A heartbreaking yet authoritative, necessary look at a ruined nation.

THINGS ARE NEVER SO BAD THAT THEY CAN'T GET WORSE

INSIDE THE COLLAPSE OF VENEZUELA

Tracking the tragic demise of the once-thriving, oil-rich nation.

As the Caracas-based Andes bureau chief for the New York Times from 2012 to 2016, Neuman is well qualified to recount the South American nation’s precipitous decline. He records Venezuela’s dramatic political and economic changes through interviews and deft firsthand observations, exploring the collapse of social institutions, entrenched poverty, staggering inflation, chronic blackouts, famine, and pervasive despair. Neuman points to two specific elements that help explain the tumult: the “Resource Curse” caused by its massive oil wealth, to which the entire economy was chained; and the violent rift between those who supported Hugo Chávez, the publicity-hungry president who nationalized the oil industry and centralized the government, and those who did not. Chávez “mined [the rift] and encouraged it until it became part of the landscape, something that people took as a given.” When he died in 2013, after 14 years as president, he was succeeded by his crony Nicolás Maduro, “a less talented politician who styled himself as the ideological heir of the man he called the eternal comandante.” In 2014, the massive drop in oil prices collapsed the economy, as the country depended almost entirely on its oil exports, at the expense of all others. In 2018, the disputed reelection of Maduro, tainted by heavy-handed oppression of his opponents, led to the attempted coup by the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, who declared himself interim president in 2019. Despite support by the U.S. and others in a concerted effort to depose Maduro—accompanied by crippling sanctions by the Trump administration—there was no citizens uprising, as hoped, just more misery. The author delivers the best kind of journalism, combining powerful facts and pointed observation, as he moves from one alarming event to the next, bringing into the spotlight countless Venezuelans who have little hope for the future.

A heartbreaking yet authoritative, necessary look at a ruined nation.

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-26616-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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A deceptively slender but rich argument in favor of conserving liberal ideals—and liberal government.

LIBERALISM AND ITS DISCONTENTS

The renowned political scientist and philosopher considers classical liberalism and the broad range of enemies arrayed against it.

“By ‘liberalism,’ ” writes Fukuyama, “I refer to the doctrine…that argued for the limitation of the powers of governments through law and ultimately constitutions, creating institutions protecting the rights of individuals living under their jurisdiction.” Born of events such as the English civil war and the Enlightenment, this liberalism also encouraged diversity of thought, religion, and ethnicity, placing it squarely in the crosshairs of today’s authoritarian nationalists, not least Donald Trump. Fukuyama has often been identified with conservative causes, but his thinking here is democratic to the core, and he has no use for such pathetic lies as Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election was stolen. That said, the author notes that liberalism has many enemies on both the left and the right for numerous real yet correctable failings. The neoliberalism that has emerged over the past couple of generations has accelerated inequality, and numerous institutions have been eroded while others, such as the Electoral College, have been revealed to be anti-democratic. Both left and right, the author argues, have trouble accepting that governing over diversity, the hallmark of liberalism, means governing over many ethnic and national groups, strata of income, and competing interests. He adds, however, “Left-of-center voters…remain much more diverse” in political outlook. Essential to a liberal society, Fukuyama insists, is the right to vote: “Voting rights are fundamental rights that need to be defended by the power of the national government.” While he insists that individual rights take precedence over group rights, he also observes that the social contract demands citizen participation. To the conservative charge that the social contract is one thing but the “common moral horizon” another, he answers that yes, liberalism does not insist on a single morality—which “is indeed a feature and not a bug.”

A deceptively slender but rich argument in favor of conserving liberal ideals—and liberal government.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-374-60671-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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