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UUJEC Book Reviews

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“The Third Reconstruction” by Rev. William Barber, with Johnathan Wilson-Hartgrove

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In this marvelous little book Reverend Barber traces his transformation as inheritor of the long arc of history bending toward justice, as celebrated by Martin Luther King Jr. But his context is not just the Civil Rights Movement but the history of fusion politics going back to the Civil War. By fusion politics he means “black and white together”, yet also almost every other good cause you can think of, knowing that minorities need a wide variety of allies to challenge brutal political repression.

Like MLK, Barber understands that the issue is one of both “race and class” – that white supremacy has been used to divide the white working class from its natural allies – the working classes of all ethnic and racial groups. He cites the success of the fusion politics of the 1890s until it was crushed by the Jim Crow politics of the white power structure. Today the Koch Brothers are conspiring with local multimillionaires like Art Pope to restore white power by passing laws for voter suppression, defunding public education, lavish tax benefits for the rich, etc.

Barber concludes by listing fourteen steps for organizers, such as “Intentionally diversify the movement with the goal of winning unlikely allies”. [Dick Burkhart, Chair GA Committee]

"Rigged" by Dean Baker

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Review by Terry Lowman, UUJEC Co-Chair

If you had the impression that the system is stacked against you, let Dean Baker count the ways for you.  First there's the loss of power of the working man--unions have been diminished and unions are the only tool that the working man has.  But the owning class goes anywhere in the world to find cheap labor.

And then there are all the ways that law protects the interests of the wealthy.  Patent laws help pharmaceutical companies charge around 10 times more for drugs than we'd pay without them.  And yes, there are fair ways to compensate these companies for the research and development, but the patents not only run up expenses for the consumer--they limit potential cures as drug companies tend to copy other company's successful drugs rather than create something new (think statins: atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol, Lescol XL), lovastatin (Mevacor, Altoprev), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor), simvastatin (Zocor), and pitavastatin (Livalo)  How does the consumer benefit?  Another type of drug for reducing heart disease would be better.

Copyrights have been extended again and again. Happy Birthday just went off copyright after 75 years!  This does not encourage creativity if you can retire after writing one song or one book.

To reduce competition, lawyers have bar exams--and states with an abundance of lawyers have harder to pass bar exams, states with a shortage have easier bar exams. Allegedly, there's no measurable difference in quality of lawyers.  With doctors, there are only so many residency spots.  If you don't get picked up for a residency, you can't practice medicine in the country.  Very few residency spots are allocated to doctors educated in other countries, so we will never have an over abundance of medical doctors.

Dean Baker really sums up why we need to renegotiate our laws so that working people have the power to earn a living wage.  The money is there, so it's a matter of distribution.  It's well written and easy to read.  I really recommend it.

 

Review by Dick Burkhart, UUJEC GA Committee Chair  “We Know Its Rigged: Here are Some Tricks to Unrig It”

Dean Baker is a progressive economist, and a smart one too, showing many a clever way to unrig our top heavy economy system. Regrettably, thinking like an economist is both his strength and his weakness. It’s great that he can tell us exactly how to restructure the way we do drug R & D, to save many billions and get better results. But he fails to tell us that we’ll likely need Bernie’s “political revolution” to do it.

Nor does Baker realize that in a world facing limits-to-growth, a capitalist economy may become impossible to sustain. That is, capitalism is designed to concentrate wealth and power, unless severely constrained. When the growth imperative falters, as it must, the capitalists are quick to blame the constraints, hence the escalating inequality since Reagan and Thatcher. Finally, the dynamic of the “rich get richer, while the poor get poorer” itself reaches a breaking point, as it must, hence Trump.

Though missing this big picture, Baker has some wonderful ideas for slashing the horrendous waste that plagues US capitalism. For example, he’d take most medical R & D into the public domain, more like the US military, where the big companies work under contract. Except, full public disclosure would be required instead of patents, resulting in drug prices that would fall by 99% for today’s most expensive drugs. Then he’d take on the monopoly power that produces extravagant doctors’ salaries, bypassing their political power by promoting medical tourism, even to India. [While bicycling in India in 2004 a kidney stone put me in a hospital in Hyderabad, so I experienced first hand the high quality and extremely low cost of medical care in India.]

