Make your own free website on Tripod.com
book review article

 

My Main Page with Links to My Other Book Reviews

 

The Right Data by Edwin S. Rubenstein

404p (H) 1994

More like the wrong data. Rubenstein is hereby nominated for the Omission of Facts Award. He omits decreases in median hourly wages, data on state, local and payroll taxes, which are highly regressive. He omits the huge decline in the fortunes of young families with children. He shows federal income tax tables, the only major tax that is progressive, creating the illusion lower income workers pay a small percentage of their incomes in taxes. (All income over about $68,000 is exempt from payroll taxes and all non-work income.)

 

He thinks huge government debts are no big deal or a good thing. The fact that deficits as a percentage of the nation’s productivity were larger during some periods in the nation’s past, tells us nothing about whether those deficits were a good thing. Those deficits at least had the rationale of paying for colossally expensive wars rather than pandering to the rich. Not recommended.

 

Life without Father: Compelling New Evidence That Fatherhood and Marriage Are Indispensable for the Good of Children and Society by David Popenoe

288p (H) 1999 $16.95

Combining biological and social claims, Popenoe argues for nuclear families, but not necessarily what is commonly referred to as traditional families. He writes that exclusive domestic and exclusive breadwinner roles caused problems. “Male groups became overly masculinized and the home overly feminized, with men fleeing and dreading the overly feminized physical and social environment of the home… “[t]he less involved men are in childrearing, whether workaholism, macho activities or outright abandonment, the lower the status of women.. . [t]he more men engage in routine care, the more mothers participate in decision making and positions of authority. Societies without strong male role models and involved fathers reject and dominate women more and create exclusionary all-male activities for prestige.” Not surprisingly, this work has many nurture assumptions. The author recommends little more than bucolic plague, solving problems by moving to a rural area. Life without Father is more of the same old pro-family rhetoric and nonexistent or destructive policies.

 

Why Government Doesn’t Work by Harry Browne

No doubt the creation of a two column table having a set of buzzwords in the first column and another set of buzzwords in the second column strikes some as a clear, concise source of profundity, but not me. Not recommended.

 

Community Jobs Outcomes Assessment and Evaluation  —Annette Case

Available for free at: http://www.econop.org/

Examining Community Jobs, a welfare reform program in Washington State, this 49 page report explains some practices that work with difficult to place welfare recipients. The report emphasizes getting recipients into private sector jobs and away from workfare. Focusing on monitoring, mentoring, increasing income, training locally and other factors, it found that 53 percent of participants remained employed about one year after completing the program. Worth a look.

 

250 Ways to Make America Better by Editors of George Magazine

(H)

The policy expertise of George's business, entertainment, education, and political "leaders" flat out stinks. This book contains over 300 pages of prescriptions, with at least 95 percent of them harmful or too unspecific. Not recommended.

 

The Assault on Parenthood: How Our Culture Undermines the Family by Dana Mack

256p (H) 1997

This will be popular with the Paranoid Parent Association. Maggie Gallagher's arguments are better than this. Not recommended.

 

What’s Right               —David Frum

Not much with this niggling vision full of straw people. I sure don’t go to bed at night wondering why Canada lacks nuclear weapons. Not recommended.

 

The Government Racket by Martin Gross

Give credit to Gross. While some conservatives are content to bombard with anecdotes of government malfeasance and broad anti-government venom—perhaps because pundits do not want offend friends who rely on government transfers—Gross gets down to specifics on pork. Unfortunately, pork is not the only government racket. Gross takes great care to avoid offending retirees, the recipients of corporate welfare and the beneficiaries of corrupt ultra-conservative monetary, fiscal, and securities policies. Worth skimming.

 

New Politics of Poverty by Lawrence Mead

Somewhat dated, somewhat prophetic, somewhat worthwhile. Mead sees William Jefferson Clinton as a man who could lead the democrats out of the doldrums. Unfortunately, once Clinton led them out of the doldrums he led them straight back in. Mead argues that by wedding themselves to welfare the democrats cost themselves and the country dearly, though ultra-conservative Ronald Reagan's rhetoric criticized welfare, Reagan was a great expander of the welfare state.

 

Maybe One by Bill McKibben

Herein we learn that it’s bad to have more than one child because the child might become a victim of sibling incest (not kidding). Why bother doing anything in life? Bad things could happen. The author does not mention one of the problems of families having two parents and one child: The parents have more time to write terrible books.

