Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By: Michelle Alexander

Narrated by Karen Chilton


Multicultural societies are threatened by closed minds. Michelle Alexander pulls no punches in explaining how American minds are not exempt.  From both conscious and subconscious actions, people who are perceived as different are treated unequally.   

America like most (if not all) nations is a failed  egalitarian state.  From its early history, America has striven to mitigate inequality but with mixed results, and only marginal successes.

As memorialized in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment (which requires equality of all before the law) America attempts to treat all people equally.  America succeeds in principle and fails in practice. 

Though the American mind is willing, the will fails to support the mind.  Alexander notes how some laws passed by the American government purposely, and sometimes inadvertently, undermine the Constitutional guarantees of equality for all.

The veil of which Dubois is speaking is the real affect of American laws and customs on black Americans. It is the same veil one sees in history that is written by victors; not the defeated.

Examples of unequal treatment are noted by Alexander.  She exposes the insidious affects of the war on drugs and America’s “3 strikes law” that disproportionately affect the poor; particularly those raised in black communities.

Alexander reflects on America’s failure to address root causes of crime—like unemployment, inadequate medical care, poor education, and racial discrimination.  She suggests those failures are exemplified by “…New Jim Crow” laws.  Her point is that “…New Jim Crow” laws are re-hatched by the War on Drugs and “3 strikes law”.  Jim Crow laws segregated the Southern United States in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Her argument is that today’s Jim Crow laws are like Dubois explanation of the veil of American acts of conscience.  It is a veil in the guise of fighting crime. 

No one wants crime; whether poor or rich. The author does not argue that fewer violent crimes occur in poor communities.  She acknowledges more violent crimes occur in poor communities. But, poor communities, like all communities, abhor the reality of violent crime. 

Whether poor or not, all want protection from violence.  No one wants to see their family threatened.  Those truths make the policies of the War on Drugs and 3 strikes appealing to most Americans.  Alexander’s point is these well meaning policies do not address the root causes of crime. They attempt to treat symptoms rather than offer cures. In treating the symptoms, the underlying causes remain untouched and ever virulent.

Alexander suggests the war on drugs and “3 strikes law” are a return of Jim Crow laws that segregated the Southern United States. 

The War on Drugs and 3 strikes neglect the reality of living in poor neighborhoods.  Poor neighborhoods resort to drug use and sale because it is the only job available, or often the only way of escaping the reality of being trapped in a circle of despair.  

When a person is convicted of a violent crime, manufacture or sale of drugs, or minor drug charges, they are marked for life. 

Job applications ask if they have ever been convicted of a crime. If the answer is yes, most are left with poor prospects for employment or advancement.  No effort is made to rehabilitate but only to isolate. Once a criminal, always a criminal.

America chooses not to spend money to educate the young in poor school districts.  America chooses to ignore the circumstances of drug addiction or the need for medical treatment.  Crime is a zero-sum game with no treatment for the psychologically disturbed. Little investment is made in rehabilitation or re-introduction into society for the first-time offender.  

The drug laws and “3 strikes law” dis-proportionally fall on the poor and black as evidenced by America’s prison population.  Alexander argues the real effect of these laws is the same as the historic Jim Crow laws.  They segregate minorities from the dominate American culture.

Alexander’s book is difficult for some to read because it denies the universality of the American Dream.  What is forgotten is how much the luck of race and circumstance play in everyone’s life.  Equally forgotten is the good for those in power is not always good for those without power. 

Dubois and Alexander have something in common.  Minds must be kept open to the truth.  Empathy is needed by both those in power and those without power.  Trust must come from both sides of any power structure. 

Police who brutalize the poor are as guilty of crime as the poor who victimize the rich.  Each needs to put themselves in the other’s shoes to understand their own closed mindedness. 

With better understanding of ourselves and others, more will be done to constructively address public policy failures.  The alternative is increased cultural deterioration, discontent, and violence.  


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Price of Civilization

By Jeffrey Sachs

Narrated by Richard McGonagle

Jeffrey Sachs (Author, American economist, Columbia University Professor)

Jeffrey Sachs skewers modern Presidents and lionizes John Kennedy.  Written before 2016, one wonders what Sachs might have written about President Trump.

One can easily agree with many of Sachs’ observations of what is wrong with America but his solutions are academic; not pragmatic.  Sachs is too much of an idealist. Corporatism is an out sized economic benefactor for the United States but, as Sachs infers, it is also American democracy’s greatest threat.

Government checks and balances are America’s only defense against corporatism.

“The Price of Civilization” is an unsatisfying audio book.  Not because it is irrelevant but because it’s saccharine idealism and disconnection from the real world.

Though much of Sach’s criticism of Obama, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan is deserved, his professorial economics is cloying because it ignores political reality and the truth of human nature.

The father of American economics, Adam Smith, is the first to have recognized the critical role of politics in economics.

Politics is a social science of give-and-take in both democratic and autocratic societies. The difference is–politics in democracy is practiced among the many; while in autocracy, politics is practiced among the few.

Just as Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” includes politics in economics, Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan”, introduces human nature to government. Thomas Hobbes notes Human nature is both good and bad. As logic dictates, politics in economics is both good and bad.

Sachs is spot-on as an academic economist. But he ignores political reality.  Public policy has always been a matter of “whose ox is getting gored” whether democrats or despots are in control of government.

Sachs cleaves to Platonic and Aristotelian platitudes like “all things in moderation”. To suggest that a philosophical awakening of the millennial generation (those born between 1977 and 1992) will cure American lassitude and political apathy is naive.

Sachs optimistically believes the millennial generation will eschew the luxuries of American dreamers (owning hot cars, nice homes, and beautiful clothes) to become voters for change.  Obama represents those voter’ beliefs but fails politically for the same reason Sachs’ book is a mess.

Changing public policy is not going to occur with an American generation that magically begins believing less is more. Re-election of a new President, whether Democrat or Republican, will not fundamentally change America’s system of choosing corporate winners and losers.

