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Real Common Sense

Nonfiction by Brian Kahn

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Real Common Sense

By Brian Kahn

Seven Stories Press; hardcover

America is being sucked dry by corporate leeches and welfare is a trap. Public education needs a swift kick with a pair of steel-toed boots, and kids see too much sex and violence on TV. Brian Kahn is here to tell you why, and explain that our unsinkable nation needs to look out for icebergs.

Kahn dedicates his book to Thomas Paine and his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, and uses Paine’s words throughout to convey the vision with which the country was founded. He discusses a wide range of topics—the military, the free market economy, welfare, Medicaid, women’s rights, poverty, climate change, environmentalism, our cultural identity—over 181 pages. Sound overwhelming? It is. Kahn makes astute observations and spot-on points about the dangers of ignoring global interconnectedness, but at times he rushes through into broad claims, making some arguments sound like a rant from that relative at Thanksgiving who transforms into a political activist after the second glass of Chardonnay.

He introduces one strong point at the very beginning: “In the real, interdependent world, the illusion of independence has consequences.” He carries this simple mantra through his examination, arguing that we’ve lost sight of this concept and that, “It’s time for us all to take a look in the mirror, accept responsibility, and take action.” To this end he charts how the modern corporation has advanced and gained power while essentially exploiting everyone else. He uses this idea to show how the responsibility that comes with freedom has been ignored.

Kahn’s focus on the corporation runs through the book, in relation to workers’ rights and environmentalists. His take on corporate interests and the clash with morality is done quite well, and he makes concessions to the opposition that prevent Real from becoming a witch hunt for Ayn Rand followers. He shows the deep connection between advances in business and technology and the environment, poverty, education, and the general quality of life. It’s all a balance, and one is not affected without a change in the others. Kahn unrelentingly argues that we’re in this together, but doesn’t wander into campfire kumbayas. He uses historical facts, statistics, and political theory.

Some places where Real falls short are in the solutions, such as when he suggests that a photograph of a person who pays the Social Security tax and a description of their life should accompany every Social Security check. A similar idea is for schoolchildren to write thank-you letters each semester to taxpayers. These musings don’t strengthen his point of social responsibility; they just make the reader tilt his or her head and say, “Huh?”

The purpose of Real Common Sense is to show how America’s ideals are being steered off course. In this he is successful. Though broad and perhaps too far-reaching for its brevity at times, Kahn is attentive and sensitive, and his book does, in fact, make sense.

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