 

America the Wise: The Longevity Revolution and the True Wealth of Nations by Theodore Roszak

Theodore Roszak argues that older Americans constitute a great national treasure of wisdom and volunteer work; therefore, no changes are needed in the nation’s retirement systems. He is badly mistaken. Most of the goods that come into existence come from work force activities and child rearing. Token, arbitrary voluntary activities contribute few goods.

 

The author once wrote a chapter on the true art of thinking. He wasn’t close then and he’s further away now. While “thinkers” such as this get awards, truth-tellers such as Douglas J. Amy get ignored.

 

The Healing of America by Marianne Williamson

More like the Helling of America. When individuals are unwilling to face evil, they say they are above politics or worldly concerns, but their actions suggest they are beneath politics or worldly concerns. “Healing” and “bipartisanship” are euphemisms for letting evil individuals get away with evil.

 

False Hopes: Overcoming the Obstacles to a Sustainable, Affordable Medicine by Daniel Callahan

330p (H) 1999 $17.00

Daniel Callahan emphasizes preventative medicine, quality of life, and universal coverage. He writes that we should share some of the medical wealth with poorer individuals around the world, rather than invest in overly expensive technologies and quantity of life. The prescriptions herein need more work. Worth browsing.

 

The Missing Middle by Theda Skopcal

This work argues for getting the middle class more enmeshed in public policies. Unfortunately,

Missing Middle contains an incredibly weak straw person attack on the critics of the present design of Social Security.

This work relies on numerous appeals to popularity.

It contains minor and unspecific policy recommendations.

It features a poor analysis of what is politically probable and palatable. Not recommended.

 

The Return of Thrift: How the Coming collapse of the Middle-Class Welfare State Will Reawaken Values in America by Philip Longman

241p (H) 1996

It sure is curious how the phrase middle-class welfare state gets used when government subsidies and transfers go disproportionately to the rich. It is as if pundits have given up and decided there is no use in trying to stop the rich from doing what they want because the rich are too powerful. Let’s concentrate on the middle-class. Like most anti-entitlement books, Longman focuses on some types of entitlements and skips other types, and the colossal ills the latter types add up to. Longman endorses the good idea that the nation should not have 39-year-old military retirees, but Longman’s prescriptions are inadequate and poorly targeted. Will America Grow Up Before It Grows Old is a better book than this and True Security is a far better book than both books combined.

 

The Essential Communitarian Reader

319p (H) 1998

More like The Communicatarian Reader. Blah, blah, blah and almost no macropolicy. Compared to this work, trying to figure out how to pronounce Amitai Etzioni’s name is a major initiative. What is the major difference between communitarians and ultra-conservative Bill Bennett? I have no idea. Not recommended.

 

The O’Reilly Factor by Bill O’Reilly

A collection of inanities, O’Reilly has probably spent more time having make-up applied than he did writing this book. Not recommended.

 

The Indebted Society: Anatomy of an Ongoing Disaster by James Medoff and Andrew Harless

241p 1996 (H)

The good parts:

·        Huge consumer and public debts are bad.

·        Too often, those who make investments in the future are not those who get rewarded.

·        Much, if not most, of the work done by those in the top tax brackets merely redistributes wealth rather than creates it. If, for example, people do not buy a ticket to a professional basketball game, they will use the money elsewhere, enriching someone else or themselves or both.

·        The Federal Reserve Board has a much bigger influence on the number of jobs than other popularly debated factors.

To the author’s credit, this work has a lengthy set of recommendations. The good prescriptions:

·        Abolish corporate taxes and shift taxes to high-income individuals.

·        Issue inflation adjusted bonds on government debt.

 

Most of the other prescriptions, however, are bad.

The author’s ultra-liberal version of the Laffer Curve—a measure of the relationship between tax rates and tax revenue—is almost as bad as the ultra-conservative original.

 

The Optimism Gap by David Whitman

This book is good at pointing out that many health and safety problems have shown great improvement. The economics in this book, however, is terrible. Per capita incomes do not measure economic performance because the percentage of children in the population plummeted and the number of two income families skyrocketed. Overall family incomes do not measure how children fare because half of families do not have minor children. I have heard this stuff a zillion times. Read my review of Myths of Rich and Poor and Baby Boon for more on these subjects.

