Book Review: Transaction Man

In Transaction Man: The Rise of the Deal and the Decline of the American Dream (Amazon,) author Nicholas Lemann makes a case for building a plural democracy. Did it have to be a book? Probably not.

The money quote:

Embracing pluralism has to begin with a kind of radical humility. It’s human nature, especially for people who think of themselves as educated, sophisticated, and public-spirited, to believe that what you want the world to look like is a broad, objectively determined meliorist plan that will help everyone.

Pluralism requires accepting a degree of messiness, squabbling, pettiness, and bargaining in the governing of a society: these things are a feature, not a bug. People have a strong and often demonstrated tendency to try to settle their differences through violence. Pluralism means to redirect this tendency into managed, nonviolent conflict. It imagines a system of groups endlessly in vigorous contention. No one group should be able to establish its dominion over the others, either out of selfishness or in the conviction that it represents some inarguably right outcome. There is no such thing as a commonsense solution to a major problem, one that is good for everyone.

Pluralism treats democratic processes, not particular outcomes, as moral absolutes.

The economic system, since the Industrial Revolution, has periodically generated extreme concentrations of power and wealth. Imbalances in economic power always turn into imbalances in political power, unless the political system forcibly corrects them. Concentrations of power always wind up harming people, no matter how benign the holders of power believe themselves to be.

The book meanders between trying to be a history lesson and an NYT human interest piece.

Recommendation: Avoid.

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