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Book Review of: The Central Liberal Truth


For insight into the seeds of affluence and poverty, read this book.

The Central Liberal Truth

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Review of The Central Liberal Truth, by Lawrence E. Harrison (Hardcover - May 1, 2006)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 5,000 articles.

The odd mix of mutually exclusive words in the title was the first thing about this book that grabbed my attention. The meaning becomes clear as you read the various examples in the book: the central truth is that liberal programs don't work. As these programs try to mandate change, they invariably produce consequences that are the opposite of what they were supposed to produce.

Harrison would probably disagree with what I just said, because throughout the book he uses "liberal" as a positive label--and he concludes the book by pushing leftist opinions that don't really derive from the rest of the book. Yes, there's a connection if you want to read that into the book--but the author's "central" conclusion is tacked on, rather than proven.

Let's briefly address this label of "liberal." In the USA, those calling themselves liberals have given us such enormous taxes (128 taxes on a single loaf of bread) that Americans work 50% more hours each week and take 25% of the annual vacation time as their European counterparts to maintain a similar standard of living (yes, we do have big homes and big cars--but that doesn't account for most of it). These people are actually "statists"--they believe that the government really is here to help you. Many statists also call themselves conservatives. Statism characterized the Clinton administration and it characterizes the Bush administration. One was "liberal," the other is "conservative"--both have grown government enormously at great cost, but with no discernable benefit.

Another point I want to clear up is the issue of exporting freedom. The author derides the notion that the USA can export freedom to the Middle East. He states cultural differences as the reason we cannot do this. Well, he is assuming we have something to export. But do we?

The United States spends more on its military than the next five nations combined, but the number of people on the IRS payroll exceeds the number of folks in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines combined. That has some rather serious implications. Try seeing what freedoms you have if these people dig their claws into you. The facts don't matter, due process is absent, the Bill of Rights is suspended, and you could lose your ability to feed, clothe, and shelter yourself.

John Graver has interviewed wealthy expatriates and found that every one of them cited the IRS as the number one reason for moving abroad. Anyone who has been caught up in the machinery of this criminal-infested agency understands why. The GAO reports each year on IRS employee behavior that normal people would be locked up for (such as stealing 4300 computers from their own offices or kidnapping toddlers at gunpoint). And yet, these demonstrably dishonest people have the absolute authority (regardless of statute or principle) to act as judge, jury, and executioner over people being tried for real or perceived "deficiencies." People on trial for multiple homicide have more rights than people deemed "deficient" by the IRS. Another country noted for allowing the morally bankrupt this level of unbridled power over "deficient" people on such a massive scale was Hitler's Germany.

So much for having freedom to export. We are exporting citizens who seek freedom.

The author reveals a bit of his own idealism and naiveté regarding these two issues. But once we get past those, we can see he has dug into an entire body of knowledge that is routinely ignored by people in power--regardless of whether those people are liberal or conservative. And for this we can be thankful.

Harrison looks at broad trends, and--admittedly--draws broad conclusions. But as you look at the cases, you can see these conclusions are, by and large, reflected in reality. Harrison also does a good job of explaining what the effects are of various religions, cultural taboos, and attitudes. He looks at the effects of female literacy, punctuality, and trust--or the lack of these. These various factors flavor the stew that gives a country its culture.

As I read this book, I kept nodding my head: "Yes, that makes sense" or "That's a well-supported point." I kept feeling I was learning how culture is more than a mere factor in the progress of a nation--it's a determinant. Then, toward the end of the book, we see the real reason Harrison had the word "liberal" in the title. Harrison ties the whole book into the standard commentary of the left, just (thinly) disguised a bit.

I have read several books that, had the author restrained himself from needlessly adding in leftist statements, would have been just fine. These authors have an almost Pavlovian approach to writing--no matter what they write about, they have to either lace the whole piece with leftist opinion or write a fine book and then cap it with leftist conclusions that really have nothing to do with the book.

As I said in the beginning of this review, the real problem Harrison is talking about is statism. We get it from the left and from the right. Liberalism is an enabler of statism, not a solution to it. Statism is the belief that the government actually solves problems--and the more government you have, the better. This belief has dominated politics since the early part of the last century. It failed most dramatically perhaps with the Soviet Union. But it's also failed in the United States, and we have the flight of capital and talent to prove that.

If Harrison writes a second edition, my recommendation would be to limit the book to its central topic of culture. Also, the subtitle "How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It From Itself" was not evident in the book--at least, not to me. Removing the Bush-bashing would make the political aspects of this book very minor. Renaming it to "The Central Cultural Truth" would more accurately reflect its contents.

If you are a leftist, liberal, or Bush basher, you'll love this book because it contains the normal party line and you can mistakenly point to that party line as being supported by the book. Similarly, you could point to the ocean, say it's wet, and then conclude that the leftist view is thus well-supported. Either way is about as good. If you are a conservative, you might begin to see that statism isn't helping your cause at all. And on that, the author has plenty of evidence.

If you want to understand the effects of culture, attitude, and other factors on how affluent or poor a nation is, you'll like this book until almost the end. It's got a wealth of good information and thoughtful analysis. Just take the leftist part with a grain of salt, and you'll find this book rather satisfying.


A note on the writing: form is important, as it dictates readability. Fortunately, this book scored very well on substance and on form. This book actually uses Standard Written English (SWE). This was a refreshing change from the Pidgin English that so many of today's authors slop onto our reading palettes. The care taken in writing this book shows that the author and publisher actually cared about the reader. That's a huge plus.


About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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