Not recommended.

 

The Winner-Take-All-Society: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us by Robert H. Frank and Phillip J. Cook

288p (H) 1996

The authors argue that small differences in skill, talent, and effort mean the difference between massive wealth and failure. They offer a complex, yet understandable—dare I say fun to read—examination of increasing economic gaps.

 

The overemphasis on overpaid entertainers is a weakness of this work. The authors miss the opportunity to hammer at bigger income retribution problems and solutions. Their recommendations fail to account for parents and children being taken advantage of by power markets. Worth skimming.

 

Gray Dawn: How the Coming Age Wave Will Transform America—by Peter G. Peterson

256p (H) 1999

Peterson claims that the Western world has unfunded liabilities for public and private pensions of $35 trillion. That astronomical number is exceeded by unfunded liabilities in the Western world for pensions and health care: $65 trillion.

By the mid-1990s the mean Total Fertility Rate was 1.4 children per woman in Europe, 1.85 in the United States and 1.5 in Japan, well below the replacement level of 2.11, which could spell trouble. The statistics in here have been updated but this book is not as good as Will America Grow Up Before It Grows Old.

 

 

The New Paternalism: Supervisory Approaches to Poverty by Lawrence Mead, editor

310p (H) 1997

The best of what neopaternalism has to offer. One pretty good essay here says that spending more money on schools is useless. Some other research suggests that money does make a difference for poor schools. It helps poor schools recruit and keep better teachers. Worth skimming.

 

Justice Between Generations: The Growing Power of the Elderly in America by Matthew C. Price

174p (H) 1997

We should be aghast that recent generations are the generations that left gigantic debts to the unborn—legalized stealing. If anyone would be tempted, you would think it would be distant ancestors. You would think they would have said, “Let’s spend a few million more to fight this smallpox thing,” or “We need the money to build the railroad bridges our nation needs for the future.” We, with all our knowledge and technology and little wisdom, built the national debt for dubious purposes.

 

Similar in tone Peter Peterson’s works, the worst thing about this well-written little book is its $60.00 price tag. He covers much of Peterson’s ground, yet has some novel points to make. The second worst thing is its lack of specific recommendations.

 

The Paradox of American Democracy by John Judis

 

John Judis, an editor at The Newsweek Republic,

delivers an historical “argument” on government and

business. His conclusions are hasty and broad.

The premises are missing relevant distinctions and details.

 

This is not a book about ideas. This is a collection of proper

nouns. The style is similar to: In the 1960s we had

Bob, Jane and Mark. In the 1980s we had Olga,

Michael and Orlando. In the 1990s we had Ty,

Cindy and some other people. Therefore X.

 

We get a torrent of

“It was the main source of funds for the Center for

Law in the Public Interest, the Environmental Defense

Fund, the Sierra Club for Legal Defense, the Natural

Resources Defense council, the Institute for Public

Interest Representation, the Center for Law and Public

Policy, the Citizens Communication Center, the Public

Advocates, the Education Law center, and the Center

for Law and Public Policy.” Did I miss anyone? Judis

must have wore out his shift key.

 

Jefferson's Children by Leon Botstein

A work of Dennis Prager-style imitation analysis, Jefferson's Children mixes trite truths with common nonsense. Botstein proposes a nine-part general studies reformation for American colleges. These reforms merely rename and reorganize what is already taught, except that books by Monster Cody will no longer be used as bibles in English 101. The biggest change Botstein proposes is requiring classes in non-Western languages. The idea that college level language classes are worthless for almost all students never surfaces here. I have never met anyone who said they have benefitted from college foreign language classes. Yo quiero Taco Bell is about twice the vocabulary I remember from my Spanish classes. Foreign languages should be taught at an early age or not at all.

 

Unlike Prager, Botstein has not included tabloid entertainment. The result is as boring as it is weak. One chapter consists of 24 bromides so banal even the quotable quotes editor at Reader's Digest might gag on them.

 

In the best part of this book Botstein argues for the elimination of high school. High schools are stultifying and irrelevant. His claims are similar to those found in the much better work The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager.

 

Count this book as part of the sample that says American education stinks most at the top. It produced a response in me similar to the one I get 20 minutes into an overrated movie full of clichés. Not recommended.

 

Books reviewed by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 24, 2009

 

My Main Page with Links to My Other Book Reviews