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Is power out of balance?

Reporter takes a  look  at our financial woes

By Alfred King

For The Free Lance-Star

AS  A JUSTLY famous  New York Times reporter, Hedrick Smith has “seen it all.”  You have to agree with him when he writes: “The danger for our democracy is that the balance of power has moved so far away from the middle class and into the hands of the financial and business elite that average Americans today feel they have little impact on policy, and they have largely given up on real democracy.”

This review is written at  a time when the “fiscal cliff” is as yet unresolved, yet frustration with the “financial and business elite” is at an all-time high;  Smith illuminates these and many other issues in this new book.  Readers will be rewarded by his insights.  Smith quotes Brookings  Institution’s Tom Mann: “There are still times when you get Democrats and Republicans talking to one another.  But in public settings, no.  They are teams and they are at war.  You don’t fraternize with the enemy.”

That the author has a basically liberal approach to issues, given his former employer, is almost a given.  But this is not a political diatribe; rather Smith really tries to explain where we are and how we got here.  The relationship between government, in the broad sense, and each segment of the economy is brought out through numerous real-life examples that readers can really relate to.  Whether it  is the tax code, immigration policy, health care or monetary policy, his reportorial gifts allow him to bring home the issues to readers with hard-hitting vignettes of real people and real organizations.

Smith views the post-World War II labor movement as a real strength of this country, and its recent decline is not only a bad thing in itself, but

a cause of increasing wealth disparity. He criticizes, with facts and figures, the real cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and believes that the massive expenditures on the war efforts are adversely affecting the economy.  Consequently, many other problems remain unsolved because resources have been diverted  to the war effort and defense buildup.

Every reader can relate to his analysis of Walmart’s massive outsourcing to China.  Yes, consumer prices are lower, but Smith estimates the U.S. has lost 3.5 million jobs because foreign production has been substituted for domestic jobs.

Walmart is just one example, among many, that makes this book an easy read, yet one that constantly stops and makes you think.  Put another way, this book will shake many conservatives, and even some liberals, out of their comfort zone.

Alfred M. King is a freelance reviewer in Spotsylvania County.


By Hedrick Smith

(Random House, $30,  592 pp.)


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