This book includes all the numbers you need too, such as low and high estimates of cost savings. Besides the medical establishment, he takes on other professions, plus Wall Street, corporate governance, taxes, trade, even textbooks, all with an eye inequality and waste. Yet he doesn’t examine the bloated Pentagon budget or fossil fuel subsidies. And the simplistic economic models that start off chapter 1 leave me longing for a little more real world depth and complexity.

“The Origin of Wealth” by Eric Beinhocker

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I’ve long wondered about the rotten state of academic economics. In this classic work Eric Beinhocker not only shows the origins of this pseudo science (concepts from 19th century equilibrium physics misapplied to economics) but how to make it into a real science (using the modern mathematics of nonlinearity, chaos, and algorithms). Beinhocker draws on interdisciplinary work at the Santa Fe Institute to give us an engaging introduction to this new field of “complexity economics”. Fortunately, he writes like a journalist, so you don’t need to know the underlying math.

Early on he illustrates evolutionary algorithms, ones that mimic actual biological evolution, and how they are applied to groups of human-like agents, subject to simple rules for “economic” interaction at each time step. The results quickly evolve behavior that has long eluded the simplistic equations of mainstream economists. In addition, despite his bias toward free market capitalism, Beinhocker produces several cogent criticisms of modern business, such as the dilemma of the ruthless efficiency of hierarchical organizations versus the autonomy needed for innovation. Another example is the damage to the common good that emerges from the “prisoners’ dilemma” effect of unfettered markets and extreme individualism. Check out http://evonomics.com/ for updates. [Dick Burkhart, Escalating Inequality Team Chair]

"The Second Machine Age" By Erik Brynjlofsson and Andrew McAfee

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This book hypes the developing robotics revolution in technology, yet balances this extravaganza with warnings on growing inequality and job losses. It reminds me of Alvin Toffler’s blockbluster books of decades past, forecasting the stresses of technological and societal change, but this time from the narrower point of view of an economist. The authors see our “winner take all” society as a consequence primarily of technology, ignoring power relationships. Also, “growth” is the ultimate solution to escalating inequality, ignoring limits-to-growth.

They welcome ideas to reduce inequality like a guaranteed minimum income, but are hesitant about full employment policies and about shifting heavy payroll taxes to more progressive income, capital gains, and wealth taxes. They boost education and immigration as great inequality solvers but seem unfamiliar with conflicting research. Piketty is not cited, even though he shows that increasing inequality is inevitable when the rate of return exceeds the rate of growth.

Brynjlofsson and McAfee say, correctly, that artificial intelligence has come of age due to exponential growth in computer power (Moore’s Law). Yet they do not consider the lessons that might be learned from how the extreme inequality of the late 19th century industrial revolution was finally resolved after decades of turmoil, upheaval that now appears to be commencing in earnest for the “second machine age” after the election of Trump. [Dick Burkhart, Escalating Inequality Committee Chair]

"Buddhist Economics" By Claire Brown, Ph.D.

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Principles for a Compassionate Economy

Berkeley economist Claire Brown got fed up with free market economics and turned to Buddhism.  She sought a science that would serve both humanity and planet earth through the ages. This very readable little book describes how Buddhism principles can transform how we do and think about economics. Instead of being all about GDP and growth, it’s about seeking human well-being in a sustainable economy. Her vision is far more egalitarian and just, emphasizing simple living and a much smaller ecological footprint for the developed world, along with meeting UN sustainable developmental goals for a shrunken global population.

  Read the full review hereBook Reviewed by Dr. Dick Burkhart, UUJEC Board Member

"The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens" by Samuel Bowles

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Progressive economist Samuel Bowles mounts a well-researched and convincing challenge to the “economic man” of traditional theory - the calculating, self-interested individual. He cites many studies which demonstrate that financial incentives often backfire due to seemingly irrational human behavior, characterized by penalizing bad behavior and rewarding the good, or responding to issues of trust, shame, honor, citizenship, etc. For example, when a group of preschools placed a small fine on parents who dropped off their kids late, the parents simply absorbed the cost of lateness and the lateness problem got much worse.

Even ancient civilizations, like the Greeks, knew that far more could be accomplished by appealing to the goodness in people, not just by punishing the miscreants and free loaders. Today’s economists need to develop guidance for “Aristotle’s Legislator”, based on how people actually behave, not by assuming the worst (Hume’s “constitution for knaves”). For example, a mayor of Bogota, Columbia, reduced horrendous traffic deaths by 2/3 by developing a system that enlisted the public to honor good drivers while shaming the bad, with fines only a minor component. Thus people are more likely to support a worthy cause if the appeal is to honor and the public benefit, not to self-interest.

