Jorge G. Castañeda
This week, Project Syndicate talks with Jorge G. Castañeda, a former foreign minister of Mexico and a professor at New York University.
Project Syndicate: As you note in your latest PS commentary, the problems exposed by America’s triple crisis of COVID-19, economic recession, and mass protests over racial injustice and police violence are rooted not in President Donald Trump’s failures, as dangerous as they are, but in the country’s “founding conditions.” That is why the United States has repeatedly proved “ill-equipped to retool its safety net.” You imply that the current crises can catalyze “radical change,” especially if the November election produces “sound leadership.” Why might this time be different?
Jorge G. Castañeda: It is true that previous attempts at overhauling the social safety net in the US have failed. But, this time, the need for major reform is clearer than ever before. The pandemic has highlighted the health-care system’s inadequacies. The protests have driven more people to acknowledge the extent of systemic racism in the country, spurring discussion about everything from reform of law enforcement and criminal justice to broader affirmative-action policies and even reparations. And the burgeoning economic crisis has underscored the need to strengthen support for people’s livelihoods, such as through unemployment insurance, universal childcare, and a higher minimum wage.
As a result, the share of voters who back such reforms is growing, and their support is deepening. It helps that the share of minority voters – in particular, from the Latinx and Asian-American communities – is growing. If voter turnout among black Americans and young people increases as expected, the Democrats could win a landslide election victory in November. Owing their success, at least partly, to voters who support strengthening the social safety net, they will be under pressure to deliver.
We ask all our Say More contributors to tell our readers about a few books that have impressed them recently. Here are Castañeda's picks:
by Stephen Kotkin
The first two volumes of Kotkin’s recent biography of Stalin feel like a godsend for those of us who read accounts of the Soviet dictator’s life written in the 1960s-1980s, before Boris Yeltsin opened up the archives. This is a long and fascinating read, with meticulous detail and rich explanations of what happened in Russia before the revolution, and in the Soviet Union until 1938. I can’t wait for the third volume.
by Mario Vargas Llosa
Vargas Llosa’s newest novel may not be his finest, but it provides a glimpse into the CIA-sponsored coup in Guatemala in 1954 and what came of it, for the CIA (which had just succeeded in overthrowing a government it did not like) and for the Latin American left (which resolved never to allow another such coup).
by Thomas Piketty
Piketty’s second major work, this is a history of the inequality that has pervaded practically every part of the world since time immemorial. It’s a heavy lift, but Piketty provides an enormous amount of valuable information, useful comparisons, and interesting stories. And his programmatic suggestions for tackling inequality today are intriguing.
From the PS Archive
Right after Donald Trump’s electoral victory, Castañeda argued that it was naïve to hope that Trump would not follow through on his campaign promises – and warned Latin America to brace itself. Read more.
During the Democratic presidential primaries, Castañeda welcomed the bold policy proposals – which would introduce elements of a modern welfare state in health care, childcare, and education – being advocated by many contenders. Read more.
Around the web
In a New York Times commentary, Castañeda asked whether the Trump administratin’s decision to charge Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro with narco-terrorism, drug trafficking, and money laundering is anything more than a bluff. Read the article.
In this Spanish-language interview, Castañeda analyzes the relationship between the US and Mexican presidents, particularly with regard to immigration policy. Watch the video.