One can agree with Sachs’ observation on 2010’s “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” decision. The Supreme Court erred in identifying corporations as individuals with the rights of unlimited corporate donation to electors.

Defeat of gun control legislation shows how entrenched lobbyist organizations can steer the course of public policy, regardless of a democratic majority’s support of policy change.

Sachs is right in his assessment of the wrong-headedness of what he calls “corporatocracy”; i.e. the institutionalization of an election process that is founded on money rather than public representation. 

Human nature gets in the way of doing the right thing.  Humankind naturally seeks freedom.  When freedom of choice is impinged upon, human beings are reluctant to change.   Of course, this is an over simplification but Sachs minimizes mankind’s innate desire for freedom. 

Human nature is not going to change; i.e. it will always contain good and evil intention. Bernard Madoff comes from the same culture as Warren Buffett.  Regulation of human activity impinges on free choice whenever one person thinks they know what is best for another.

Many Americans are disgusted with the political process in 21st century America.  Even the super rich and rich are not satisfied with the status quo.  The rising gap between rich and poor embarrasses the rich. Trump and the Republican party’s approved tax law illustrates contempt for the middle-class, and ignores the poor.

How can America justify a social security tax for a movie actor’s (or sports star’s) income of millions per year when a middle income family makes $40,000 to $132,900 per year and has to contribute the same amount as a multi-millionaire.

A person with a middle class income will pay 6.2 percent of their income for social security. There is a maximum cap of $8,239.80/year/person. One who makes millions of dollars per year will not have to pay more than that $8,239.80/year; i.e. the same maximum amount a middle income person pays. No wonder social security is going broke.

When one is elected to congress every two years, fund raising becomes the elector’s primary focus of attention.  When corporations speak, electors listen.  Lobbyists and corporate money are more important than the aggregate input of voters.  No wonder American voters are apathetic.

Sachs notes Oliver Wendell Holmes dictum about taxes.  Holmes wrote that he loved to pay taxes because taxes are the cost of civilization.  The weakness of that generalization is in the definition of civilization.  If civilization is that stage of human social and cultural development and organization that is considered most advanced, why does the richest country in the world:

  • 1)have citizens living on the street,
  • 2)have citizens imprisoned-to only isolate and punish, and
  • 3)have children dying because of poor medical care.

When an investor turns a portfolio over to a brokerage company, that investor has to “trust but verify” the actions of the brokerage company in regard to overall portfolio performance.  If the broker under performs the market, the investor knows it is time to change brokers. 

When a government under performs when public tax dollars are invested, voters cannot, without revolution, change governments.  Sachs accurately notes there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans in the United States.  Both parties talk the talk but fail to walk the walk. Elected officials are too beholding to lobbyists and corporate America.

Americans are reluctant to pay higher taxes because they see no discernible improvement in their lives.  Why invest in a government (pay more taxes) that fails to produce improved results?

Sachs ideas for correcting America’s ills—

  1. Reduce the deficit by cutting military spending and increasing taxes.
  2. Reduce wealth disparity by investing in and retraining an obsolescent work force.
  3. Invest in and improve education with emphasis on primary and secondary graduation.
  4. Create jobs through infrastructure investment.  He argues that dependence on carbon-based energy is to be reduced by conservation with increased investment in alternative energy sources and more scientific research and development. 
  5. He argues that medical insurance should be provided to all Americans with a plan crafted by the medical community.

All of these goals are exemplary but to get there requires a massive (and unlikely) re-invention of human nature.   One could argue that many of these policies were promoted by the Obama administration, but little changed.

It is counterintuitive for a free society to choose moderate consumption.  Add mistrust of the American government and the likelihood of turning more money over to a government that does not work seems stupid to any rationale human being.

Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “Industry, technology, and commerce can thrive only as long as an idealistic national community offers the necessary preconditions.  And these do not lie in material egoism, but in a spirit of sacrifice and joyful renunciation.” 

Hitlerian characters are a threat to America when corporatism is the basis of public policy.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Rights of Man

By Thomas Paine

Narrated by Arthur Morey

Thomas Paine (Author 1737-1809)

It seems time today to read Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man”.  Though his primary purpose is to refute Edmund Burke’s condemnation of the 1789 French revolution, his observations on British Aristocracy are the essence of today’s American “moneyocracy”.

Though President Trump is not the originator of American “moneyocracy”, he is its quintessential representative.

In spite of recent mass murders by demented Americans, Trump insists on giving voice to the NRA’s belief in an American right to buy automatic weapons designed only to kill people.

It takes money to run a campaign for public office. Trump, like most politicians, panders to lobbyist’ and business’ interests that distort the American electoral process.

Beginning with congress’s approval of tax reform, America’s ballooning deficit is a direct consequence of a mistaken belief that “a rising tide lifts all boats”. Contrary to the tired refrain “jobs, jobs, jobs” to make “America Great Again”, the current administration is setting the table for the world’s next economic crises.

The “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations are an amorphous scream of disgust by an educated population that resents American “moneyocracy’s” control of the economy, elected representatives, the election system, and the “Rights of Man”.  “Moneyocracy” is an inheritable line of an American aristocracy.

Instead of 18th century Aristocratic control of British government, 21st century America substitutes the wealth of individuals and corporations (classified as individuals) to control American Democracy. This is not a partisan issue in America.

Every President, Republican or Democratic, has sided with corporate interests in this era of corporate largess. The world is in a state of economic upheaval that is fueled by technology. That economic upheaval is not adequately addressed by corporate America. The government continues to subsidize yesterday’s economy at the expense of middle and lower income citizens.

Management executives that are employees of corporate America take salaries 50 times or more than salaries of their average employee. 

The new controller of our economy, the primary interest group of elected representatives, and the master of the American election system is corporate America.

Wealth is the new hereditary right of succession. Corporate America is the thief and ruler of inherent “Rights of Man”.

Once individual compensation reaches beyond rationality, money becomes fuel to maintain America’s “Moneyocracy”, the new hereditary right of succession.

The controller of our economy and political representation is corporate America.