This is a semi-popular book, well written, with experimental results from diverse populations, but at times a little heavy on jargon and technical aspects. [Dick Burkhart, Escalating Inequality Chair]

"This is an Uprising" by Mark and Paul Engler

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We want justice, when do we want it?  NOW!  But that's not how justice works; it a long tedious slog.  The Occupy Movement was criticized for doing nothing, but that's not true.  The 1% and the 99%, the very language of economic justice, came out of the Occupy Movement and without language, you have no movement.  This book charts the history of movements and proves that movements take time and careful planning (despite the appearance of spontaneous combustion).  This book explains how to empower justice movements. Visit the official website here. [Terry Lowman, UUJEC Co-Chair]

"Listen Liberal" by Thomas Frank

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The Ruin of the Democratic Party by Meritocracy and Technocracy

Thomas Frank really tears into the Clintons and Obama for abandoning the US working class in their quest for a utopia of meritocracy and technocracy for the professional class. Instead we have a nightmare of inequality and dysfunction. This in spite of, or perhaps because of, their personal charm, educated brilliance, and rhetoric of virtue. These liberal elites stabbed their Democratic base in the back while handing out extraordinary favors to the elites of Wall Street and the ‘New Economy’.

Obama on monopolies: “Anti-monopoly investigations went from a barely breathing 4 in 2009 to a flat 0 in 2014”(p 156). Obama on Wall Street “unwound Bush’s bailouts…fired bad regulators…stopped AIG bonuses…put ‘zombie’ banks into receiverships…shifted FBI agents to white collar crime…”(p 157).

The Trump victory was understandable to Thomas Frank. Like Bernie Sanders, he has long called for a return of the Democratic Party to its New Deal roots and says, “Would Bernie have won? Hell, Yes”. Yet, unlike Bernie, who called for a “political revolution”, Frank calls for moral outrage –that liberal leaders put on great displays of moral virtue (toward women and minorities) even as their loyalties now lie with the top 10%, not the bottom 50%.

The jolt of activism impelled by the Trump disaster gives me hope, yet, living in liberal Seattle, I see that Frank’s moral revolution has a long way to go. And with an increasingly corrupt and entrenched oligarchy, that means a rough road ahead. [Dr. Dick Burkhart, UUJEC Board Member]

"The Crash of 2016" by Thom Hartmann

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In January and February, my UUA ministerial pension fund plummeted, so I thought I’d better read Thom Hartmann’s apparently prescient "The Crash of 2016: The Plot to Destroy America – and What We Can Do to Stop It."

Thom Hartmann not only tells us the recent causes of our dips and surges but spans the centuries of American history to reveal its patterns and cycles.  It is soon unpacked that “robber barons” refer not only to 19th century corporate plunderers but to 18th century targets of Tea Partiers and 21st century financiers or “Royalists” a word Hartmann uses to link them all.  The reader is left hoping for a reincarnated FDR to save the working poor and the foreclosed homeowners, but sees that the bankers have become cleverer at being bailed out while the rest of us fall victim to “the Great Forgetting” of our economic history. Read more here.  [Rev. Dr. Lucy Hitchcock, UUJEC Membership Committee Chair]

"Crisis in US Health Care: Corporate Power vs. The Common Good" by John Geyman, M.D.

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 “A Doctor’s View of Corporate Profiteering in the Medical Industry”

John Geyman is a family practitioner and administrator who has experienced first hand the transformation of the US health care system into an immensely wasteful and corrupt health care industry. Though Obamacare has extended coverage, it has also propelled profiteering, contributing “to the medical profession’s loss of its moral compass”. Supposed savings have been soaked up by executives and owners. Privatization has meant perverse incentives, replacing the medical ethic of compassionate care by profits at the expense of the poorest and sickest.

This book is an up-to-date and readable overview of how the health care industry actually works, set against the backdrop Dr. Geyman’s personal journey over the last half century, from a classical family practice in the mountains of northern California, to leadership of the University of Washington Department of Family Medicine, to a retirement of investigation, reflection, and writing. Other books dive more deeply into the politics and scandals, but I suggest starting here.

