As an immigrant child of Jewish parents from Poland who rented a cold-water sixth-floor walk-up in a tenement in New York’s Lower East Side near the beginning of the Great Depression, I’m permanently sympathetic to the struggles of poor people.
Me and Dambisa Moyo.
Moyo is a 49-year-old black woman born and raised in Zambia, who has a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard and a doctorate in economics from Oxford. (I’m a 90-year-old graduate of New York City’s Seward Park High, known then as Sewer Park High.). How did she do it? How did she get to be who she is? As she allowed in a New York Times interview, “Having been raised in one of the poorest countries in the world, I feel a strong desire to help families like my own, who continue to suffer the consequences of economic failure every day of their lives.”
I know quite well how she feels.
Moyo, a prize-winning economist, is the author of four books, most recently “Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth — And How to Fix It.
She once tangled with Bill Gates after the publication of an earlier book, “Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way For Africa.” Gates claimed that Moyo “didn’t know much about aid and what it was doing in Africa” and declared that a “book like that promoted evil,” which succeeded in winning her a voice in the global policy debate.
For some decades, America has outstripped the rest of the world in income inequality. Moyo’s new book addresses that problem, as well as other deterrents to growth, such as record debt levels, declining productivity, and climate change. She argues that the solution is not more trade protection, less globalization, or more state control, and she proposes 10 radical reforms. If our problems are not addressed, she writes, she foresees economic depression, rising populism, increased global tensions, and conflicts. Without economic growth, she claims, democracy can’t flourish.
Many people are nervous these days about the likely demise of our democracy. Some think it’s already gone. Those people who did not vote for Trump believe that those who did are ill-educated and shortsighted. Moyo hasn’t much faith in the American public. She thinks we don’t know how to install economic policies that are likely to gain us prosperity in the future.
But it’s not just Americans who are nervous. All around the world, people are fed up with stagnant wages and soaring inequality. They are turning against established governments and toward political extremes.
Moyo’s proposals for reform are controversial. For example, she suggests paying lawmakers salaries commensurate with those of the private sector leaders and offering bonuses if GDP growth reaches certain heights, but also that lawmakers should agree to term limits and campaign finance reform.
Some of her proposed reforms are downright head-scratching, such as the idea that voters should have to pass a civics exam before being allowed to vote, or giving extra weight to selected voters “based on their professional standing or qualifications.” But on the whole, Moyo accurately describes the problems facing democracies and suggests provocative remedies. We would do well to attend to her.
Dusty Sklar is the author of many stories and articles, and of the book “Gods and Beasts: The Nazis and the Occult.”