The primary interest group of elected representatives, the master of the American election system, and ultimately, the thief and ruler of inherent “Rights of Man” are corporations and the super-rich. Of course, the rich have always been in control of American government. However, now the rich are not just singular individuals. They are corporations classified as individuals.

The Supreme Court in “Citizens United v Federal Election Commission” in 2010 rules that corporations are individuals.

The Supreme Court’s unwise decision based on freedom of speech identifies corporations as persons. With that nose in Democracy’s tent, corporations could offer millions of dollars to election campaigns. What human being cannot be influenced by such largess? Excessive executive compensation perpetuates “moneyocracy”, but corporate influence is the cause of the loss of the “Rights of Man”.

Tax change is a smoke screen that obscures the real danger of American decline in the 21st century.  It is too blunt an instrument to bludgeon the rich. It smacks of false patriarchy and jingoist rhetoric. 

American history shows that Americans believe that hard work is the source of success but being American does not guarantee a free ride. Equal opportunity is where America fails.

Education, anti-discrimination legislation, and equality of opportunity have to be strengthened. Corporate America needs to step up. Corporations need to quit wasting money influencing legislators and invest in human rights.

Corporations need to subsidize education by re-training their employees to meet changes wrought by technology.

Corporations must insist on equal treatment of employees, by gender and/or ethnicity. The government needs to re-enforce equal opportunity for all.

America needs to return to the ideals of equal opportunity by allowing entrepreneurs to create wealth through human productivity.  Money is not an end but it has become an end that has no end; i.e. high salaries perpetuate themselves through an Aristocratic “moneyocracy”.  If one says they make a $1,000,000 a year they are saying they are better then someone who makes $10,000 or $100,000 a year.  Salaried compensation is perceived as human value. 

Denying salaries that exceed 50 times average employee compensation is not denying the creation of wealth.  Entrepreneurs that create productive companies that grow to multi-billion dollar enterprises have opportunity to become billionaires; not from salaries, but from building human productivity that creates wealth.

“Occupy Wall Street” is an unlikely precursor of another American Revolution; however, it may be a symptom of an American cancer that debilitates productive life without killing the patient.  “Occupying Wall Street” is not a hippie “sit in” but a plea for reform of American “moneycracy” just as Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man” was a plea for reform of Aristocratic inheritance.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It

By Mark Steyn

 Narrated by Brian Emerson

Listening to Brian Emerson’s narration of Steyn’s book makes one smile and cringe.  In one section Steyn intelligently reflects on the demographics of world population, and in the next, he whips out a Glenn Beck-like’ riff on the name “Muhammad”.

It sounds like Michele Bachmann and Roger Stone’s guilt-by-association comments. Both imply ex-Senator Wiener’s wife, Huma Abedin, is a member or agent of the Muslim Brotherhood because she grew up in Saudi Arabia and worked for an academic journal called “The Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs”.

To state the obvious–meeting with someone or writing about minority affairs does not mean you changed religions or beliefs (Ms. Abedin was born in Kalamazoo, Mich.). Steyn, like President Trump, incriminates the entire Muslim world by inferring there is a fascist conspiracy to take over the world.


On the one hand, Steyn reasonably notes that the average age of many Muslim countries is 15 and youth is often a source of discontent and aberrant cultural behavior; on the other, he infers Muslims hold a monolithic belief system that is bent on converting or destroying the world “…as We Know It”.  Steyn flits from reason to nonsense at the turn of a page. 


When visiting a Muslim family in India, a young woman explains her disgust with Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 terrorist event.  She is appalled and embarrassed by the belief that bin Laden would be considered by Americans as representative of her or her family’s religion. 

In Egypt, a Muslim farmer is appalled by terrorists who use the cloak of religion to justify their murderous actions.  The many mosques visited in other countries reinforce history’s record of acceptance and tolerance of other faiths by Muslim leaders.

One appreciates an argument that is made by Steyn that socialist government policy has the potential for demotivating entrepreneurs and subsidizing economic freeloaders but is frustrated by Steyn’s failure to criticize unregulated capitalism that increases the gap between rich and poor and presumes that “free enterprise” equates with equal opportunity. 

Free enterprise does not exist in the world; particularly not in the United States, beginning with an unfair tax code and continuing through overt subsidies of big oil, big banks, and dying industries.

The world economy is in a state of transition like that which was experienced in the industrial revolution.  Jobs are being lost because they are being replaced by technological advances.  It is as tragic to an automobile assembler in 21st century as it was to a wool gatherer in 19th.  Who does the major bread winner in a family turn to when they lose their job because of changes beyond their control?

It is the job of private and public organizations to educate and train workers displaced by technological change.  This re-education creates jobs while ameliorating unemployment.

Steyn is obviously well read and informed but one feels like he plays the publicity game of talking heads like Rush Limbaugh that have the objective of being darlings of an ideological minority that can make them rich. 

Limbaugh rails against Trump by suggesting he is waffling on a political commitment to build a wall between Mexico and the United States.  Trump responds with an equal level of irrationality by closing vital functions of the government to force Congress to fund the wall. 

Steyn, like Limbaugh and other talking heads, wastes his intelligence; pandering to an ideological constituency rather than serving the general public by searching for the truth.

There is a truth and it lies in freedom and social responsibility.  Demographics are not destiny; i.e. demographics are a part of the human condition that can be managed by recognizing human nature’s fundamentals, and conscientiously creating nations that are governed by rule-of-law.


Kotkin’s first volume about Stalin’s rise to power offers lessons to modern American and Chinese governments.  China seems on one path; America another. 

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Stalin, Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928STALIN VOLUME 1

Written by: Stephen Kotkin

Narration by:  Paul Hecht


Stephen Kotkin offers a remarkable and comprehensive view of Russia’s 1917 Revolution in “Stalin, Volume I”.  Kotkin succinctly describes how power in the hands of one may advance a nation’s wealth, but at a cost that exceeds its benefit.

