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Thursday, July 08, 2021

Review: The Sum of Us

 The Sum of Us has a pretty non-controversial thesis - that the world we live in is not a zero-sum world, that when we introduce benefits like Universal Healthcare, Paid Vacation for everyone, Sick Leave, not only do the poor people have better lives, even the wealthy people have better lives as well!

What's challenging, of course, is that since the 1970s, that's not been the dominant narrative, and so for the past 50 years, we've been reversing course on that. Today, the USA is nowhere close to better health and equity metrics compared to any of the other developed Western Nations.

The book does a good job of tracing what happened, in a slightly less depressing recap of events told in Democracy in Chains. Many communities had public swimming pools that were denied to black people, and of course when the courts ruled that non-whites had a legal right to the pools, rather than open them up to everyone, those same communities decided to fill in the pools or sell them to a private organization that could turn it into a private swimming club. (There was one in Sunnyvale, and I never even thought about why it was a private swimming club) As a result of that, not only are there fewer public American swimming pools, the pools that are left over are a far cry from what you see in other western Democracies, in spaciousness, facilities, and of course, water-slides.

The same obviously went for public schools, which of course, always struck me as insane that were funded by local property taxes, but McGhee points out that the white communities that run the school districts kept drawing and redrawing the school districts to keep the population of the school district white and wealthy. The irony, of course, is that (again, correlation is not causation) white students who do attend a more diverse school actually do better. (Again, it could be that parents who're willing to not segregate themselves are usually highly educated and so their kids would do well in school --- but this just illustrates that desegregation wouldn't have hurt those wealthy public school districts!)

The list goes on and on, and it's pretty depressing, but the last chapter of the book discusses how there's been recent community building in Maine, helping get rid of anti-immigrant, anti-non-white attitudes, and successfully passing medicaid expansion by ballot initiative, showing that the process can be reversed.

It's a great book, though tough going because of the many depressing sections. But well worth reading. Recommended.

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