Brilliant and unexpected -- focuses on French and American revolutions to explore not what revolutions have been historically so much as what they wer...moreBrilliant and unexpected -- focuses on French and American revolutions to explore not what revolutions have been historically so much as what they were intended as, or ought to be. Her argument is that revolutions are essentially political events, that are sidelined by the need to address the immediate concerns of the poor through redistribution. The unique success of the American revolution was due, first, to the "natural abundance" of America, which allowed the revolution here to complete its political course.
The success of the American revolution was also due to the practical experience of self-government that Americans had accumulated through their unique system of self-governing towns, and of colonial governments created more or less de novo. And this brings us to the other main theme of the book:
The ultimate test of a revolution is the construction of "public freedom" or "public happiness", that is the ability of ordinary people to be active participants in self-government. (She has a moving quote from Jefferson at one point where he imagines heaven as an endless series of debates with his old comrades.) Here the American revolution has failed as well. The question is whether the sort of active, self-determined political life that is possible during a revolution can be maintained without constant new revolutions as Jefferson (and Mao, tho Arendt doesn't go there) believed. Her conclusion is that the "lost treasure" of the revolutionary tradition is the conciliar form of government. Local councils have self-organized in every revolutionary setting from France in 1789 o Hungary in 1956, emphatically including Russia 1917 -- taht's after all what the Soviet in Soviet Union referred to. Local councils allow everyone to experience self-government directly, and by delegating power upward can constitute regional and national governments. Councils, she argues, have the same lineage as representative government and are a more genuinely democratic system.
It's Arendt, so it's long on persuasion through classical quotes and elegant rhetoric, and short on evidence or step by step argument. But if nothing else, it's refreshingly orthogonal to the vast majority of what's written on revolutionary politics.
Progressives have always had a clear set of empirical findings about labor markets, starting with the unquestionable fact that minimum wages don't red...moreProgressives have always had a clear set of empirical findings about labor markets, starting with the unquestionable fact that minimum wages don't reduce employment. Also that there are better and worse jobs, that unions can raise wages, and that discrimination systematically reduces the wages of women and minorities. There isn't a clear consensus, though, on what underlying theory of the labor market explains these realities.
This book is the best reason attempt I know of to provide a theoretical underpinning for the observable facts of wages and employments.
The argument is that employers do not face the infinitely elastic labor supply of theory, but an upward sloping labor supply curve. In English, employers can lower wages somewhat without losing all their employees, while if they want to significantly increase their workforce they pay have to increase wages 9or incur other equivalent costs). In other words, they are purchasers with some market power -- monopsonists in the jargon (thus the book's title.)
It's well-known that a lot of the behavior of the labor market could be explained in terms of employer monopsony, but this never seemed relevant since you don't find genuine monopsony (i.e. only a single employer available for some group of workers) outside of company towns and the like. What this books shows is that you get the equivalent of monopsony as long as the labor market is somewhat "viscous", that is, if workers find it easier to seek jobs at businesses that are "close by," whether in the literal geographic sense or in the sense of being in the same industry as their previous employment, where their friends or relatives work, or any other factor that would make some seemingly identical jobs more accessible or attractive. Once you realize this, the concept of monopsony becomes very widely applicable.
It's a brilliant concept, that hopefully will spur lots of interesting labor economics down the road. Unfortunately, the book is limited by the typical economist's approach of writing about "employers" and "workers" in the abstract, without ever asking how monopsony might apply more or less, or differently, in different regions, industries, or historical periods. (less)
Imagine if Upton Sinclair, the great Socialist novelist, author of The Jungle and 1934 Democratic candidate for Governor of California, were brought b...moreImagine if Upton Sinclair, the great Socialist novelist, author of The Jungle and 1934 Democratic candidate for Governor of California, were brought back to life today to comment on the modern world of strip malls, drug companies and high school wrestling. And then imagine if he were assassinated. And then imagine if he were brought back to life again, and then assassinated again, and then brought back to life…
OK. It’s not the most obvious premise for a novel.
But with U.S., Chris Bachelder makes it work. More than work: It’s hard to think of a better political novel from the past few years.
Without ever quite spelling it out, Bachelder has written a parable for the relationship of the Left with its heroic past. Like any inspired conceit, the revived Sinclair takes on a life of his own, functioning both as allegory and as plot driver. It’s easy to read through the book (as I do here) in terms of what it says about the American left, but it reads (like Sinclair’s books were supposed to, whether or not they ever did) just as much as a page-turning adventure story.
What do we want from our political forebears, anyway? Bachelder’s Sinclair is the cheerful, literal-minded, slightly unworldly, tireless, humor-impaired, good-natured, occasionally infuriating older activist all of us involved in left politics have crossed paths with. He has all the virtues of the ‘30s; he carries an aura of heroism with him along with dirt of the grave. And come on, if you’re reading this, I know you’ve felt that’s exactly what’s missing from your life.