Kotkin’s first volume about Stalin’s rise to power offers lessons to modern American and Chinese governments.  China seems on one path; America another.  The formation of “checks and balances” sustains America’s economic growth; even in the face of leadership change.  In contrast, a “rule of one” has moved China’s economic wealth to new heights, but “rule of one” threatens its future success; particularly if it follows Stalin’s mistaken path.

The formation of “checks and balances” sustains America’s economic growth; even in the face of leadership change.  In contrast, a “rule of one” has moved China’s economic wealth to new heights, but “rule of one” threatens its future success; particularly if it follows Stalin’s mistaken path.

In historical context, Kotkin profiles the three most important characters of the Russian revolution; e.g. Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky.  Kotkin documents the personalities and circumstances of the pre-U.S.S.R.’ economy; i.e. an economy based on the disparity between wealth and poverty, federalization and centralization, political idealism and pragmatism.FORMER U.S.S.R.


Three leaders in the Chinese revolution were Mao Zedong , Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping.  Zhou Enlai is the moderate of the three in trying to preserve traditional Chinese customs.  Mao is by some measures an idealist who attempts to expand the theory of communism.  His idealism creates a bureaucracy that nearly derails China’s economy.  “The Gang of Four” radicalized Mao’s idealism into a more Stalinist view of communism.  “The Gang of Four”s radicalization of Chinese communism is eventually reversed with the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, but not until after the Tiananmen Square massacre.


After Tiananmen Square, Deng recognizes the power of public dissent.  Rather than increasing suppression, Deng opens the Chinese economy to a degree of self-determination.  Deng does not abandon communist ideology.  However, he recognizes the importance of economic growth and how less doctrinal communist policy would unleash the power of people as demonstrated at Tienanmen Square. Deng dies in 1987 and the government of China is reshuffled.  Deng’s eventual successor, President Xi, emphasizes the idealism of communism that threatens return to a Stalinist-like terror in China; i.e. a terror enhanced by technological invasion of privacy, and “big brother” control.


President Xi returns to Mao’s authoritarian belief in enforced collectivism with the idea of expanding China’s new-found wealth through government subsidization of industry.  Xi renews emphasis on rule by the Communist party, headed by himself.

The growing disparity between rich and poor in both China and America is widely seen in the internet, and with increased international travel.  China’s rapid rise in economic wealth is unevenly spread, just as it is in the United States.  The difference is in how that economic disparity is addressed.

The growing disparity between rich and poor in both China and America is widely seen with the internet, and increased international travel.  China’s rapid rise in economic wealth is unevenly spread, just as it is in the United States.  The difference is in how that economic disparity is addressed.


In America, private dissent is an inherent part of its history which lauds individualism, self-determination, and freedom (within the boundary of “rule of law”).  But, these characteristics denigrate American citizens who are unable or unwilling to reap the rewards of  individualism, self-determination, and freedom.  These are the Americans sleeping on America’s streets and living in their cars.  America’s system of governance allows this rift between the rich and poor because it is based on a system of “checks and balances”.  America’s system demands debate, and more broadly considered human consequence, before government action is taken.

In China, dissent is discouraged and freedom is highly restricted, but homelessness is addressed with housing for the poor at subsidized prices.  The homeless are compelled to work at jobs created by the Chinese government.  China’s system of governance is driven from the top, with limited debate, and more singularly determined public consequence.  Government action is autocratically determined.

BEIJING (In China, descent is discouraged and freedom is highly restricted, but homelessness is addressed with housing for the poor at subsidized prices.  The homeless are compelled to work at jobs created by the Chinese government.)

In ancient China, singular autocratic rule offered a mixed blessing.  Some of the world’s wealthiest and most cultured governments were created in China.  These ancient dynasties successfully expanded their economies to make China a world leader in science and industry.  At the same time, with few checks and balances, the history of China’s “rule of one” resulted in periodic social and economic collapse.

In some ways, China’s ancient civilization’s rise and fall is reminiscent of the rise and fall of the U.S.S.R. after 1917.  Kotkin describes the turmoil surrounding Russia in 1917.  The beginning of WWI and Germany’s invasion exaggerate the paradox of power in Russia.  Modern European, Asian, North American, Middle Eastern, and African countries are experiencing some of the same economic, and political disruption.

On the one hand, the peasant is a proud Russian; on the other hand, he is a slave of the landed gentry; indentured to preserve the wealth of others at the cost of his/her life.

In 1917, the Czar and wealthy aristocracy depend on a population of the poor to defend the government.  Russian peasants are faced with defending a government system that recognizes them as serfs, agricultural laborers indentured to wealthy landowners.  (A similar system existed in China prior to 1949.)  On the one hand, the peasant is a proud Russian; on the other hand, he is a slave of the landed gentry; indentured to preserve the wealth of others at the cost of his/her life.

In 1949, Mao recognizes the same inequity and judiciously separates landlords from their vast estates and re-distributes it to tenant farmers who worked for them.  Ownership restructuring improved agricultural production until Mao tried to make small collectives into large collectives with Communist party oversight.  Formation of a Chinese Communist Party bureaucracy distorted actual production and de-motivated farmers that did the real work of farming.  The result of production over-estimation caused a nation-wide famine.


Kotkin notes Russian social and economic inequity is a breeding ground for a Leninist/Marxist revolution.  Marx’s dialectic view of the wealth of nations suggests that governments will change based on the growing recognition of the value of labor; i.e. beginning with agrarian feudalism, growing through industrialized capitalism, and socialism; reaching to a state of equilibrium in communism (a needs-based and communal sharing of wealth).  Marx suggests all nations will go through this dialectic process.

Lenin bastardizes Marx’s dialectic idealization.  Lenin believes the process can be accelerated through revolution and centralized control of the means of production.  This idea is adopted by Mao Zedong in China in 1949 with early success.  However, Mao expands the collectivist policy with “The Great Leap Forward” in 1958.  Mao’s broader collectivist policy collapses the Chinese economy in 1962.  Thousands of Chinese die from starvation as communist overseers exaggerate food production quotas.

