Books

The Theory of Power

O ver the past three decades, laissez-faire economics has had an im-mense impact on our society, mostly for the worse. The elements have included privatization of public services, an assault on social benefits, and most important, deregulation of finance. Though free-market ideas are hotly debated in classrooms, op-ed pages, and journals, their influence on events has come not in a Platonic fashion, through the power of argument, but through power itself. Free-market theory has conveniently provided ideological coherence. Elites find laissez-faire an immensely useful fable, because it serves as an expert brief against government interference. In the academy, dissenting economics has had trouble gaining a foothold. The reigning paradigm is simple and elegant: Free markets maximize individual choices and collective well-being, end of story. By contrast, dissenting economics is messy, historical, less like physics, more like sociology or journalism. Because the paradigm assumes...

Cleaning Up the Capital

As a fan of Lawrence Lessig’s pioneering work on copyright and digital culture, I was saddened when, a few years back, he shifted his focus to congressional corruption and campaign finance. Efforts to take the money out of politics—as opposed to playing the underdog’s hand as well as possible—had long struck me as a sucker’s game. Either way, you have to beat the moneyed interests. My skepticism deepened at a dinner where Lessig presented his ideas and, in response to hostile questions, seemed unfamiliar with an extensive academic literature casting doubt on the commonsense theory that campaign contributions buy policy results. Smart people, it turns out, learn a lot from hostile audiences. Not only does the dinner in question earn a mention in Republic, Lost , the latest fruit of Lessig’s work on money in politics; Lessig has also developed a reply that packs a lot of theoretical punch and should be must-reading for anyone who’s tuned out the campaign-finance debate. Lessig moves...

Imagining Malcolm X

Manning Marable's biography of Malcolm X is a significant and poignant cultural event because of its subject, its purpose, and the recent tragic death of its author, the founder of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University. Marable worked on this biography for more than two decades, struggling in recent years with a severe illness that in 2010 required a double lung transplant. Only days before the book's publication, Professor Marable passed away. His commitment to scholarship even in the face of sickness and death is inspiring. Although Marable has bequeathed to us a deeply valuable work, it is also deeply flawed. Marable sought to create a realistic portrait of Malcolm X, but his depiction remains mired in the sentimental, reverential perspective that he attempted to transcend. He presents reams of evidence that should demote Malcolm X from the exalted standing he enjoys among many progressives of various stripes. Yet Marable was simply unwilling...

A Way to Win the Climate Fight?

There's a tense scene in Eric Pooley's The Climate War when Jim Rogers, CEO of coal utility Duke Energy and leader of a shaky coalition of power companies, faces a moment of truth. Ten Fortune 500 companies and four major environmental groups are at the table. They've got a statement of legislative principles they can agree on and are ready to throw their collective weight behind a long-overdue comprehensive climate-change bill in the United States. They just need his sign-off. For Rogers, under intense pressure from his industry's biggest polluters, it amounts to a career-risking leap into the dark. "OK," he says. "If you write it right, I'm in." It's a moment of genuine drama, one of many in a book that might seem unlikely to have any dramatic tension given that its subject is a decades-long stretch of conferences, meetings, and PowerPoint presentations. From this florescent-lit raw material, Pooley weaves the kind of propulsive potboiler political junkies love to read. It does for...

A Liberal's Guide to Middle Earth

HBO's new show Game of Thrones goes beyond the black and white of good versus evil and delves into the gray.

Mark Addy portrays King Robert Baratheon in a scene from the HBO series "Game of Thrones" premiering Sunday, April 17. (AP Photo/HBO, Helen Sloan)
Caution: Spoilers In 2009, National Review ranked Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy No. 11 on a list of the best "conservative movies" of the past 25 years. The magazine's reasoning was simple -- after September 11, the adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy novels were the perfect Manichean fable for conservatives as they cheered on and spurred America's march to war against an amorphous Muslim enemy in Iraq. "The debates over what to do about Sauron and Saruman echoed our own disputes over the Iraq War," wrote Andrew Leigh, referring to the franchise's two epic villains -- a common reading for conservatives at the time. This spring, a more morally complex fantasy epic will hit the screen. Just as Jackson's battles between the kingdoms of man and the dark armies of orcs and ringwraiths once spoke to Americans who believed that they were engaged in an epic battle between good and evil, Game of Thrones, HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's fantasy novels, speaks to...

Books Behind Bars

What are wardens thinking when they censor magazines and books?

The library in the Thomson Correctional Center in Thomson, Illinois (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Last year, Jeff Fogel, an attorney who was working on a prison First Amendment case, e-mailed to tell me I was too hot for the Virginia Department of Corrections. An article I had written on states experimenting with creative ways to reduce their prison population had failed to make it past the department's Publications Review Board. At first, I thought I was pretty badass -- it's not often that political journalists in the United States can say that their work is so subversive as to be censored. Then I discovered it wasn't my words that prompted the censorship -- it was a photo accompanying the story that showed a group of inmates at a prison in Chino, California. Virginia's prison censors recognized a tattoo on one of the men as a gang symbol and therefore deemed the issue unsuitable for distribution. Legal precedents give prison administrators wide berth to ban publications in the interests of security. Of Virginia's banned titles, few seem dangerous. Understandably, the...

Books on Film: Remembering Andrew Sarris

Growing up in Movieland

A detail from a film strip. (Flickr/miemo)
Andrew Sarris, the influential film critic and champion of the director's voice in filmmaking, died on June 20 at age 83. In this essay from our June 2010 issue, Harold Meyerson explains the critic's role in teaching him to love movies. I grew up in Movieland—Los Angeles' Westside in the 1950s and 1960s. I went to school with the kids of people in the industry, which was so hopelessly uncool, we didn't even talk about it. (The guy with whom I co-edited my high school literary magazine never mentioned that his father had created a well-known sitcom— I Love Lucy . I found out when he wrote about it 30 years later.) A sclerotic studio system was churning out The Sound of Music while we were deciphering Dylan and watching Vietnam burn every night on the tube. When I showed up in New York to go to college, the last thing I expected to study, or love, was the movies. But New York, circa 1968, had other ideas. There was, of course, no shortage of politics to entice me, but by the late '60s,...

TAP Talks to Paul Krugman

Ezra Klein : The Conscience of a Liberal . Tell me why you chose the name Paul Krugman : On my wife's advice. It's a manifesto. There's a lot of history and there's a lot of analysis, but it is fundamentally a manifesto. We also wanted to convey the sense that we are at a turning point. Conscience of a Conservative was, much as I disapproved of where it went, a signal that there was a big turn in where America was going, and, I think -- I hope, and I believe -- that we're at another turn. EK : And you know that Wellstone used the same title. Did you think about that at all? PK : No, it actually slipped through the holes of my head. I might not have done if I had realized that. EK : I thought it was interesting because of the parallels and contrasts between you and Wellstone. You are, as you've said, sort of a radicalized moderate at this point, a mainstream liberal who's been living in a radicalizing time. And it struck me that five, ten years ago, that there was a real difference...

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