Friday book post

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these, but I’ve just read two excellent books in a row, I want to recommend.

First, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  It’s hard to summarize this expansive novel in a few sentences, but it largely about the life story of a doctor of complicated parentage who grows up at a mission hospital in turbulent 1960’s and 70’s Ethiopia and comes to America.  Hmmm, that doesn’t do it justice.  The plot moves along just fine, but this book isn’t about the plot– like all great novels, it’s about people and their relationships and it feels utterly real.  There’s also a lot about medicine, which I always really enjoy reading about.  Most notably it is beautifully written and told in such a compelling first-person voice it seems hard to believe its a work of fiction and not a memoir.  Definitely one of those books that stick with you.

I don’t read a lot of mysteries, but when one is strongly recommended on NPR, I’ve had good success.  And so it is with The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino.   In this case, a genius mathematician helps a neighbor cover up a murder.  The cover-up plan is almost perfect and seems to account for everything.  The one thing his plan does not account for is that his former college friend, a genius physicist gets involved in the case and unraveling the cover-up.  Really entertaining reading and I enjoyed getting a good taste of Japanese culture while at it.

Economic doom?

I really don’t feel like writing about all the bad economic news, yet feel obligated to not ignore the issue here.  Just read Peter Boone and Simon Johnson’s excellent piece in TNR.  Some highlights:

The overriding problem that most wealthy nations face is they have promised far more in public sector spending than they are currently willing to pay for in taxes. In the United States, the federal government spends 1.7 times its total revenues, leaving the country with a 9-10 percent 2011 GDP budget deficit, and little route to a solution if, as the Republicans demand, no further revenues are raised. It remains unclear how anyone decided that the federal government must not collect revenues exceeding 18 percent of GDP, irrespective of what happens as the society ages, but influential Republicans are pushing for a constitutional amendment that would set this limit in stone. Even tax reforms that would raise revenues, while lowering distortions, are apparently out of the question.

Responsible fiscal policy requires that we gradually reduce budget deficits and prevent the current risk of a deleterious spike in public debt levels. But talk of “death panels” has scared all politicians from discussing the obvious—health care costs for the United States are not under control (for the private sector as well as for the public sector); within 20 years, it is clear to every observer that this will be a main source of fiscal crisis if nothing is done.

There’s also plenty about the European debt crisis.  I’ve focused on the domestic problems,  but this is, undoubtedly, and inter-related global crisis.  Short version: not good!

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