Collectivist expansion is an oversimplification of Kotkin’s explanation of Vladimir Lenin’s form of communism but it shows the risk of “rule of one” governance.  Even Lenin is conflicted about how Russia will grow into a communist society.

Returning to Kotkin’s book, collectivist expansion is an oversimplification of Kotkin’s explanation of Lenin’s form of communism but it shows the risk of “rule of one” governance.  Even Lenin is conflicted about how Russia will grow into a communist society.  Lenin recognizes the social and economic distance that Russian peasants must travel to gain an appreciation of a new form of government.

Much of the Russian population, like the Chinese in 1949, were illiterate and living at a subsistence level; bounded by a non-mechanized agrarian economy.  Lenin vacillates between growth through education and growth through autocratic command.  Kotkin suggests that Lenin gravitates toward centralized command because of the need to consolidate power within the revolution.

What Lenin needed in 1917 were followers that could get things done.  Before being felled by brain disease and stroke, Lenin relies on the abilities of men like Joseph Stalin.  Mao relies on his revolutionary Red Guard.  Kotkin argues that Stalin became close to Lenin as a result of his organizational skill and his penchant for getting things done without regard to societal norms.  For Mao, close associates like Deng Xiaoping, were his enforcers.  Stalin becomes the most powerful enforcer in Lenin’s revolution.  Deng eventually becomes the leader of Communist China.

Though Stalin wields great enforcement powers, Kotkin infers Trotsky is the intellectual successor to Lenin.   Stalin and Trotsky are shown to be at odds on the fundamental direction of the Bolshevik party, the successor party of Russian communism.  However, the exigency of getting things done, as opposed to understanding the goals of creating a Leninist/Marxist government, were paramount goals for consolidating power after the revolution.  Kotkin explains how Stalin became a defender of Leninist doctrine while Trotsky became an antagonist and eventual apostate because of Stalin’s manipulation of events.

MAO AND STALIN IN 1949–China waits and observes Stalin’s method for rapid industrialization of Russia.

China waits and observes Stalin’s method for rapid industrialization of Russia.  Kotkin explains that Stalin gains an intimate understanding of Lenin’s doctrines while Trotsky chooses to compete with Lenin’s philosophical positions.  The threat of factionalism accompanies Trotsky’s doctrinal departures.

The irony of the differences between Stalin and Trotsky are crystallized by Kotkin.  Stalin’s intelligence is underestimated by both Lenin and Trotsky.  Stalin carefully catalogs and memorizes Lenin’s communist beliefs.  In contrast, Trotsky chooses his own communist doctrinal path based, in part, on Lenin’s writing.  Here, another similarity is drawn with the near religious following of Mao’s Red Book with aphorisms about governing oneself and China.

Kotkin suggests Lenin views Trotsky as a more likely successor than Stalin as leader of the country.  Lenin appreciates Stalin’s organizational ability but views Stalin’s temperament as too volatile for long-term government control.  In 1922, Lenin is said to have dictated a “testament” saying that Stalin should be removed from his position as General Secretary.  Lenin’s “testament” critiqued the ruling triumvirate of the party (Stalin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev) and others like Bukharin, Trotsky and Pyatakov but the pointed suggestion of removal for Stalin is subverted.

After Lenin dies, the triumvirate chooses to ignore Lenin’s “testament” for Stalin’s removal.  After all, Stalin is a doer; i.e. he gets things done.  Just as Stalin suppresses opposition to his interpretation of Lenin, China suppresses opposition to the Communist Party’s doctrines.  Doctrinal differences are successfully suppressed in China until the the failure of “The Great Leap Forward” in the 1950’s.  The consequence of “The Great Leap Forward”s failure is the cultural revolution in the 1960’s.

In America’s history the economy slugs along with setbacks and successes.  Though 1929 sees the collapse of the American economy, it recovers with government intervention, the advent of WWII, and the push and pull of a decision-making process designed by the framers of the Constitution.  That push and pull is from leadership that is influenced by the checks and balances of three branches of government.  That same process saves the American economy in 2008.  The power and economy of America has grown to become the strongest in the world.AMERICA'S GDPCHINA'S GDP

Kotkin’s research suggests young Stalin is something different from what is portrayed in earlier histories.  Stalin grows close to Lenin because he is the acting arm of Lenin’s centralized command.  Lenin relies on Stalin to get things done.  He is Lenin’s executor.  At the same time, Lenin turns to Trotsky as an economic adviser to ensure a more comprehensive understanding of what needs to be done to stabilize the revolution.  Trotsky believes in the importance of centralized control of the economy.

Both Lenin and Stalin believed in communism but the first acts on a vision of the future; the second acts on the “now”.  China’s Deng and Xi seem to reverse Lenin’s and Stalin’s reasoning.  Rather than Deng being like Lenin, he acts on China in the “now”.  Xi seems more like Lenin and looks at China’s future based on the ideals of communism.  However, from an American perspective, all autocrats common failing is belief in “rule of one”.

Both Lenin and Stalin believed in communism but the first acts on a vision of the future; the second acts on the “now”.  China’s Deng and Xi seem to reverse Lenin’s and Stalin’s reasoning.  Rather than Deng being like Lenin, he acts on China in the “now”.  Xi seems more like Lenin and looks at China’s future based on the ideals of communism.

Kotkin puts an end to any speculation about Lenin being poisoned by Stalin.  Kotkin argues that Lenin died of natural causes, strokes from a brain disease.  What Kotkin reveals is the internecine war that is waged between Stalin and Trotsky while Lenin is dying.  The strokes steadily debilitate Lenin and suspicious written pronouncements are made that may or may not have originated with Lenin.  Lenin’s secretary is his wife.  Some evidence suggests a missive from Lenin saying Stalin should not be his successor, noting Trotsky as a better choice.  Kotkin suggests such a missive is unlikely.  Lenin seems to have had his doubts about both men.

Succession in modern China seems less filled with intrigue than communist Russia but the opaqueness of China’s politics makes the rise of Xi a mystery to most political pundits.  What seems clear is that China’s rise and fall has always been in the hands of the “…one”.


