Monday, November 11, 2013

A Freedom Budget


It is Armistice Day.  (I much prefer that to Veterans Day, with no offense intended to the men and women who have offered their very lives for a vow of service.)  You are not going to see this before midnight, however, because Blogger seems to be having some trouble publishing the post. 

I have neglected this blog for a while.  A lot is going on, some of which I'll write about, and some of which leaves little to write, being the day-in and day-out of parenting and making ends meet and trying to open doors, or whatever metaphor of making opportunities you prefer to insert here.

Anyway, in the last few minutes of Armistice Day, I am popping in to tell you about a book.  If you only read one non-fiction book this year, I think you should consider making this the one.

A Freedom Budget For All Americans is an outstanding book, surely among the best in history and policy in 2013. It tells several complicated stories in a cohesive and highly readable narrative, making a large contribution to history and offering us tangible ideas for policy in our time.

One of these stories is the historic march on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr., and the social movement preceding and following that event. It documents the involvement of socialists and communists in the movement, with particular attention on the work of A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.

The organizational work is one story, but there is also a political story, about a moment where differing theories came together brilliantly and were soon dispersed again, in large part because of the Vietnam war's escalation and disagreement about how to proceed with respect to President Johnson, the Democratic party, and to the capitalist system itself. Some, including Dr. King, saw economic justice as the natural culmination of the civil rights struggle -- that racial equality meant little in the context of economic injustice, unemployment, and poverty. This contribution to a coherent history of the U.S. left is invaluable.

There is also the story of a much-forgotten document produced by these civil rights leaders, a shadow budget, a "freedom budget for all Americans" reflecting the budgeting and political economy of a good society, an attempt at a comprehensive policy approach to realizing the dream. This is a story that ends sadly, as the politics of the Vietnam war plays a large role in deflating the movement behind the freedom budget, until it languishes as a footnote and is largely forgotten.

And, finally, one more story: the story of how a new "freedom budget" might be designed for consideration, debate, and implementation in our time.

To achieve all of that in such a slender volume, in a book so enjoyable to read, is quite remarkable. This is one to pass around, friends.

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