Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer Reading Two

Hurray Nikki Giovanni, even when her poetry is angry or trying to provide comfort and meaning after the Virginia Tech shooting, she is still life affirming.

Perhaps the biggest stretch in my summer reading in some ways comes from Patel and Zakaria. Interestingly enough both are immigrants to the US and both have roots in India, Patel was born in England to first generation Indian immigrants and Zakaria was born in India and came to the US for his university education. Both love what the US has to offer but I wonder what a dinner party with the two men would be like? What each of them love about what the US has to offer are so very different. Zakaria looks to the vibrancy of American entrepreneurship, education, and the opportunity to both succeed and fail as the great strengths that will continue to serve the US well into the 21st century. He writes about the rise of other countries and how this will not so much diminish the US as bring the rest up to a degree of greater parity. He compares the emerging role for the US as that of chairman of the board, no longer able to dictate, but still in charge of the agenda and running the meeting. These he feels are all good things. He isn’t all rose colored glasses though, quite rightly he points to the fear mongering going on by the likes of Lou Dobbs and Glen Beck and members of both political parties though he sees it more on the right than the left and he points to the paralyzing partisanship that prevents Washington from choosing the delayed greater good for the immediate points scored at someone else’s expense. His focus is on Washington though, when he does discuss government.

Patel doesn’t denigrate the market place though he has no faith in corporate America. For him, the corporations’ fiduciary responsibility to turn a profit each quarter means that these legal fictional persons will always choose profit over the greater good. And that they will never value the externalities that they can avoid. What are the externalities, pollution comes to mind. Oil companies like working in places like Nigeria because the regulations are less. Its not he writes that Nigerian’s value clean air and water less than their American counterparts, but they have less power and money to pay for these things via their government’s regulations. All corporations have gotten too big and too powerful and have bought the governments so that corporate interests come before citizen interests. But Patel isn’t all doom and gloom, and interestingly, here is where he and Zakarria seem to come together. Patel argues for people taking back their right to govern, to come together as direct democracies, to discuss problems, and issues, and work together towards solutions. He has some great examples in Vermont and Brazil to name just two. While I was reading Patel, Illinois’ impending bankruptcy, the legislatures continuing inability to address the problem and the state comptroller’s inability to pay the state’s bill’s made me consider writing my cousins in Illinois and suggest that they begin a movement to take back control over the state finances. Have the comptroller send each community a dollar amount on what the state can afford to spend in their community and then let each community decide how to spend the money. Do they want pot hole free streets great, but is that more important than services for the elderly? Clearly, their elected officials are failing. Why not let the people decide. They certainly can’t do any worse.

This idea of participatory democracy rather than simply the privilege of voting every four years resonates with me. This is one of the ideas I hope to share with my students. And from Zakaria I will have them explore, the idea that solutions to the problems facing local communities, regions, and the international community will not all come from governments, even the US government, but from diffuse actors, NGOs, research universities, activist groups of citizens just like themselves.

So what remains to be read (barring those books I pick up at books stores along the way?) I have set aside Gl├╝ck. I have just started Mira Kamdar’s Planet India. I have read Kamdar, Zakaria, and Patel in reverse order of publication which is causing some cognitive dissonance on its own. Kamdar was writing at the height of the Bush presidency--American unilaterialism and heavy-handed pushing of the “Washington Consensus”--, Zakaria was writing in the early stages of the 2008 election and Patel in 2010. Kamdar clearly thinks India will replace America and that its model of excessive consumerism and unbridled greed is a failed one (I am only in the first chapter!). I have Jack Weatherford’s new book The Secret History of the Mongol Queens, Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future, The Concubine’s Daughter, Tanehaus’ Death of Conservatism, and King Leopold’s Ghost.

1 comment:

  1. Fareed Zakaria has been to 2 NAIS conferences as a speaker and I was his "handler" at one of them. He's incredibly intense; on speed dial to the White House and was chatting with a Clinton when I picked him up at his hotel. One gets the feeling that his mind never rests - he's plugged into a zillion liberal channels and how he synthesizes it all, is impressive. Yes-- his immigrant experience definitely imbues the entrepreneurial, Pro Liberal bent.