New and noteworthy – 23 March 2017

Why you need a ‘No’ hat, rethinking the economic wisdom of ‘necessary luxuries’, restoring financial power to the people, and lessons learned from teaching prisoners to read

March 23, 2017
Doubt at the crossroads
Source: iStock

Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze
Svend Brinkmann

Polity

It’s perhaps no surprise that it’s a Danish philosopher behind this wry best-seller, whose curmudgeon-affirming advice is to abjure navel-gazing and not let it all hang out. His list of permissions is gloriously brisk: sack your life coach, “put on your No hat”, embrace doubt and scepticism rather than happy-clappy biddability at work and in life, read a novel, muse on mortality and the past, and remember that it’s the worst who are full of passionate certainty. This isn’t simply a general-reader-friendly way to serve up Stoic philosophy, although it’s that, too. Take that, liquid modernity! Change management, up yours!


Too Much Stuff: Capitalism in Crisis
Kozo Yamamura

Policy

Wandering through six shiny floors of Berlin’s KaDeWe in 1999, Yamamura wondered whether slowed growth and rising spending on “necessary luxuries” could be connected. Here, he surveys the designer apocalypse: “ultra-easy monetary policy” and negative interest rates; rising inequality and Thomas Piketty’s rentier theory; US stagnation and legislative gridlock; Japan’s “lost years” and Abenomics; and unified Germany’s divided nation. But there’s still time (if only just) for a “third systemic change”: increased tax revenues and reform of economic institutions, and a growth policy focused on qualitative change. A post-Brexit/Trump afterword adds bleakly that it is “surreal that…we are still debating pro-investment fiscal and monetary policies in the developed economies”.


The Production of Money: How to Break the Power of Bankers
Ann Pettifor

Verso

An eminent political economist and the power behind the Jubilee 2000 debt-cancellation initiative, Pettifor makes the most of a slim, lucidly written and persuasive volume about “the mess we’re in”, the “despotic power” of finance capital and the poisonous role of class interests in the moulding of schools of economic thought. Her call is for “we the people [to] equip ourselves with a full and proper understanding of mobile capital, money creation, bank money and interest rates – and then begin to demand the reform and restoration of a just monetary system, one that makes finance servant to the economy and removes it from its current role as master”. Highly recommended.


Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli’s Lifelong Quest for Freedom
Erica Benner

Allen Lane

Vividly drawn trade-press biography at its best. Political philosopher Benner’s preface proclaims her quest to uncover the “much misunderstood” Niccolò Machiavelli and “place him squarely in his world” of the Medicis’ Florence, as she sets up the inevitable “brilliant goodie or cynical baddie? I was determined to learn the truth!” Unsurprisingly, we find a reflexive egalitarian, talented boy-poet, “brilliant dramatist”, “profound ethical thinker”, shrewd judge of character from popes to servant-girls, master of aphorism and wellspring of timeless wisdom.


College in Prison: Reading in an Age of Mass Incarceration
Daniel Karpowitz

Rutgers University Press

In an “extended reflection on what has been my calling for much of the past two decades”, a law scholar shows pedagogical passion in his account of teaching (and learning from) imprisoned men and women, via discussions of Nietzsche, Crime and Punishment, James Baldwin and the US Constitution’s silence on slavery. Especially revealing is the humility and compassion of his response to a prisoner who says: “You’re all clearly very satisfied with yourselves for being here. But we are poor. We are women of color. What is the point of these fancy subjects for us? What can rich, white Bard College do to prepare us for the lives we have to live when we get out of here?”

karen.shook@tesglobal.com

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