A theory of a divided nation
America is divided over two different visions of state and society.
James Joyce: A New Biography By Gordon Bowker (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 608 pp., $35) THERE ARE CERTAIN artistic geniuses who demand that we should know their lives in detail, since for them the story of their lives is a living component of thewider story of their art. In this new biography of James Joyce—the first major one since Richard Ellmann’s monumental Life, now fifty years old—we encounter again an oft-told tale.
Source House Speaker John Boehner, on Monday evening, in his response to President Obama: You know, I’ve always believed, the bigger government, the smaller the people. And right now, we have a government so big and so expensive it’s sapping the drive of our people and keeping our economy from running at full capacity. Actually, that's not true.
Ross Douthat worries about how Medicare will strain social solidarity in a country growing rapidly more diverse: Historically, the most successful welfare states (think Scandinavia) have depended on ethnic solidarity to sustain their tax-and-transfer programs. But the working-age America of the future will be far more diverse than the retired cohort it’s laboring to support.
With the election just a week away, Scandinavia may seem a world away, or at least an ocean away. (Which, uh, it is.) But lately blog discussion has turned to Finland and some of its more successful social welfare programs. Among them is the health care system, which, like most European systems, delivers good results at a far lower price than the U.S. system does. So why are can't we do that here?
Tyler Cowan makes an interesting point -- countries have had success in cutting spending when the public trusts the government: The received wisdom in the United States is that deep spending cuts are politically impossible. But a number of economically advanced countries, including Sweden, Finland, Canada and, most recently, Ireland, have cut their government budgets when needed. Most relevant, perhaps, is Canada, which cut federal government spending by about 20 percent from 1992 to 1997.
Earlier this month, the European Commission reported that the EU was on track to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. (Some countries, like Germany and Austria, are flying past their targets; others, like Italy, have lagged behind.) But how much further could Europe go?
Famine: A Short History By Cormac Ó Gráda (Princeton University Press, 327 pp., $27.95) The earliest recorded famines, according to Cormac Ó Gráda in his brief but masterful book, are mentioned on Egyptian stelae from the third millennium B.C.E. In that time--and to an extent, even today, above the Aswan dam in Sudan--farmers along the Nile were dependent on the river flooding to irrigate their fields. But one flood out of five, Ó Gráda tells us, was either too high or too low. The result was often starvation.
It's true, this blog hawks a lot of different apocalyptic scenarios. They help us get out of bed in the morning. Some of our doomsday worries are well-founded (rising global temperatures, say), while some are less worth obsessing about hourly (giant asteroids, supervolcanoes). But how should we rank this cataclysm-in-waiting? It is midnight on 22 September 2012 and the skies above Manhattan are filled with a flickering curtain of colourful light. Few New Yorkers have seen the aurora this far south but their fascination is short-lived.
The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Devra Davis (Basic Books, 505 pp., $27.95) I. In 1775, Percivall Pott, a surgeon at St. Bartholemew's Hospital in London who gave his name to several diseases and conditions, published Chirurgical Observations. Although he had treated such distinguished personages as Samuel Johnson and Thomas Gainsborough, his treatise focused on the lowliest of the low. In so doing, he became the first to hypothesize what is now a widespread notion: that cancer can be caused by environmental exposure.