Acquiescence to Inequality

Book reviews

age of acquiescence

The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (2015)

Why aren’t the majority of U.S. citizens rising up against their gradual (or not so gradual) impoverishment under the current economic system? That’s the question Steve Fraser sets out to answer in his book from early last year, “The Age of Acquiescence.”

It might look like an ill-timed question, given the surprising mass support for the Presidential campaign of self-described democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders later in the year. But the impoverishment has been going on nearly fifty years now—why did it take so long to get even this much of a response?

It is especially puzzling when compared to the continual public revolts of the analogous period of “the long nineteenth century,” spanning from the early 1800s into the 1930s. That was the time when what Marx called “primitive capital accumulation” took place here—early capitalists wringing wealth out of everyone else to amass it in larger and larger business organizations.

The history of that earlier period has been well documented, but I fear it has largely faded from the public imagination. We are taught that capitalist corporations grew at the expense of family farmers, self-employed artisans and small business owners because of the production efficiencies of the division of labor and new technologies, but that is a very incomplete picture. Continue Reading


Big Brother Is Here

Book reviews


Snowden (2015)

If you are looking for a brief and easy-to-read intro to the controversies surrounding whistleblower Edward Snowden, Ted Rall’s “Snowden” is an excellent choice. Sort of a Cliff’s Notes version with cartoon illustrations.

Rall is a widely published political cartoonist who has several other books to his credit. The only other one I’ve read is last year’s “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome Your As Honored Guests,” about Rall’s adventures as an unembedded journalist in the endless U.S. war in Afghanistan. It was funny, enlightening and provocative all at the same time.

But don’t expect much humor in “Snowden.” Rall treats the topic more seriously, perhaps because our role in Afghanistan is more tragically absurd than our government’s wholesale violation of constitutional rights.

Snowden, in case you don’t follow the news much, is a young guy in his early thirties who perpetrated the most massive leak of secret government documents in the entire history of the world. He is currently stuck in Russia, where he landed en route to hoped-for asylum in Ecuador, and is reportedly trying to negotiate a return to the U.S. that doesn’t involve life in prison.

Getting stuck in Russia wasn’t his only mistake. Snowden and his collaborators in the media, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, calculated that dribbling out the secrets a little at a time would be the best way to keep the story alive and thus the public’s attention. Instead the effect has been, ho hum, that’s old news now.

Which is unfortunate, because many people have the impression that the leaks only involved the government’s indiscriminate collection of telephone metadata and user information from social media. And think that somehow the government and social media companies have reformed their ways as a result of the leaks.

The situation is worse than that. Continue Reading


The Future Looks Green

Book reviews


Green Parties, Green Future: From Local Groups to the International Stage (2015)

“Green Parties, Green Future” provides a handy overview of the political parties of the global Green movement, their origins, current state, and future challenges. Informative and written in a straightforward, almost dry style, it’d make a good supplementary textbook for a college course. Educational for sure, but not exactly riveting reading.

The author, Per Gahrton of the Swedish Green Party, begins on a hopeful note. He cites Nobel Laureate Hannes Alfvén’s statement that each century gives birth to a political ideology that dominates the following century: 18th century classical liberalism dominated the politics of the 19th century, 19th century socialist ideas defined the 20th, and the Green worldview born of the 20th century will do the same in this century.

Unless we humans become extinct first. (He didn’t say that, I did.)

Although there are many historical precursors of environmental concern, the modern Green movement was born of the dual crises of growing awareness of the harmful effects of industrial economies and disillusionment with the radical politics of the 1960s. Many people felt that not only a new politics, but a new way of life was needed.

Out of this ferment came many familiar features of contemporary life: organic farming, natural health care, anti-consumerism, and environmental lobbying groups, among other things. One of those other things was the new Green political parties in diverse countries, a phenomenon not yet as successfully established as the former movements. The struggles, successes and failures of these parties are Gahrton’s central focus. Continue Reading


Days of Violence

Book Review

days of rage

Days of Rage:  America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence (2015)

Secret cells of bombers in the U.S. didn’t start with Islamic terrorists in the 1990s. We had a host of them throughout the 1970s and into the mid-’80s, a fact that is now little remembered. Bombing buildings, killing police, staging prison breaks, robbing banks—but rather than aiming to terrorize the population, these crimes were aimed at sparking a revolution.

Maybe you’ve heard of Weatherman, later known as the Weather Underground. You may even remember the Symbionese Liberation Army, which kidnapped and brainwashed heiress Patty Hearst. But what about the Black Liberation Army? The New World Liberation Front? FALN? The Sam Melville Jonathan Jackson Unit? The Family?

Bryan Burrough tells the fascinating story of these interlinked groups in his book, “Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence,” a title almost as wordy as the communiqués these groups released. He’s produced a thorough, even-handed, and nicely written history, featuring new information about what the home-grown revolutionaries did while they were “underground” (that is, acting secretly and living under false identities), gleaned from interviews with key players.

Those who didn’t travel in countercultural circles in the late ’60s and early ’70s may find it hard to understand how people could actually believe the U.S. was on the brink of a revolution. Those who did might understand, but still have trouble believing people could hang onto such beliefs well into the 1980s. Count me among the latter. I had no idea there were still holdouts at the end of the first Reagan administration. It blew my mind, man. Continue Reading


Confronting Capitalism (Sort Of)

Book Reviews

confronting capitalism

Confronting Capitalism: Real Solutions for a Troubled Economic System (2015)

“Confronting Capitalism: Real Solutions for a Troubled Economic System” is a decent primer on contemporary problems which stem from our economic system—which is to say, most of them. The book also canvasses a lot of policy ideas to address these problems, but in neither case does it dig very deeply.

The author, Philip Kotler, was trained as an economist under both Milton Friedman and Paul Samuelson, well-known representatives of conservative and liberal positions respectively. Kotler himself falls on the liberal end of the spectrum in his acceptance of the idea that the government should enact policies to address economic problems.

What Kotler does not do is engage the proposition that perhaps capitalism itself is the problem, or at least that something in the fundamental principles of our capitalist system ought to be changed. Essentially he says capitalism is the best of all possible economic worlds, if only we could fix its many and extremely serious shortcomings.

So what are those shortcomings? He lists fourteen of them: Continue Reading