An impressively rendered, nightmare-inducing account.

AMEXICA

WAR ALONG THE BORDERLINE

A gutsy international journalist narrates life and death along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Former Guardian reporter Vulliamy (Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War, 1994) divides his time between Arizona and London. While writing about America for British readers, the author became fascinated with the mingling of national cultures along the 2,100 mile–long and 50 mile–wide swath he terms “Amexica.” He insists that it is not merely a clever word creation but a historically valid term whose meaning reaches back to Aztec cultures. Because of illegal narcotics moving from Mexico into the United States and more-or-less legal guns for the narcotraficantes moving the other direction, Amexica is a constant battlefield marked by thousands of murders, rapes and business-related shakedowns. However, as Vulliamy documents through hundreds of individuals featured in the book, the battlefield is also teeming with everyday life. The mixture means a minority of residents in Amexica suffer fear and joy simultaneously, with the joy deriving from high income. The majority of residents, however, subsist amid grinding poverty. Those who can find regular employment tend to labor in sweatshops along the border run by exploitative multinational corporations that have transferred many of the jobs from the continental United States, devastating cities north of the border. The author writes lyrically, with the enticing rhythm of his sentences contrasting jarringly with the degradation of humanity found on nearly every page, and Vulliamy generously credits authors who have documented the border in previous books in both English and Spanish. Some sections of the book may be familiar—especially the hundreds of murders of poverty-stricken single women around Ciudad Juárez, their bodies left to rot in the desert while law-enforcement agencies express bafflement—but most of the narrative feels fresh because it is based so heavily on Vulliamy’s own wanderings.

An impressively rendered, nightmare-inducing account.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-374-10441-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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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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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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