Much has been said and written about the corrupting effect of money on politics. Here, Bill shares the books he considers “must reads” in any effort to learn what’s really going on under the hood of our imperfect democracy… and what we can do about it. The book choices are Bill’s. The descriptions are excerpted from those distributed by the books’ publishers. Feel free to add your own recommendations by leaving a comment below.
The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences (January 1, 2009)
John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff
In this book, John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff offer a bold analysis of the 2008 financial meltdown, how it developed, and the implications for the future. They examine the specifics of the housing bubble and the credit crunch as well as situate current events within a broader crisis of monopoly-finance capitalism — one that has been gestating for several decades. It is the “real” productive economy’s tendency toward stagnation, they argue, that creates a need for capital to find ways to profitably invest its surplus. But rather than invest in socially useful projects that would benefit the vast majority, capital has constructed a financialized “casino” economy that neglects social needs and, as has become increasingly clear, is fatally unstable. Written over a two-year period immediately prior to the onset of the crisis, this timely and illuminating book is necessary reading for all those who wish to understand the current situation, how we got here, and where we are heading.
Corporations Are Not People (January 9, 2012)
Jeffrey D. Clements
Read Bill Moyers’ Foreword on AlterNet
This is the first practical guide for every citizen on the problem of corporate personhood and the tools we have to overturn it. Jeff Clements explains why the Citizen’s United case is the final win in a campaign for corporate domination of the state that began in the 1970s under Richard Nixon. More than this, Clements shows how unfettered corporate rights will impact public health, energy policy, the environment, and the justice system. Corporations Are Not People answers the reader’s question: “What does Citizens United mean to me?” And, even more important, it provides a solution: a Constitutional amendment, included in the book, which would reverse Citizens United. The book’s ultimate goal is to give every citizen the tools and talking points to overturn corporate personhood state by state, community by community with petitions, house party kits, draft letters, shareholder resolutions, and much more.
Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (March 15, 2011)
Jacob S. Hacker & Paul Pierson
Watch Bill Moyers’ January 2012 interview with Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson for Moyers & Company
We all know that the very rich have gotten a lot richer these past few decades while most Americans haven’t. Why do the “have-it-alls” have so much more? In their lively and provocative Winner-Take-All Politics, political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson indict an unlikely suspect — American politics — and take us on an entertaining tour of the mountain of evidence against the culprit. Part revelatory history, part political analysis, part intellectual journey, Winner-Take-All Politics shows how a political system that traditionally has been responsive to the interests of the middle class has been hijacked by the super-rich. In doing so, it not only changes how we think about American politics, but also points the way to rebuilding a democracy that serves the interests of the many rather than just those of the wealthy few.
The Occupy Wall Street movement identified the core issue of our time: the overwhelming power of Wall Street and large corporations— something the political establishment and most media have long ignored. But the movement goes far beyond this critique. This Changes Everything shows how the movement is shifting the way people view themselves and the world, the kind of society they believe is possible, and their own involvement in creating a society that works for the 99% rather than just the 1%. Attempts to pigeonhole this decentralized, fast-evolving movement have led to confusion and misperception. In this volume, the editors of YES! Magazine bring together voices from inside and outside the protests to convey the issues, possibilities, and personalities associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
One of our most prescient political observers, Edsall provides a sobering account of how pitched battles over scarce resources will increasingly define American politics in the coming years — —and how we might avoid, or at least mitigate, the damage from these ideological and economic battles. In a matter of just three years, a bitter struggle over limited resources has enveloped political discourse at every level in the United States. Fights between haves and have-nots over health care, unemployment benefits, funding for mortgage write-downs, economic stimulus legislation — and, at the local level, over cuts in police protection, garbage collection, and in the number of teachers — have dominated the debate. Resource competition between Democrats and Republicans has left each side determined to protect what it has at the expense of the other. The major issues of the next few years — long-term deficit reduction, entitlement reform, cuts in defense spending, and financing a continuation of American international involvement — suggest that your-gain-is-my-loss politics will inevitably intensify.
The financial and economic crisis that began in 2008 is the most alarming of our lifetime because of the warp-speed at which it is occurring. How could it have happened, and what can be done to reverse a slide into a full-blown depression? Richard Posner presents a concise and non-technical examination of this mother of all financial disasters and of the, as yet, stumbling efforts to cope with it. No previous acquaintance on the part of the reader with macroeconomics or the theory of finance is presupposed. This is a book for intelligent generalists that will interest specialists as well. Among the facts and causes Posner identifies are: excess savings flowing in from Asia and the reckless lowering of interest rates by the Federal Reserve Board; the relation between executive compensation, short-term profit goals, and risky lending; the housing bubble fueled by low interest rates, aggressive mortgage marketing, and loose regulations; the low savings rate of American people; and the highly leveraged balance sheets of large financial institutions.
As Jeff Madrick makes clear in Age of Greed, the single-minded pursuit of huge personal wealth has been on the rise in the United States since the 1970s, led by a few individuals who have argued that self-interest guides society more effectively than community concerns. These stewards of American capitalism have insisted on the central and essential place of accumulated wealth through the booms, busts, and recessions of the last half century, giving rise to our current woes. In telling the stories of these politicians, economists, and financiers who declared a moral battle for freedom but instead gave rise to an age of greed, Madrick traces the lineage of some of our nation’s most pressing economic problems. He begins with Walter Wriston, head of what would become Citicorp, who led the battle against government regulation. He examines the ideas of economist Milton Friedman, who created the plan for an anti-Rooseveltian America; the politically expedient decisions of Richard Nixon that fueled inflation; the philosophy of Alan Greenspan, on whose libertarian ideology a house of cards was built on Wall Street; and the actions of Sandy Weill, who constructed the largest financial institution in the world, which would have gone bankrupt in 2008 without a federal bailout of $45 billion.
In this groundbreaking alternative history of the most dominant ideology of our time, Milton Friedman’s free-market economic revolution, Naomi Klein challenges the popular myth of this movement’s peaceful global victory. From Chile in 1973 to Iraq today, Klein shows how Friedman and his followers have repeatedly harnessed terrible shocks and violence to implement their radical policies. As John Gray wrote in The Guardian, “There are very few books that really help us understand the present. The Shock Doctrine is one of those books.”
Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (February 1, 2010)
Sheldon S. Wolin
Democracy is struggling in America — by now this statement is almost cliché. But what if the country is no longer a democracy at all? In Democracy Incorporated, Sheldon Wolin considers the unthinkable: has America unwittingly morphed into a new and strange kind of political hybrid, one where economic and state powers are conjoined and virtually unbridled? Can the nation check its descent into what the author terms “inverted totalitarianism”? Wolin portrays a country where citizens are politically uninterested and submissive–and where elites are eager to keep them that way. At best the nation has become a “managed democracy” where the public is shepherded, not sovereign. At worst it is a place where corporate power no longer answers to state controls. Wolin warns that unchecked economic power risks verging on total power and has its own unnerving pathologies, and argues passionately that democracy’s best hope lies in citizens themselves learning anew to exercise power at the local level.
Throw Them All Out: How Politicians and their Friends Get Rich off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send the Rest of Us to Prison.
Written by a research fellow at the Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution, Peter Schweizer’s Throw Them All Out covers the full story of the inside game in Washington — how the permanent political class enriches itself at the expense of the rest of us. Schweizer researched mountains of financial records, votes on bills, complicated deals and stock trades back to the timing of briefings, and every other point of leverage for politicians in Washington. The result is his manifesto for revolution: the Permanent Political Class must go.