in irony, sometimes in anger, but often without context. While I have long understood the differences between the states were drawn along religious lines, Isenberg helped to make sense of how class differences were played out in New England and Dixie. The mid-Atlantic—where I have most of my roots—was given little space. It was interesting to see Isenberg make the case for North Carolina to be the epicenter of White Trash culture. The Civil War was as much a class war as a war of liberation of the slaves. The differences between the states of the Confederacy weakened them and created internal conflict to a degree I did not previously understand. While I knew that several states in the Union continued to allow slavery of blacks, what I didn't understand is that some in the seceding states still held whites in indentured servitude and others did not. How the Southern Aristocracy was able to restore and maintain its power over poor whites during Reconstructrion is the most compelling, yet least satisfying part of the book.
The New Deal and Great Society attempts to integrate poor whites into the middle class had its moments of comedy and tragedy, but ultimately it was the repudiation of Jimmy Carter by white working class Americans in favor of Reagan that sets in motion the chain of events leading to the present day. Reagan was of Irish immigrant stock, the foreigners that the Know Nothing white trash of the 1840s sought to exclude, just as the present-day Know-Nothings seek to exclude Mexicans.
The final chapters end with the 2008 election, before inauguration of the current POTUS. The Sarah Palin phenomenon is the closing piece before the epilogue. ...more
I had high expectations for this book, which were not met. The interview subjects were familiar to me, their perspectives seemingly tilted to supportI had high expectations for this book, which were not met. The interview subjects were familiar to me, their perspectives seemingly tilted to support the author's hypothesis that organic agriculture has largely failed to keep its promise of sustainability. The author blames a market oriented strategy and is selective in the evidence of the benefits that organic agriculture has provided. His policy prescriptions are naive and unrealistic, particularly in light of current events. It was a difficult slog that I felt necessary to read....more
Entirely unexpected from start to finish. A surprise on nearly every page. Not a Disney ending, but that's OK. A unique tale with some echoes of 'FreaEntirely unexpected from start to finish. A surprise on nearly every page. Not a Disney ending, but that's OK. A unique tale with some echoes of 'Freaks' by Tod Browning, but a completely different context. ...more
The local food movement has largely grown around access to fresh foods, with little attention paid to foods produced predominately in the commodity seThe local food movement has largely grown around access to fresh foods, with little attention paid to foods produced predominately in the commodity sector. Amy Halloran sets out to look at the revival of local grains through a personal journey. She interviews farmers, millers, bakers, maltsters, brewers, activists, chefs, and researchers involved in the reinvention of the grain sector in Northeastern North America. Full disclosure: I am one of the subjects in the book and provided some source material to her at various times. It is a good compliment to Jack Lazor's book, but far from the final word. At times I find it a little Pollyannish, but she does a good job of capturing my curmudgeonly-ness as a counterpoint....more
One of the most thoughtful books I've read on the subject. The book takes a personal view of fracking from a journalistic perspective. The author is fOne of the most thoughtful books I've read on the subject. The book takes a personal view of fracking from a journalistic perspective. The author is from a family that stands to gain from fracking, but has its doubt. He meets other members of the community in a similar situation and finds that everything is not what it appears to be. The tradeoff between money and quality of life is clearly evident. While there was no doubt that fracking paid, the benefits were not as great as what was promised and came with a heavier price than anticipated. The title comes from how the community was rendered apart after the big money started coming in, creating winners and losers....more
The book is a new and updated edition of a book written in 2002. In many ways it is timely in light of the fiscal crisis. He does a reasonable job ofThe book is a new and updated edition of a book written in 2002. In many ways it is timely in light of the fiscal crisis. He does a reasonable job of constructing simple models that would be familiar to neoclassical economists, but uses the models to draw very different conclusions about wealth and income distribution.
There are parts that are pretty dense, and in several cases the author refers to passages from the previous edition that were removed because they were tedious and impenetrable. Not enough of that was done. I had to re-read the section on Sraffa several times. I read Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities back in the 1980s, but felt like I was missing something. It was about time someone addressed the flaws in the Ricardian / Marxian labor theory of value, but I wasn't sure Sraffa accomplished it. Then on about my third reading of Hahnel, it finally sank in. With Sraffa's model, two important conclusions are inescapable: capitalists will not always adopt the technologies that are best for society or even the most efficient if capital is scarce and labor is abundant. They can produce commodities more cheaply but not more efficiently as long as they can keep wages from rising with productivity in Sraffa's model. In other words, there is a tendency to hoard capital when workers have any kind of bargaining power. the other conclusion that follows from that is that wages and returns on investment are a zero-sum game. In some ways, this provides a theoretical basis for the empirical work of Piketty, who has shown that wages have stagnated while wealth has become increasingly concentrated.
Hahnel makes a case for Keynesian fiscal policy and an industrial restructuring that is based on cooperatives and worker-owned enterprises. The author would do well to go beyond preaching to the converted and look for ways to bring his political economy to the political system. In the post-Citizens United US, it will be extremely difficult to elect a government that is interested in raising the incomes of most people because doing so will come at the expense of getting a greedy elite to share their wealth--something not likely to happen....more