The dollars and sense of America’s challenges
Four books look for diagnoses and solutions
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The Whiteness of Wealth by Dorothy A. Brown: Brown argues the U.S. tax system favors wealthier taxpayers (who are disproportionately white) over less wealthy taxpayers (who are disproportionately black). Brown’s analysis leaves out the Asian groups that make more money than whites—perhaps because a book titled The Indianness of Wealth wouldn’t pack the same ideological punch. Still, Brown makes a compelling case that several parts of the tax system are unfair, such as the mortgage interest deduction and the tax penalty on hardship withdrawals from retirement accounts. Brown doesn’t address the idea of a national sales tax, but moving to a system that taxes consumption (with rebates for poor Americans) instead of income would fix much of the tax code’s unfairness.
Broke in America by Joanne Samuel Goldblum and Colleen Shaddox: The strength of this book is the authors’ street-level reporting on the daunting challenges many Americans in poverty face—even on matters as basic as safe drinking water. The weakness comes from the authors’ political blinders: They never consider the idea that the rise of out-of-wedlock childbirth (caused at least in part by welfare dependency) may play a role in poverty, or that the mass immigration of low-skilled workers may be driving down wages for poor Americans. The authors assume the state writing checks to poor Americans will cure poverty and offer little hope of a pathway out of such dependency.
The Tyranny of Big Tech by Josh Hawley: Sen. Hawley, R-Mo., sees today’s big tech behemoths (Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter) as following in the footsteps of the big trusts of the early 20th century. Like the trusts, Hawley writes, big tech is undermining Americans’ historic freedoms—defined as not only being left alone but being independent and having a say in the affairs of government free from elite power and control. Hawley’s description of big tech’s power and its lack of concern for Americans’ privacy is chilling, and some of his ideas for reform cry out for passage: He not only wants to break up the tech monopolies but change the way they do business. He also describes how families can protect themselves from big tech.
Last Best Hope by George Packer: This book has plenty about it not to like: Republican corruption concerns Packer, but Democratic corruption—Hunter Biden; IRS attacks on the tea party, and so forth—largely gets a pass. He also assumes, rather than proves, racism among Trump supporters. But the book is worth reading because of Packer’s insights into the country’s division into four camps: what he calls “Free America” (the conservative-libertarian right); “Real America” (small-town Trump voters); “Smart America” (the professional elites); and “Just America” (the BLM left). Readers don’t have to agree with every Packer critique of their particular camp to see that many are painfully on target. His prescriptions for the economy come largely from the liberal playbook, although, interestingly, he sounds a lot like Hawley on monopolies. Is a broad-based movement growing to take on big tech?
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