Jan 6, 2011

A peoples History of the United States by Howard Zinn: Book Review

Best Quote from the book -
Susan B Anthony: “Give us suffrage and we’ll give you socialism.”
Eugene V Debs: “Give us socialism and we’ll give you suffrage.”

This book with its thoroughly substantiated arguments for expensive social safety nets might proselytize me into socialism.

Ironically, I am at an institution which preaches the creed and postulates of The Efficient market hypothesis and and exhorts us to avoid "Dead weight loss" at all costs.

Now thats what results in cognitive dissonance. I am torn!

This isnt a chart/ bar/ graph heavy book. Infact it contains neither of those demonstrative tools. Seems to me, Zinn holds in his argumentative arsenal, nothing more than the ammunition of arguments . Zinn criticizes the status accorded to private property rights in capitalist economies ;How privileges of ownership are considered sacrosanct and enforced by the state always to the detriment of the proletariat and at the expense of their fundamental needs.


Citing some basic figures and statistics ,which I havent cross checked, Zinn points to the concentration of wealth among the elites (1) and destitution of the unwashed (2) since time immemorial. There is an explicit suggestion throughout his treatise that there exists a cause and effect relationship between the two conditions.

No wonder Chomsky was a close friend of Zinn's.Theirs was an incredible duo.

I read Manufacturing consent several months ago and its a thrill to witness the arguments in their books converging, to make the case for an Industrial state and media restructuring.

Its almost as if they were ghost authors for each others books.

I would argue with school boards ,if afforded the chance, to make this divergent historical tract recommended reading in High Schools across America.

1 comment:

Siddharth Kaushal said...

(I thought i should rather post my comment here than on FB)


(to my knowledge) the institution of 'private property' , in the historical context within which it arose in most societies, was a progressive democratic change from a tribal-feudal system wherein all the estate was bequeathed upon successive generations of sovereigns automatically. It triggered the first wave of large-scale entrepreneurship as it created legal entitlements for the proprietor to the returns from the property.


In fact the heterodox Peruvian economist Hernando DeSoto has a put forward a very widely respected thesis that expostulates the 'lack of property rights' in the under-developed countries as the main cause of the 'deprivation' of the masses and also the principal cause of failure of the measures to uplift them on a sustainable basis. So in effect, he is calling for a 'strengthening and democratization' of the institution of private property. His approach has some intellectual convergence with the 'entitlement' approach to development that has been propounded by Amartya Sen.

Though, I must admit, Economics is one of the disciplines in which I have as yet to form a corpus of ideas to construct a stable personal standpoint.

I'll review the book.

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