By: Marcelo E. SIles

This book focuses on three main problems the United States currently faces: prevailing practices in politics such as direct donations from corporations and voter redistricting, income and wealth inequalities produced by the existing economic system, and the current disarticulations within American society that prevent the transmission of the benefits of economic progress from the center to the periphery. Ramos encourages progressive leaders to organize and align ideas and practices to overcome these socioeconomic distortions “as an essential imperative for the survival of our planet and its people” (p. 253). “In doing so,” he continues, “we can collectively bend the trajectory of our national politics and economy in fundamentally more just and sustainable directions over the decades to come” (p. 253).
Situating the book in historical context, Ramos argues, “where once our nation was the envy of the world for its robust democracy and institutional stability, scientific leadership, quality schools, growing egalitarianism and purposeful leadership today we find ourselves in a notable decline on many of these fronts” (p. xxvii). He further contends, “the wealthy and the powerful today have accumulated more for themselves than any generation of past Americans” (p. xxvii). Despite this, he says, “there are exciting emerging alternatives available to us. These include whole new modalities in responsible development and investment, sustainable energy, workplace quality, education, voting, civic participation, and social justice” (p. xxvii).
One of the saddest aspects of contemporary life in America is the growing sense among many that our democratic institutions and economy are increasingly unresponsive to people’s basic realities and circumstances. In his opening chapter, Ramos states that “a central, if increasingly disturbing reality is the modern economy’s hidden dependence on production externalities to fuel profitability and growth—that is, systematically hiding and passing on to the public the real environmental and societal costs of production” (p. 2). He suggests that among these externalities are “worker discrimination, abuse and injury, as well as associated stress, long term negative health impacts, and family and community disruption” (p. 3).
Ramos also cites some of the important issues that arise due to the prevailing economic model. Among them, he cites increases in wealth and income disparities (especially between White Americans and various minority groups, particularly Latinos and African Americans), and expanding incarceration rates and police violence against people and communities of color. Other important issues are the widespread abridgement or denial of hard-earned worker rights, accelerating disinvestment in the nation’s public education system, the proliferation of modern servitude in the form of growing undocumented immigrant exploitation, and a dramatic reduction in poor people’s access to jobs, housing, legal, and other social services.
Commenting on neoliberal economic
policy, Ramos reflects, “conservative politicians have controlled our national and state political apparatus, and been hostile toward government in general. They have cut taxes and deregulated economic activity across the land” (p. 22). Conservatives have championed policies that enshrine the rights and privileges of capital and wealth over humanity and nature at large, and they have imposed increasingly dehumanizing policies on groups ranging from women and workers to immigrants and the incarcerated.
Ramos artfully states, “our nation has lost its way in recent years. The best elements of what defined us (however imperfect) in the past are at risk of being lost” (p. 25). Some of these elements are our expanding national commitments to intergroup tolerance, equal opportunity, human rights, responsible environmental stewardship, and meaningful bipartisan policymaking.
Ramos seeks to make clear that there are many promising new ideas, visions, models and templates emerging from progressive leaders and grassroots communities all across the country that, properly adopted and scaled, could provide a working roadmap to a more inclusive, successful, and sustainable society. Among them he cites: i) putting people and the planet over privilege and profits, ii) attacking age-old problems in new and different ways, iii) lifting up our voices and vision, and iv) reweaving our tattered social and economic fabric.
To restore our democracy and civic vitality, Ramos states, “it is vital that we join forces to democratize our uneven and over-manipulated election, voting and campaign finance systems” (p. 65). He adds, “these will require us to advance badly needed structural reforms in important areas of current American law and public policy” (p. 65). These include supporting significant changes in our current ways of apportioning civic education and engagement, as well as massive improvements in policy and practice in order to humanize our nation’s badly broken criminal justice and immigration systems.
Perhaps the most important contribution that Ramos makes in his book is a careful analysis of the prevailing socioeconomic conditions in the country. He describes a polarized country where a wealthy minority obtains most of the benefits through an increase in material accumulation and the benefits they receive from the government. On the other hand, the conditions of the majority are continually deteriorating due to the loss of purchasing power of their wages and salaries, the discrimination they face in housing and education, and the lack of access to formal financial markets.
Academicians, community advocates, NGOs, and politicians should be interested in reading this book to contribute to Ramos’ proposal “to build a vision of a better way forward that can genuinely excite a large number of people by promoting more mutually reinforcing actions across the field of progressive change networks” (p. 219).