The US has the best health care in the world for those who can pay for it, yet by far the worst health care system of any developed nation. We spend twice as much per person with poorer overall outcomes. Like most other medical reformers, Geyman recommends improving Medicare and making it universal (“Medicare for All”), with the US citizenry pocketing the savings. Both professionals and patients will be a lot happier. [Dr. Dick Burkhart, UUJEC General Assembly Chair]

"Wages of Rebellion: The Moral imperative of Revolt" by Chris Hedges

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Chris Hedges is a challenge for progressives to read, because we keep working to study or reform rather than throw out the systems that oppress our people and the environment.  He quotes Reinhold Niebuhr that liberalism “lacks the spirit of enthusiasm, not to say, fanaticism, which is so necessary to move the world out of its beaten tracks. (It) is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history.” But, Chris Hedges is our counterweight to caution, the spur to take the courageous actions we argue for but rarely take whole-heartedly with our very lives at stake.  Reading, meditating on, and discussing his book together could help us toward courage and cooperative movement.

Wages of Rebellion tells the stories of those who dared: Socrates, Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and more recently Cecily McMillan, an Occupy Activist, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, whistleblowers, and many, many more, many of whom I’ve never heard of.  Within the stories are the politicians, the prison system, the corporations, the laws and interpretations of laws that help keep oppression and greed in place.  He quotes Shakespeare, August Wilson, Vaclav Havel….  And, he writes,

Social and economic life will again have to be rationed and shared.  The lusts of capitalism will have to be curtailed or destroyed.  And there will have to be a recovery of reverence for the sacred, the bedrock of premodern society, so we can see each other and the earth not as objects to exploit but as living beings to be revered and protected.  This recovery will require a very different vision for human society. 

and “a fight for life” that “requires that we follow those possessed by a sublime madness” … “and in these acts we make possible a better world, even if we cannot see one emerging around us.”

Lucy Hitchcock, UUJEC Board Member 

For a printable version click here

"The Bubble and Beyond" by Michael Hudson

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The Bubble and Beyond” by the heterodox economist Michael Hudson exposes the destructive financialization of our economy – how Wall Street “rigged the system”. This book traces the historical forces behind the Financial Crash of 2008 and how deregulated money uses debt and compound interest to impose an onerous tax on the 99%, evading federal taxes in the process.

This tax (= mortgage interest on skyrocketing real estate), acts like the land rents that forced the peasants to slave for the aristocrats of old Europe. Yet today housing in Germany is half the US cost. To fix the US bubble, impose high taxes on unearned income (= capital gains) and remove the tax deductibility of interest and depreciation of buildings. Even US industry is being attacked by corporate raiders touting “shareholder value” and hamstrung by excessive debt.

Hudson’s style can be repetitious, with dense words like monetarization and debt deflation, but his pithy quotes are worth it. Such as, “free markets for predatory lending and unearned income”. Or, “to the extent that economics uses mathematics, the spirit is closer to numerology than to the natural sciences”. Or, “throughout history societies that have polarized between creditors and debtors have not survived well”. [Dr. Dick Burkhart, UUJEC GA Committee Chair]

“Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis?” by Steve Keen

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Steve Keen is the world’s leading heterodox economist, so when he speaks, I listen. In this little book, he sums up his model of money and debt, the one that he used to predict the financial crash of 2008, and even the “great moderation” before it. Most economists were left red-faced, running for cover. Even today, Keen’s simple, common-sense approach is fiercely resisted by mainstream economists like Paul Krugman, who are wedded to a very primitive barter-like concept of money.

This book expects some familiarity with the terminology and thinking of economics, including models and graphs, but for such readers it is expository rather than technical in nature. Keen shows what countries (“debt-zombies-to-be”) are at risk of future financial crises, or prolonged stagnation like Japan. This is due to their level of debt and their inability to write down that debt or inflate it away. First, and foremost, of course, is China, with the US already categorized as a “debt zombie” after the 2008 meltdown.

According to Keen, monetary authorities should carefully monitor the “private debt to GDP ratio”, doing whatever it takes to keep it below 100%. But he considers this unlikely in most countries, given the continued dominance of neo-liberal economics and the stranglehold of big finance on politics. Instead global stagnation is the likely outcome. Here I wish Keen had noted that even the best financial policies will not overcome the limits-to-growth imposed by planet earth. So, what kind of finance would work best with future de-growth scenarios?

