Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review of Main Street Smarts

Grace Ross’ book “Main Street $marts, Who got us into this economic mess and how we get through it …” is out. But why a book by Grace Ross?

A list of authors of other well-known books about the crisis includes seven professors, three heads of think tanks or consulting firms and two Nobel Prize winners, cabinet secretaries and advisors to Presidents, liberals and conservatives, all Very Important People.

But Grace Ross? Community and housing rights activist? First-time author? Sometime candidate for public office? No PhD? Not even a gig with the IMF or the Treasury Dept.?

First, not one of those other books was written by someone who knows firsthand what is going on, has been hearing what regular people are saying and seeing what they are going through. Not one of them has been working at our sides as we struggle for our rights and for our survival. And this special point of view - the “view from the shop floor”, our point of view – comes through on every page.

For example, in the middle of an analysis of what the banks are doing:

“The craziest thing is that in over two decades of housing advocacy I have never heard what I am hearing from people these days. You knock on their doors and they end up begging you to please make the lenders take their rent or their mortgage payments. Because they are willing to pay, but the lenders would rather foreclose and evict.” (p.85)

Hers is a voice from the boiler room telling us what all the sailors know but the Captain on the bridge doesn’t - or won’t admit: this ship’s in trouble!

The book is thoroughly footnoted, every fact triple-checked, but it is written for regular folk. She even makes derivatives and hedge funds understandable! Snobby people may not like it. Regular folk love it!

And hers is an angry voice. Not blind rage, but the controlled outrage of someone with 26 years of looking the victims in the eye, holding their hands and walking them through the steps of learning to fight back.

The section about the way the cost of living index (CPI) has been gimmicked over the years to hide the real rate of inflation starts with:

“How often do we go to the market and think: ‘How’d that get so expensive?’” (p.200)

Two easy-to-read pages, a well-explained graph and several footnotes later, it ends with:

“Not angry yet? For seniors reading this: Social Security payments would be almost 50 percent more than they are today if they had not messed with the math!”

But why now? Isn’t it almost over? The book itself makes clear why: this ain’t over baby! This mess is just beginning! Sorry, but it won’t end until we all get together to do something about it! The foreclosure crisis? It hasn’t even peaked yet, with 35% of homeowners nationally “underwater” now and the biggest peak of rate resets yet to come! Unemployment? She explains in detail how the real rate is two and a half times higher than the official rate, which mysteriously is dropping even though no new jobs are being created! And then there’s the “Federal Reserve” bubble, trillions of new dollars being created out of thin air to finance the banks, and why that has to end in a disaster that will dwarf the crash of 2008!

And yet, this book is full of reasons to hope. Woven through the book are stories about programs and policies that could turn our state around, and the struggles that have been waged to win them, including a devastating attack on the “Massachusetts Miracle Plan” that “Obamacare” was patterned on and concrete suggestions of how to replace it with a state single-payer plan that really works!

And it has rich proposals on how to work with the small business community to break our dependence on the international mega-banks and start building a new local green-energy economy. Not just why huge tax giveaways and subsidies for Cape Wind or Evergreen won’t work, but also why locally-owned projects like the hugely successful municipal windmills in Hull can and will!

Grace knows all the players on Beacon Hill, has worked with them, haggled with them and helped them craft policies and legislation, and she has a lot of inside-the-hub stories to tell, but there is never any doubt whose side Grace is on.
This is not a “how to get rich off the coming depression” book or a “they’re so stupid, they should have listened to me” book, it’s a book of ideas and tools for people who want to fight back, people who want to save our communities, save our jobs and our homes, take our democracy back.

They’ve got their books about the crisis. This is our book.

You can get Grace's book Main St. Smarts online at or at independent bookstores listed on it, including Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough. Paperback, $17.95.
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