WILLIAM GRIMES “The Dictator as a Young Poet-Thug”

特に青少年時代に焦点を合わせたスターリンの新しい伝記、Simon Sebag Montefiore Young Stalin(Alfred A. Knopf)の書評。取り敢えず、

Stalin was, Mr. Montefiore writes, “that rare combination: both ‘intellectual’ and killer.” The roots of violence ran deep in his family life and in Gori, his hometown, where street brawling was the principal sport. Soso, as Stalin, born Josef Djugashvili, was called, suffered savage beatings from both his alcoholic father and his doting mother, who alternated smothering affection with harsh corporal punishment. When Stalin, later in life, asked his mother why she had beaten him so much, she replied, “It didn’t do you any harm.” A brilliant but rebellious student at the religious schools he attended, and a published poet of great promise, Soso took up radical politics while still in his teens, his approach already shaped by the tactics of the seminary’s administration — “surveillance, spying, invasion of inner life, violation of feelings,” as he later described them. Taking the name Koba, that of a fictional Caucasian bandit-hero (Stalin, or “man of steel,” would come much later), he embarked on a career as an underground political agitator, his life punctuated by multiple arrests and years spent in internal exile.

Gaunt and darkly handsome despite the facial scars left by smallpox, and blessed with a beautiful singing voice, Koba enchanted women throughout his young manhood and left several illegitimate children as proof. He had a mesmerizing effect on men as well.

“His style, manners were totally Georgian, yet there was something utterly original, something hard to fathom, both leonine and feline about him,” a Georgian Menshevik wrote of this fascinating political opponent.

Mr. Montefiore sheds new light on Stalin’s wild years as a kind of revolutionary gang leader in the Caucasus, putting him at the center of robberies, kidnappings, arson attacks, extortion schemes and executions of suspected traitors. He makes a very strong case that Stalin burned down the Rothschilds’ refinery warehouse in the oil boom town Batumi in January 1902 and thereafter used this act as leverage in extorting protection money from other oil barons. In addition to agitating among workers and fomenting strikes and riots, Stalin specialized in daring, extremely violent bank heists, whose considerable proceeds helped Lenin finance the Bolshevik Party.


 DAVID M. KENNEDY “Malefactors of Megawealth”

ポール・クルーグマンThe Conscience of a Leberal(W. W. Norton & Company)の書評。

In our time, Krugman argues, the malefactors of megawealth have triumphed. He recites the now-familiar data that the wealthiest 0.01 percent of Americans are seven times richer than they were three decades ago, while the inflation-adjusted income of most American households has barely nudged upward. Chief executives who typically earned 30 times more than their average employee in the 1970s now take home more than 300 times as much. The American plutocracy, Krugman concludes, “have become rich enough to buy themselves a party” — and readers are left in no doubt which party we’re talking about.

But Krugman the anti-economist does not believe that growing economic inequality incubated modern political conservatism. In his view, the “arrow of causation” points the other way: political change, cunningly engineered by “radicals of the right,” has spawned egregious economic disparity, as well as a toxic level of partisanship. Ever the iconoclast, Krugman says “this strongly suggests that institutions, norms and the political environment matter a lot more for the distribution of income — and that the impersonal market forces matter less — than Economics 101 might lead you to believe.” In short, it’s the politics, stupid.

The bulk of this book consists of a historical explanation for how this sorry state of affairs came to be. It’s a story that is as factually shaky as it is narratively simplified. (Kansas, whatever its other crimes and misdemeanors, is not customarily regarded as the birthplace of Prohibition; the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, not 1964.) History according to Krugman goes something like this: the nation suffered through a “Long Gilded Age” of let-’er-rip, dog-eat-dog capitalism until the New Deal created a new social order characterized by income-leveling taxes, job security, strong labor unions, a prosperous middle class, bipartisan solidarity and general social bliss. Krugman invokes that post-World War II “paradise lost” in his first paragraph, and his yearning to restore that Edenic moment informs all the pages that follow.

Like the rants of Rush Limbaugh or the films of Michael Moore, Krugman’s shrill polemic may hearten the faithful, but it will do little to persuade the unconvinced or to advance the national discussion of the important issues it addresses. It may even deepen the very partisan divide he denounces.

ROBERT FRANK ”Invisible Handcuffs”

かつてクルーグマンに叩かれたこともあったクリントン時代の労働長官Robert B. ReichのSupercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life(Alfred A. Knopf)の書評。

Reich’s narrative begins with his account of the “not quite golden age” — roughly, the three decades following World War II — in which limited competition enabled large companies to earn high profits. High profits, in turn, enabled unions to bargain for high wages and benefits. Legislators, who were less influenced by corporate cash in those days, passed laws in the public interest.

Things changed when the Internet and other new communications and transportation technologies enabled the economy’s most able producers to extend their reach. Many established firms were swept away.

At about the same time, financial deregulation increased the influence of capital markets on corporate behavior. Wall Street’s message to chief executives was “Slash your payrolls or we’ll buy your company and hire someone who will.”

Reich notes that consumers and investors have profited handsomely from these developments. Wal-Mart may offer its employees low wages and benefits and squeeze its suppliers to do likewise. But it also offers extremely low prices. Investment managers may pressure corporations to lay workers off, but they also generate robust returns for their clients.

As citizens, however, we have fared less well. Competition has driven salaries of the best performers in every sector to unparalleled heights, while the incomes of all others have stagnated. Today’s more competitive environment has also made it harder for us to insulate ourselves from risks, especially those related to health and employment security. Some 47 million Americans now lack health insurance, up seven million since 2000.

Why hasn’t government stepped in? Again, Reich fingers greater competition as the culprit. Once some companies discovered they could gain an edge by influencing government decisions in their favor, rivals had little choice but to join the fray. And once some candidates began altering their votes to attract contributions, others faced strong pressure to follow suit. Reich documents in lurid detail the explosive growth of corporate lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions since the 1970s.

Can other institutions assume government’s abandoned role? Reich thinks not. Reliance on voluntary “corporate social responsibility,” he argues persuasively, is a pale substitute for effective laws against corporate misconduct. The only remedy, he concludes, is to purge corporate cash from the political system. This, of course, will be a tall order.


Reich probably doesn’t expect any such agreement in the waning months of the Bush administration. But today’s presidential candidates should study his message carefully. “Keeping supercapitalism from spilling over into democracy,” he writes, “is the only constructive agenda for change.” All else is “frolic and detour.”