WSBG reviews The Radical Center by Ted Halstead & Michael Lind AND The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford

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This was one of WSBG’s read-two-books-at-once months. We gave ourselves a lot of pages and ground to cover.

We all enjoyed reading Radical Center. (The book is basically about how the two traditional political parties in the U.S. haven’t kept up with all the change we have experienced in the last couple of decades, especially in technology, so they have become more or less irrelevant and are incapable of dealing with the major challenges we face. The authors then go on to lay out several radical proposals to put things right, e.g., a consumption tax, universal health care, big changes in social security, etc.) It gave us a lot of things to talk about, especially in the areas of health care (e.g, the damage that is done to people by having a health care system that is nearly completely tied to one’s employment), social security, government services, taxation, and so forth. I think, despite what some may call our left-leaning ways, we all felt a lot of it made a lot of sense. We felt less hopeful, however, that the U.S. will actually adopt these rational changes in the near term.

We didn’t look quite as kindly on The Undercover Economist. I wondered if my experience was tainted by having read Radical Center first, with its very logical and orderly outline and discussion of its subject matter. The Economist felt more like a stream of consciousness exercise, and we found it hard to follow, or even care that much… The cover blurb promised to demystify the ways money works in the world…and reveal “all the dirty little secrets of dollars and cents.” Okay it revealed quite a few and had a lot of interesting tidbits: E.g., did you know that computer companies often purposely slow down or disable functions in the the “lite” versions of their hardware and software in order to justify the high price of the “professional” version.

But it had no real center (radical or not!), and wound all around and up and down and in and out a little too much for our taste. Here’s a thought: Tim Harford is a columnist for the Financial Times. Maybe this is a collection of his columns, and that’s why it seems so all over the place.

Maybe that’s what the New York Times meant when it called this “a book to savor.” Intake of breath! WSBG doesn’t have time to savor its books! What kind of book group do you think we are?!? We don’t dawdle…we plough through those pages! We may be small, but this is a take-no-prisoners, rather unforgiving book group!!

Personally, I think I should try reading it again in a few months. But I doubt we’ll find any other WSBG members doing so. I think they liked it even less than I did.

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