Kim Phillips-Fein

  • Another Country

    Economic crises get the jeremiads they deserve. More than a hundred years ago, with the labor uprisings of the Lower East Side as a backdrop, Jacob Riis published How the Other Half Lives; the 1930s saw an outpouring of writing chronicling the Depression as a betrayal of American promise; in the early 1960s, Michael Harrington wrote The Other America, an impassioned exposé of poverty in the midst of abundance. Just a few years earlier, John Kenneth Galbraith had deplored the inane commercialism of 1950s America in The Affluent Society. And in the early aughts, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and

  • Cuts to the Quick

    Ordinary words can undergo strange transformations when they are used in politics. Outside of its economic context, the word austerity connotes something stern, bleak, undecorated, pared back to its elements. But the whole concept of cutting government programs during a recession—in other words, precisely when people may need them the most—seems not just strict but cruel. For example, New York City, in the aftermath of the 1975 fiscal crisis, laid off nearly a thousand firefighters—even though neighborhoods in the South Bronx and Brooklyn were in the midst of what later scholars have described

  • Right from the Start

    It would surely trouble John Boehner to hear it, but Karl Marx’s old aphorism about history happening the first time as tragedy, the second as farce has rarely applied with as much force as it does to today’s conservative movement. The GOP wave that swept Boehner into the House speakership in November struck pundits as a historic departure, but it’s actually part of the broader half-century conservative revolt against the idea of government. Fifty years ago, when Ronald Reagan was jaunting around the country giving speeches for General Electric, he denounced progressive taxation as tantamount

  • Imprisoner’s Dilemma

    The world’s largest jail is the Twin Towers Correctional Facility of Los Angeles, which occupies two peach-colored structures in the center of the city. Within those walls are two gymnasiums, kitchens capable of serving seventeen thousand meals a day, medical and mental-health wards, and, of course, the inmates’ quarters—which are straight out of Michel Foucault’s darker imaginings, heptagons with a single security guard in the middle surveying ninety-six cells at once through glass doors and with video cameras. Five stories high, the jail connects its floors via an enclosed yard area with a