-          Dick Burkhart, Board Member, UUs for a Just Economic Community

For the printable version, click here

"Dark Age Ahead" by Jane Jacobs

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Amazingly, this book was written well before the financial crash of 2008 and the 2016 US presidential election. Yet even in 2005 Jane Jacobs’ book became a bestseller, resonating with the many who suffered from, or who could see, the damage and corruption being wrought by an expanding culture of greed. She focuses on 5 points: (1) family, (2) higher education, (3) science and technology, (4) taxes and regulations, (5) self-policing.

Her chapter on family is really a lament for increasing domination by the car and the ensuing loss of public transit and social life, and the increasing cost of housing. On higher education, it is all about real education versus credentialing. On science, she describes three cases of scientific stupidity, deriving from unquestioned dogmas, taking examples from traffic engineering, public health, and economic development. On taxes, it is about Toronto’s dysfunctional property tax system and the rapid deterioration of public services due to a corrupt, neo-conservative government. On self-policing it is about failures in business and the professions, from Enron to the Catholic Church.

Then Jacobs looks for ways out of this “vicious spiral” of decay, such as revival of street life and affordable housing after the housing bubble; “performance zoning”; and redundancy in mentoring people and promoting economic diversity. Her final warning: Empires have not recognized that “the true power of a successful culture resides in its example”. [Dick Burkhart, UUJEC GA Committee Chair]

 

“Viking Economics” by George Lakey

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This is a very readable and down-to-earth book that dispels a flood of myths. The Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland – have been economic, social, and political success stories for decades. Yet how they did this has been well hidden from the American public until now. 

George Lakey is an activist Quaker who married a Norwegian gal. He says that only after the financial crash of 2008 did Americans start asking him about Scandinavian. Before that American exceptionalism held sway. Now escalating economic inequality has given rise to enormous disillusionment with the political establishment, on both the left and the right (Bernie & Trump). 

Read the full review here.

“Toward a Living Revolution” by George Lakey

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"A Marvelous Manual for Political Revolutionaries”

What makes this book so great is not just its clear explanation of strategic thinking for activists but also its many examples taken from historical revolutionary endeavors. Much of the original 1973 edition is surprisingly timeless, though its rhetoric is definitely more “revolutionary” than is common today in the United States. Yet the escalating inequality since then, culminating in the disruptive election of 2016, suggests that both activist language and actions will be increasingly “revolutionary”.

Lakey’s five stages are infused with well-supported reasoning and examples of why non-violent revolution is likely to be far more successful than violence, especially in the long run. I find it interesting that the same reasoning often applies to military endeavors. For example, the recent violent regime changes in Iraq and later Libya provide good examples of short run success but long run failure, giving rise to ISIS on the one hand and to a failed state on the other. Meanwhile the violent response by ISIS has now led to a backlash in turn, providing yet another example.

Read the full review here[Dick Burkhart, UUJEC GA Committee Chair]

"Runaway Inequality" by Les Leopold

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Most persons who visit this web page have read one or more books on income inequality. Runaway Inequality, by reporter and educator Les Leopold demonstrates the ideas that most such books do. (e.g., that income inequality harms most Americans).

It’s remarkable for making two additional points.

  • That domination of our economy by the financial sector consists “strip mining” that destroys important resources.
  • An interesting detail of this argument is that this financialization constitutes a huge tax (36.8% of private profit in 2012) on everything that happens in our society.
  • That progressives have no little or chance of winning on any issue if we don’t unify to break the power of the very rich.
  • This unity requires establishment of a national education program. Mr. Leopold is working with the Work Environment Council on that program right now. 

[Kit Marlowe, UUJEC Co-Secretary]

"Debt or Democracy" by Mary Mellor

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Do you know how most money is created today?  Answer: It emerges “out of thin air”, by a keystroke on a computer, whenever a bank makes a loan. Most of that new money goes to the 1% who use it for financial speculation, or expensive houses or other luxuries, or for business investment for the more affluent. Except for tax proceeds, the public can’t spend any money unless it is borrowed from private financial markets (think Treasury bonds). Yet the public must spend trillions to cover the losses of too-big-to-fail banks because all their bad loans consist of public currency. 