History will be the arbiter for President Xi’s success or failure with a road and belt plan for China’s economic future.  The same may be said for President Trump’s focus on the virtue of selfishness for America’s economic future.  The fundamental difference is Xi has no “checks and balances”; Trump has the Supreme Court, Congress, and a 4-year-election-cycle to assuage arbitrary government action.

AYN RAND (1905-1982)

In Russia, Trotsky is characterized as an intellectual while Stalin is a pragmatist.  In China, Deng is characterized as a pragmatist while Xi seems a doctrinal theorist. In America, Trump is no intellectual but carries the torch of pragmatic materialism (in what might be called a “moneyocracy”–a government focused on dollars, cents, and self-interest; without regard to morality or common good).

In history, Trotsky is highly opinionated and arrogant.  Stalin is street smart and highly Machiavellian.  Trotsky thinks right and wrong while Stalin thinks in terms of what works.  In China, Deng is Stalin and Xi is Trotsky.  In America, Trump is Stalin and his opposition is Trotsky-like do-nothings.

Stalin is reputed to be temperamental while Trotsky is aloof.  Though Trotsky insists on centralized control, Stalin argues for federalization.  Stalin paradoxically argues for federalization because he knows Russian satellite countries want independence but he will act in the short-term for centralization to get things done.  And of course, Stalin clearly adopts centralized economic planning for the U.S.S.R.; i.e. another of Kotkin’s paradoxes of power.

There is much more in Kotkin’s powerful first volume about Stalin and the Russian revolution.  Germany’s role in the revolution is a case in point.  The writing is crisp and informative.  The narration is excellent.  After listening to “…Volume I”, one looks forward to Kokin’s next which is published this year.

The past is present in Kotkin’s excellent biography of Joseph Stalin.


Audio-book Review

By Chet Yarbrough



Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life

karl marx

By Jonathan Sperber

Narrated by Kevin Stillwell



Having just returned from China (more about the trip in a future blog), it seems apropos to revisit Jonathan Sperber’s biography of Karl Marx.  In many respects, China’s resurgence as a major economic power suggests Marx may have outlined an economic system with some strengths, but communism and China’s form of communism have catastrophic weaknesses.

Johnathan Sperber has gathered an impressive amount of data in his history of Karl Marx’s life.  Sadly, his presentation is not equal to his collection.  Unlike biographies done by Robert Caro (who wrote “The Power Broker” about Robert Moses, the land planner of New York, and former President, Lyndon Johnson) or William Manchester (a Winston Churchill Biographer), Sperber fails to bring his subject to life.



Marx is considered by some to be one of the three most influential economists that ever lived (Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes being the other two.)   That high praise is not forcefully presented in Sperber’s biography.  Sperber offers facts but leaves coherence to the reader.

Marx means something to the 21st century.  Some might argue America is reaching a point in the history of capitalism that is foretold by Marx’s theory of socialist economics.  As Sperber notes, Marx believed capitalism was a step in the economic evolution of the world, leading to a governmental revolution.  Marx believed capitalism would reach a nadir of conflict between haves and have-nots because of social inequity inherent in capitalist economies.

As Sperber notes, Marx lived through and wrote about social conflict created by feudalism and capitalism in the mid-nineteenth century.  Marx is raised in Prussia, ruled by a Czar in a feudal economic system. He witnessing growing discontent of feudalistic working-class Russia.

'Remember, an economic boom is usually followed by an economic kaboom,'

Marx created a theory of economic evolution showing feudalism, capitalism, socialism, and communism as progressive improvements in the lives of all people.


Feudalism grew out of the rule of Kings and Czars with a small aristocracy receiving privileges of wealth and property with the bulk of human civilization indentured to the privileged class.

As the indentured, under-privileged population grew, discontent led to revolution.

Aristocracy Government

In 1776, America broke with English aristocracy to form a “checks and balances” democracy; in 1789, the French population broke with absolute monarchy to form a populist democracy; in 1848, German states rebelled against the aristocratic Prussian confederation of thirty-nine states ruled by an aristocracy, and chose various forms of government to establish their own nationalist identities.


DENG XIAOPING (CHINA’S CHAIRMAN OF THE CENTRAL ADVISORY COMMISSION 1982-1987,) In 1980 Deng Xioping, though maybe not in a revolutionary sense, changed the direction of communism in China.

Each Chinese change in governance led to more liberal, slightly more democratic, and capitalist economies.

China did not abandoned communism but insisted on a more pragmatic way of governing.  Deng’s famous quote,  “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice. …. “,  crystallizes China’s insistence on a communist form of government.



The current President of China, Xi Jinping, reinforces Communism in China by imposing party rule over China’s semi-autonomous provinces; e.g. Tibet and Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is presently in the throes of resistance to China’s encroachment on their semi-autonomous existence. Hong Kongers’ discontent could be seen in traveling to Hong Kong months before today’s demonstrations.

As nations prospered during the industrial revolution, more mercantile economies formed.  Aristocracy became broadly defined by wealth rather than inheritance.  Parliaments and congresses were created to represent wider population interests.

However, Sperber explains Marx believed that the greatest part of nation-state citizens remained in poor economic condition; even when based on mercantilism.  Marx, looked at the economic condition of the world, and noted that transition from feudalism to mercantilism only marginally improved living conditions for the majority of state citizens and, in fact, actually worsened the condition of the young and impoverished who worked long hours for little pay.  To Marx, capitalism just exacerbates the mercantile economic condition of the poor.


CHINA IS MOVING 250 MILLION PEOPLE INTO CITIES ACCORDING TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (Housing is un-affordable for a large percentage of new city dwellers.  The government of China subsidizes housing for many Chinese that come from rural areas.)

In 2018, it seems China may be reaching a capitalist tipping point where low wages do not cover the cost of living.  Though many Chinese have moved from rural areas, wages remain low in comparison to the cost of living.  Housing and health coverage is un-affordable for a large percentage of new city dwellers.  The government of China subsidizes housing for many Chinese that come from rural areas to mitigate the plight of the poor.


