“The Dirty Bomb Coming To A City Near You” — Book Review

by Bruce Judson on October 20th, 2009

This review of It Could Happen Here appeared in the October 16, 2009 issue of Too Much, the online newsletter of the the Council on International and Public Affairs, a nonprofit research and education group based in New York City.

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by Sam Pizzigati

Last week’s headlines about Wall Street’s latest bonus windfalls once again raise a question most basic: How much greed at the top before America says enough? How much more before some Americans, incensed by the contrast between that greed and their daily struggle to get by, take matters — rashly — into their own hands?

Might we see, someday soon, unemployed nuclear engineers threatening America with radioactive dirty bombs? Might we experience a home-grown “terrorist act” that ends up collapsing the United States we we know it?

Bruce Judson thinks we might — and we would be wise to listen to his warning.

“History teaches that there are limits to the extent of acceptable economic inequality in any society,” this senior faculty fellow at Yale University’s business school writes in his chilling new book, It Could Happen Here. “We have moved beyond these limits.”

Judson’s slim new volume imagines what might happen if a small group of Americans – infuriated by the demise of the American dream — decided “to use extreme and abhorrent methods to voice its rage.” This gripping and plausible foray into futuristic fiction then segues into a well-argued, totally nonfiction brief against present-day America’s extreme — and growing — inequality.

The brief reads well. A lawyer by training and an entrepreneur by career, Judson knows first-hand how big money gets made in America today. The super rich do not awe him. But their impact does scare him.

America’s intense concentration of wealth and income over the last three decades, Judson explains, has undermined our middle class economic security. Some eight to ten million families, he notes, now face foreclosure. And nearly 80 percent of America’s middle class households lack enough in savings “to survive more than three months at three-quarters of their current spending.”

“If millions of people — who believe their anger is justified — lose their homes, jobs, retirements, and dreams, can we realistically expect continued loyalty to our system?” Judson asks. “In particular, how will angry people react if they feel their lives have been unfairly ruined for the benefit of a small number of people at the top?”

Judson, a self-described “ardent capitalist” and “patriot,” considers It Could Happen Here “a wake-up call” for a “dysfunctional democracy.” The Great Recession, he believes, constitutes just “the first of the dangerous perils that face the nation as a result of unsustainable economic inequality.”

We obviously need to recover from recession, Judson readily acknowledges, as soon as we can. But economic recovery by itself, he stresses, won’t reverse the dynamics — and dangers — that our current inequality creates: “We have been placing untenable stress on the middle class for too long, through boom times and recessions, for economic recovery to be the only answer to our ills.”

The reversal we need, Judson goes on to note, “will require a far more radical realignment of the way wealth is distributed within the society.”

What might that realignment entail? It Could Happen Here outlines, in broad strokes, an answer. But Judson offers no step-by-step gameplan for change. He aims instead to jolt, to help a confused and frustrated America understand what we endanger when we let wealth cascade year after year into precious few pockets. At that task he succeeds.

Read this book and see for yourself. Even better, give this book to friends and family who need to see what you already do.

Sam Pizzigati is the Editor of Too Much, and an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Last year, he played an active role on the team that generated The Nation magazine’s special issue on extreme inequality, which issue recently won the 2009 Sidney Hillman Prize for magazine journalism.

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