The book has all the postmodern devices, first-person narrative interspersed with imagined reviews of imagined Sinclair novels, transcripts, letters, and EBay listings. But I tend to think the book owes more to the USA trilogy than to David Foster Wallace. And anyway, whatever postmodern elements it incorporates, it’s quite free of postmodern irony. Sinclair’s appeals for Socialism may be stilted, old-fashioned, unconvincing: well, that strand of politics hasn’t left much of a usable legacy: but Bachelder doesn’t leave much doubt that, as far he’s concerned, it’s still right.(less)
Boxing and Vietnam and absent fathers and sex, in that order. Boxing in Vietnam. boxing to spite absent fathers. Absent fathers who...moreTough-guy fiction.
Boxing and Vietnam and absent fathers and sex, in that order. Boxing in Vietnam. boxing to spite absent fathers. Absent fathers who were boxers. That kind of thing. If you like Tim O'Brien but think his books are too complex and meta-fictional and self-conscious, and lack boxing, then Thom Jones is your man.
The title story is really kind of magnificent, tho.(less)
My leftist poet friends (yes, that's friends plural) accuse me of preferring fascist poets. My love for Merill is evidence for the prosecution. Guilty...moreMy leftist poet friends (yes, that's friends plural) accuse me of preferring fascist poets. My love for Merill is evidence for the prosecution. Guilty, then:
"Delicious, white, refined Is all that I was raised to be, Whom feeling for the word Plus crystal rudiments of mind Still keep -- however stirred -- From wholly melting in the tea.
The better to appraise his mess, History's health freak begs That such as we be given up. Outpouring bitterness Rewards the drainer of the cup... He'll miss those sparkling dregs."(less)
Most of the great American modernist books are forgotten, passed over for Faulkner (eh) and Hemingway (double eh). But Three Soldiers is doubly neglec...moreMost of the great American modernist books are forgotten, passed over for Faulkner (eh) and Hemingway (double eh). But Three Soldiers is doubly neglected, because to the (very limited) extent that people still rad Dos Passos, it's pretty much Manhattan Crossing and the U.S.A trilogy. The trilogy is wonderful, but I prefer Three Soldiers -- the sociological observation is still leavened by a romantic sensibility. And WWI is the best possible illustration of the transformation of American society from human-scale small towns to mass industrialism that was Dos Passos' great subject.(less)
The one American classic that really deserves it's place in the canon. That reactionary Irish historian (Colin or Carson something?) used to ask peopl...moreThe one American classic that really deserves it's place in the canon. That reactionary Irish historian (Colin or Carson something?) used to ask people, "What is America about>?" Gatsby answers the question about as well as it can be -- the myth of endless self-reinvention and the reality of class.(less)
Is it the greatest Soviet novel,or the greatest novel of the Second World War? I don't know -- I haven't read them all -- but it could be. Here's the...moreIs it the greatest Soviet novel,or the greatest novel of the Second World War? I don't know -- I haven't read them all -- but it could be. Here's the whole range of Russian life in the 1940s, high and low, heroic and terrible, public and private. it has the character of brilliant reporting-- Grossman was a journalist as well as a novelist -- reading it gives you a vivid sense of what it was like to fight in Stalingrad or be a believing Communist or intellectual or ordinary worker under Stalin. But it also is beautifully written and mixes its strict socialist realism with a 19th century novelist's attention to the inward self and the hidden life of the family. (A single extended family of Russian Jews is -- along with the battle of Stalingrad -- one of the two stars around which the book's many characters and scenes all orbit.) The futile heroism of old Bolsheviks in both German and Soviet camps is heartbreaking, but some of the most affecting scenes are of purely private crises. Amazing and wonderful.
[Yes, this is the same review as under my other GoodReads account. I'm still figuring out this social networking site thing....](less)
Michael Pollan's big idea is that eating s not just consuming this slice of bread, walnut, chicken nugget or tamale, but entering into a relationship...moreMichael Pollan's big idea is that eating s not just consuming this slice of bread, walnut, chicken nugget or tamale, but entering into a relationship with all the various entities, human and natural, that were required to produce it and get it to our table.
it's a good idea. And it's one that resonates with a lot of people -- there's few books more likely to start a conversation with strangers if you take it with you to some public place. So, yes, it deserves most of the praise it's gotten.
It does lose a bit of steam after he's finished with industrial food -- the chapters on Big Corn are the best in the book and its problematic "organic" alternatives, and lights out for food utopia. A bigger weakness is Pollan's lack of interest in labor conditions. The only workers we meet are a few old-fashioned farmers. This isn't just a political failure, it's a failure of storytelling, because slaughterhouses and meat-packing plants are some of the most brutal -- and dramatic -- industrial "factories" in the US, with corresponding levels of conflict -- not only labor conflicts, but, located largely in the rural Midwest but reliant on immigrant labor, conflicts over immigration as well. And the fact that industrial food production leads to these kinds of conflicts fits nicely with Pollan's big idea that the way we eat structures the rest of our lives & society.