ADAM SMITH (1723-1790, AUTHOR OF -THE WEALTH OF NATIONS) Marx developed the labor theory of value to suggest that classical economic theory suggested by Adam Smith leaves too many people in the gutter.

Marx developed the labor theory of value to suggest classical economic theory (Adam Smith’s) leaves too many people in the gutter.  Marx felt Smith did not properly quantify the value of labor.  Marx argued that capital was created to benefit owners at an unfair expense to labor.

Marx believed capitalist aristocracy continued to victimize the working class, trading one form of indenture for another.  Marx suggested democracy was an evolution for economics that widened the benefited population but still left most workers underpaid, undernourished, and disadvantaged.

Sperber clearly points out that Marx did not believe that communal ownership of property redressed the inequities of state’ economies; i.e. Marx argued that inequity is caused by capital creation that only benefited ownership and undervalued labor that created the capital.

China’s current experience seems to show Marx may have been right to believe communal ownership has little to do with state’ economics because communal ownership remains a dominant factor in China’s extraordinary economic resurgence.  Property is not owned by individuals in China.  Land is either owned by a collective or by the State.


BEIJING CHINA HIGH RISES (TYPICAL IN MAJOR CHINESE CITIES 2018) Many high rise condominiums are owned by individual Chinese; many of which bought them at low enough prices to make them rich as the economy grows.  However, there is a fly in the ointment; i.e. price of sale must be agreed upon by the government which creates an artificial bubble that may burst into hyper-inflation; with the potential for a nation-wide economic collapse.

Though land cannot be owned by Chinese citizens, distribution of capital has been widely increased through rising prices of high-rise condominiums. Many high-rise condominiums are owned by individual Chinese.  Some citizens inherited or bought condominiums at such low prices–appreciation made them rich.


However, there is a fly in the ointment of their newfound wealth; i.e. price of sale must be agreed upon by the government which creates an artificial bubble that may burst into hyper-inflation; with the potential for a nation-wide economic collapse. 

China moves to address a potential economic collapse in an inventive and creative way.

What China is doing–is trying to widen their market for goods with an economic growth plan called “Belt and Road”.  China invests billions of dollars in other countries infrastructure.  China is betting that these improvements will create consumers for Chinese manufactured products.  A side benefit is that these infrastructure improvements offer employment to Chinese citizens and businesses.  (As can be read in news magazines like the Economist and papers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, some nations resent China’s investments in their countries for various nationalist and economic reasons.)

China is also investing in the world’s natural resources to expand their manufacturing capability.  The question is whether these long-term investments will pay off in time to stabilize China’s construction market. The construction market is where individual Chinese citizens carry their wealth.

Condominium prices will reach a limit.  In 2018, a 300 square foot condominium sells for over $500,000 in China’s larger mainland cities.  That is nearing $2,000 per square foot (and Chinese buyers do not own the land).  In the United States, most housing is less than $200 per square foot; including the land.   Continued wealth distribution in China depends on the success of the “Belt and Road” program.

Marx supported worker unionization’s effort to equalize benefit through a more equitable distribution of capital.  He was deeply involved in the “International Workingmen’s Association” (aka First International).  Herein lays the evolution of capitalism to socialism and Marx’s belief (and maybe Xi’s belief) in the fairness of economic communism.  Modern China seems to be addressing the idea of a more equitable distribution of capital on paper, but the paper is based on what appears to be an unsustainable real estate market.


Piketty argues that the income gap widens once again, after World War II.  He estimates 60% of 2010’s wealth is held by less than 1% of the population; with a lean toward the historical 90% threshold. Moneyed interests have become the new aristocracy, as repressive and privileged as the Kings and Czars of the mid-19th century.

One can disagree with Marxian theory but the widening gap between haves and have-nots (the 1% and 99%,) is a real-world concern in the 21st century. Moneyed interests have become the new aristocracy; as repressive and privileged as the Kings and Czars of the mid-19th century.

Marx’s solution for economic inequity is flawed but the condition he describes in the evolution of economies seems prescient. To most Americans, Marx’s communism is not the answer. 


When CEOs of companies are making over 200 times average laborers’ income, there is a glaring problem in the current condition of capitalist economies. Instead of income differences, it is housing value in China.  China is on a razor’s edge that may as easily cut their throat as shave their face.

This is a disappointing book because it garners too little interest in the power and influence of Marx’s economic theories.  However, it offers insight to what Marx may have had right (the importance of distribution of wealth) and what he had wrong (communal productivity).  China is using a different vehicle than America for distribution of wealth but the principle of wealth-distribution addresses what ails all forms of government.


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


Sons of Wichita

By: Daniel Schulman

Narrated by: Daniel Schulman



When organizations became people, American elections became less democratic.

Corporate contributions to the election process distort the meaning of “one person – one vote”.  Daniel Schulman’s story of the Koch brothers is an example of what is wrong with the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision that gave corporations person-hood.

The Koch brothers are tough-minded, intelligent, well-educated engineers; driven by the arithmetic of life.   Business leaders often see the profit of a transaction without considering the cost to the general public.  Life is not a transaction.  Life is multi-dimensional puzzle of genetic pre-disposition, learned behavior, and interpreted experience.



Like Donald Trump, the Koch brothers make decisions based on profits without care for either the environment or the politics of the common good.

Daniel Schulman recounts details of the Koch brothers’ lives that make one admire the Koch brother’s strengths and fear their weaknesses.

JOSEPH KENNEDY (1888-1969)

JOSEPH KENNEDY (1888-1969) As a listener is titillated by Schulman’s characterization of each of the brothers, one is reminded of Joseph Kennedy Senior’s biography (“The Patriarch”) and Kennedy’s determination that no circumstance justifies America’s entry into WWII.  Kennedy’s underlying belief was that German atrocity is a matter of arithmetic not politics.  Joseph Kennedy, like the Kochs, believed “living life” is transactional.