Mary Mellor, a recently retired activist professor out of the UK, says that we need to take back our currency in two ways. First, only the government should be able to create new money, with private banks drawing on government loans guided by democratic policy. Second, the government should be able to spend money into existence, without incurring debt but with taxes and fees designed to return a portion of that money to the government so as to prevent inflation or deflation. Read more here. [Dr. Dick Burkhart, UUJEC GA Committee Chair]

“Global Inequality” by Branko Milanovic

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“Global Inequality – A New Approach for the Age of Globalization” by Branko Milanovic demonstrates that escalating economic inequality within nations is occurring globally, not just in the US. Yet, at the same time, the numbers show an overall trend toward convergence of incomes across nations. But are nations really getting more equal when the numbers depend so much on China, while Africa has been left behind?

Even within, nations may be at different historical stages, which he calls waves of inequality. For example, inequality increased in the United States until the Great Depression and World War II set the stage for a growing middle class and more egalitarian society, with another wave of escalating inequality beginning around 1980. In contrast China is still in its first wave of capitalistic inequality.

Milanovic correctly identifies the strong plutocratic forces driving escalating inequality in the US yet missed this year’s political revolt by Bernie and Trump supporters.  And, like most economists, he fails to understand limits-to-growth – that the world cannot just grow itself into equality when so many of its resources (fossil fuels in particular) and ecosystems are maxing out, despite all the wonders of technology. How to tackle global inequality remains a huge challenge, but at least some economists are taking a new look. [Dick Burkhart, UUJEC GA Committee Chair]

 

"Confessions of An Eco-Sinner" by Fred Pearce

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Confessions of An Eco-Sinner by British Journalist Fred Pearce. Wanting to understand over-consumption habits and its effects on people and the planet, Pearce takes us on a journey to find the sources of his stuff. Across the world, he gains unimaginable access to factories, mines, farms and the people who work within them. Pearce offers a very thorough inventory of the good, the bad and the ugly truths about consumerism. For example: over a million fair trade Kenyan bean farmers are supported by British consumers, the Uzbekistani cotton industry employs 40% of the workforce; and hundreds of thousands of children, 6.5 million tons of wastepaper is sent annually from the U.S. and Britain to China only to be turned into packaging and shipped back. Pearce offers simple solutions to big global problems, and ways to rethink our role in the economy. It’s a very intriguing inventory of products and people told from the perspective of a British Humanist journalist. [Rachel Bennett Steury, UUJEC Globalization and Trade Task Force member] 

"Capital in the Twenty-First Century" by Thomas Piketty

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Capital in the Twenty-First Century by French economist Thomas Piketty. At the UUJEC "Escalating Inequality or Justice for All" Conference in Evanston, IL  Michael Teasdale, offered an overview of the key ideas in Piketty’s book. [Michael Teasdale, UUJEC Co-Chair] 


 

"Saving Capitalism" by Robert Reich

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"The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care" by T.R. Reid

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Want Better Health Care in the US? Just Look Overseas

This wonderful little book vividly describes what the mainstream media has been hiding from the American people – exactly why other developed countries have both better overall health and far cheaper health care systems than the US. Using a personal quest to fix his sore shoulder, renowned reporter Reid shows how health care actually works in France, Germany, Japan, England, Canada, India, and more. Each system is different, yet they all work better than in the US because they provide universal coverage and eliminate the profit motive. Ironically, the US provides examples of all types health care systems. Medicare is a single payer system (Canada), the VA system is government run (England), employer coverage is the Bismarck model (Germany and Japan), and millions pay out-of-pocket (India).

The details really matter, but the final results are very similar, given a common moral basis: health care is a human right. In France, everyone has a smart card that contains their entire medical history. No clerical staff needed. In the UK, all care is free (the most loved system in the world – all paid for by taxes), and doctors have strong incentives to keep people healthy. Japan severely limits costs by government mandate but has thousands of private, non-profit insurance plans, which must accept all applicants and pay every bill. France and Japan have strictly limited co-pays, except none for the needy. In Germany unemployment benefits include automatic health care. The rich may opt out. [Dr. Dick Burkhart, UUJEC Board Member]

“Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy: A Book of History & Strategies” by Dean Ritz

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Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy by Dean RitzThis little book, a collection of 70 essays, sermons, speeches, and yes, even rants, - was invigorating on first read and has been a valuable reference over the years. It challenges the usual approaches of regulations, demonstrations, and puts the essence of illegitimate corporate power on display for all to see. Use the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon to sample a few of the gems within. You will be hooked. [Rich Florentino, UUJEC Board Member]

“Beyond $15” by Jonathan Rosenblum

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Jonathan Rosenblum, a lifelong union organizer, weaves a story about trying to get fair wages for the airport workers.  They attempted to organize a union, but there were obstacles, first being that airports are regulated by the Railroad Labor Act, which prevented them from organizing. The SeaTac port authority is a corporate tool, although officials are elected by citizen votes. 

It used to be when corporations went bankrupt, leadership was fired.  Now leadership is retained, union contracts are void and labor is at the mercy of any challenge in the airline business.  Corporate leaders use bankruptcy to keep labor union free and in line.

Read the full review here. [Terry Lowman, UUJEC Co-Chair]

"Strangers in Their Own Land Anger and Mourning on the American Right" by Arlie Russell Hochschild

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Reviewer: [Terry Lowman UUJEC Co-Chair]

Arlie made connections to go to Louisiana and get to know Tea Partiers as people.  Liberals and Northerners dismiss Southerners as dumb and voting against their own interests, but that's only because we Northern Liberals have a different "deep story".  The deep story is that after the Civil War and reconstruction and then after the 1960's Civil Rights movement, it feels like the Federal government is out to keep Southerners down. 

The Tea Partiers have been in a long line waiting for the American Dream, except us liberals keep waving women, people of color, immigrants and the LGBT community in front of them.

Many of their parents and grandparents came from nothing...when oil came to Louisiana and people started making a living.  But then the government brought in immigrants, passed environmental laws and it felt like our government and liberals were against white men making a good living despite loyalty, working hard, and supporting our military

Their own state government has also sold them down the river--approving over 99% of drilling applications and given permits that have polluted their land and water.  They gave permits that destroyed a salt dome and consequently hundreds of acres of land and homes were sucked into the bijou.  If you can't trust the government you can see, why should you trust the Federal government when they give lots of money to no good, lazy people.  Louisiana economically performs next to the bottom, so a lot of people get food stamps and other welfare.

If we're going to help the lazy people, we need to be sure to help those that are working and deserve credit for their effort.

This is a great book with an interesting set of characters.  Arlie writes like a novelist--you feel like you know these people and it's so visual, it could be a movie.

Reviewer: [Chuck Collins, UUJEC Advisory Member]

There are many theories and explanations for the rise of Donald Trump and the current incarnation of white right-wing populism.

A deeper understanding—and an invitation to scale the “empathy wall”—comes from veteran sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in her new book, Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.  The book is, as its second subtitle suggests, “A Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide.” 

In Strangers, Hochschild spends over five years embedded with Louisiana Tea Party activists, including families that have suffered from environmental disasters at the hands of chemical and petroleum companies.  As she builds relationships with her subjects, Hochschild goes to meetings, shares meals, goes on local driving tours, attends church, samples food at Cajun cook-offs, and goes to a Trump rally. Read the complete book review by Chuck Collins on Common Dreams

"The Corporate Criminal Why Corporations Must Be Abolished" By Steve Tombs, David Whyte

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The authors are, respectively, a Professor of Criminology and a Professor of Socio-legal Studies, each with long-term interests in corporate power and corporate crimes.  They both have had their careers in the UK so their writing basically concerns the corporations in that nation.  But, as the UK preceded the US in much of the history of corporate development their insights apply to our situation as well vis-a-vis corporate law, power and harms.

Their subtitle, overstates the case to a certain degree.  It's not that corporations should be abolished but that they should be drastically restructured from their current form, built by capitalists with the State support at every step, such that their the continual production of harms are in their very DNA – not the least of which is the vast growth of income inequality. Read More here
[Rich Florentino, UUJEC Board Member]

Combined Review of "Dark Age America" by John Michael Greer, and "Ages of Discord" by Peter Turchin

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“Ultrasociety" by Peter Turchin

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This popular and seminal work in scientific history is less about war than about “multilevel cultural evolution”. That is, Turchin develops a theory of history using the methodology of an evolutionary biologist, but one focused more on group selection than individual survival-of-the-fittest. For humans, the groups range broadly, from small clans of hunter-gatherers all the way up to empires. And, when you think about it, it should not be surprising that war has played a fundamental role in the spread or decline of different groups. But so has its opposite – cooperation.