Kennedy believed Hitler could be contained like any unfair business conglomerate that fails to follow the rules of society.  To a business mogul, everything is negotiable whether dealing with a mad-man or saint. Charles Koch, like Joseph Kennedy, is the patriarch of the Koch family.  He. like Kennedy, believes life is merely a matter of arithmetic. 

AYN RAND (1905-1982)


Charles is a devotee of Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek.   Rand was an author and founder of a philosophical system called “Objectivism” while Hayek was an academic economist-author, and follower of a philosophical system that reduces economics to the arithmetic of free markets. 



Charles Koch, and his brothers David and William, grew a multi-million dollar company into a multi-billion dollar conglomerate based on Rand’s, and Hayek’s philosophy.  (In fairness, this is an oversimplification and distortion of Hayek in the sense that he did believe government has a responsibility for a safety net for the poor, unemployed, and disabled.)

Growing millions into billions of dollars is unquestionably a great accomplishment, born of hard work, dedication, and tenacity.  (Of course, it helps to start out, like Donald Trump, with a million dollars or more.)

The Koch brothers were born rich and raised in a safe and competitive family environment.  Schulman explains actions of Charles, David, and William that show how intelligent, driven Americans can adopt Rand and Hayek’s philosophy to become enormous job creators, philanthropists, and benefactors for American society. 

On the other hand, the Koch brother’s story shows how their philosophical beliefs ignore the reality of human nature that relegates many to a cycle of poverty; i.e. a cycle engendered by poor education, unsafe neighborhoods, a lack of health care, and un-employ-ability.

Life is not arithmetic.  A human life is not just a matter of dollars and cents.

Charles, David, and William Koch offer great opportunities for workers of the world through the arithmetic of profit, growth, and self-interest.  However, if a worker is not smart or healthy enough to join the Kochs’ group of workers, they have no value; they are the bums one sees sleeping on the sidewalk, gang members selling drugs and sex, or beggars asking for lose change.

The Koch brother’s success lies in their alloyed belief in self-interest, their inherited wealth, genetics, environment, and luck.  The Koch’s success is a matter of the arithmetic of wealth, power, and privilege; therein lies the flaw in the use of dark money in American elections.  To presume equal opportunity exists in America because of self-interest is ridiculously simplistic. 


The Supreme Court gifted an advantage to wealthy corporate owners.  Dark money from corporations distorts “one person, one vote” democracy.

Schulman infers the Koch brother’s arithmetic view of the world is skewed.  The Koch’s imply only market driven, free choice of employees is what makes companies and America grow stronger.  Charles argument is compelling except it is based on theories of two academics (Rand’s self-interest and a distortion Hayek’s economic beliefs).   When 21st century Americans cannot get a decent education, they are on a treadmill of malnutrition and genetic disadvantage.  They often live in unsafe and unhealthy environments, and are destined to become part of an underclass society.

Charles’ arithmetic works within a corporate culture that gives no value to government’s responsibility for health, education, and welfare.  Even Hayek, as an academic, suggests that the disadvantaged of society should be protected from the extremes of disablement, poverty, and starvation.  In contrast, Ayn Rand’s belief is that people are poor because they are lazy, unproductive, and dependent on the charity of others; i.e. being poor, to Rand, is a personal fault; not a societal concern.

Many inner city poor cannot get a job so they sell drugs or their bodies to put bread on the table.  Who is going to hire a person arrested for peddling drugs or serving time for prostitution.  The cycle of poverty is perpetuated by the belief that America is a free enterprise market.  Everything from agricultural products, to drug manufacturers, to the energy industry, to cars we drive, and planes we fly are subsidized by the American tax dollar.

'There's nothing wrong with capitalism that a government subsidy can't fix.'

To the Koch brothers, free markets and the arithmetic of life will correct unemployment and the disadvantage of the poor.  The idea of a free market is a joke.  Markets are not free.  Many industries in the United States are subsidized in one way or another by federal tax dollars.

Schulman’s biography infers that Charles, David, and William believe less government interference will correct the maladies of society.  Public health, education, and welfare are private sector responsibilities, particularly in Charles’ idealistic world.  This view ignores the reality of human nature.  There is good and evil in all human beings.  Power, money, and self-interest are swords with two edges that build and destroy societies.  Without government, there is no protection from the evil side of human nature.

THOMAS HOBBES (1588-1679)

THOMAS HOBBES (1588-1679) Without government, there is no protection from the evil side of human nature.

Schulman explains a rift that occurs between William and Charles and the future management of the Koch conglomerate. William Koch’s legal battles with Charles and David (William is the twin brother of David) reflect the frailty of unfettered human nature.

WILLIAM KOCH (AMERICAN BUSINESSMAN, SAILOR, AND COLLECTOR)(William is the twin brother of David. His legal battles with Charles and David Koch reflect the frailty of unfettered human nature.)

Human nature is good and evil for all; including the Koch brothers.  Government, as noted by Thomas Hobbes, is to protect people from the evil that is inherent in humankind.

This is not to argue that every time government legislates or acts, it is in the best interest of the public.  However, murder, rape, and theft are unfettered human choices without government.  Murder comes in many forms, including gas leaks, environmental contamination, and scientifically proven causes for global warming.

Great industrialists, like the Koch brothers, are a boon to the American economy and to millions of American citizens but to believe their success is based on limited government is self-delusion. American government created a safe environment for “free” enterprise with relative freedom of choice; not absolute freedom of choice.



Schulman suggests Charles Koch believes a plutocracy of industrialists, managed by the principles of market driven self-interest, will cure the maladies of American society.

The arithmetic of business fails to address the nature of human beings.  Creating jobs and wealth does not raise all boats; i.e. jobs and wealth are quantifiable variables in a sea of un-quantifiable needs.

Human nature may change over time but only when, or if, humans reach a level of belief, and action “to do others as you would have them do to you”.  Until human nature is rid of evil, something more than market driven self-interest is required to advance society.

In the end, one concludes from Schulman’s fascinating book, the Koch brothers are neither devils nor angels; just humans with wealth, extraordinary abilities, tenacity, and luck.