Turchin asks, What is it about the cultures of certain groups that enables them to thrive when others fail? This is no easy task because the archeological record poses some puzzles. In resolving those puzzles, Turchin takes on key figures of the academic establishment, such as Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker. His key analytical tool is called the “Price Equation”, actually the “Price Inequality”.  It specifies when group selection is effective or not, in terms, not just of whether one group has an advantage over another, but also of the homogeneity of the groups.  Read the full review here. [Dick Burkhart, UUJEC GA Committee Chair]

"Considering Hate" by Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski

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This was published by our Beacon Press.  To understand injustice, a good place to start is by studying hate.  This was an amazing and thoughtful look into our origins of hate.  Hate often begins with comparing humans to vermin and/or human fluids, pus, etc.  To create justice, we need to understand how to remove these vile labels from humans. [Terry Lowman, UUJEC Co-Chair]

"The Spirit Level—Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger" by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

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The Spirit Level demonstrates that, quite aside from absolute levels of poverty, relative inequality has pernicious effects on societies: eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, and encouraging excessive consumption. The common factor that links the healthiest and happiest societies – whether each society as a whole is rich or poor -- is the degree of equality among its members. Further, more unequal societies are bad for all their members – the rich and middle-class as well as the poor. This book examines the effect of greater inequality within a society on 11 different health and social problems:  physical health, mental health, drug abuse, educational achievement, trust in community life, obesity, social mobility, imprisonment, violence, child welfare, teen-age pregnancies. Outcomes are clearly worse in more unequal societies. [Bob Beekman, UUJEC member and Economic Inequality editor for NWuuJN]

"Under the Influence" by Tim Wise

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Tim Wise gets deep into the structural base of racial wealth disparities starting with the 1676 Bacon rebellion which led rulers to exploit race as a way to control the poor, black and white. Africans were monitored by slave patrols of poor whites, giving poor whites a leg up on blacks and keeping them busy so they don’t notice who is exploiting them. This is a legacy that continues with modern policing

Segregated neighborhoods barely supporting substandard education leads to fewer higher education choices. Even with an education and a clean criminal record, less educated, ex-felon whites still get better jobs. If African Americans do get a good job, they are exploited by racist traditions from housing segregation to credit, which is substantially more expensive. At every turn—private and public policies have given African Americans a raw deal. Wise weaves a comprehensive, fascinating and compelling story. [Terry Lowman, UUJEC Co-Chair]

“Modern Money Theory”, by L. Randall Wray

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“Modern Money Theory: A Primer on Macroeconomics for Sovereign Monetary Systems”, Second Edition, by L. Randall Wray, 2015


     This is a good book for students and others who want to understand how money is actually created and managed in today’s world. The many elementary examples and answers to frequently asked questions lift the veil of obfuscation spread by mainstream economic and political discourse, especially concerning the roles of taxes, the Fed, and full employment. However, the result is a bit repetitious, and the economic jargon, though explained, takes some getting used to. The powerful conclusion is that we have far better and more equitable ways to manage economies, such as the US economy, ways that have been blocked by ideologically generated misconceptions about money. 

    Read the full review here.  Reviewed by Dr. Dick Burkhart UUJEC Board Member

“Democracy At Work: A Cure for Capitalism” by Richard Wolff

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If you believe that economic justice is an impossibility under capitalism, read Richard Wolff, Democracy At Work: A Cure for Capitalism for a path toward positive systemic change. He analyzes the popularly misconstrued labeling of countries, such as Russia, China and Cuba, as “communist” or “socialist” when, in truth, they are state capitalism. That is, the power to decide where surplus profits from labor go is located in the state instead of in corporations, and not in the workers responsible for the production and surplus. This is a crucial and fog-lifting insight. It also serves as warning that government “New Deals” like raising the minimum wage and providing social security payments, while certainly helpful, are not the same as where decision-making is located. Thus, his “cure for capitalism” is to put the power for decision-making into the hands of the workers.

Of course, this is a major upheaval from what is done now, but there are examples of it working in individual workplaces, like cooperatives, as well as the large and long-term experiment of Mondragon. It gives those of us longing for a fair path forward a blueprint to strive for and companions with whom to collaborate. [Rev. Dr. Lucy Hitchcock, Membership Committee Chair]


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