What it Takes to Fix a Nation, with Jonathan Tepperman (A Book Review of “The Fix”)

I was skeptical reading Jonathan Tepperman’s book The Fix (Amazon | Indiebound) at first, because as much as I’d like to say that I’m a pretty open and flexible person, my politics are not. I’ve been invested in a specific ideology for a while now, something that has helped me understand the world, our society and how people function.

With a barrage of economic and political crisis around the world, it’s inevitable to lean into a little bit of idealism. To dream up of an alternative world where the 1% isn’t ravaging the rest of us, where wars aren’t the norm, where governments actually function to serve the people.

The reality is grim. The level of inequality among the world’s population is at the highest, threats of nuclear warfare are imminent, and the political rhetoric is at its most toxic, at its worst. And this is only in the United States.

The Fix - Quotes

But there is hope, as Tepperman writes in The Fix. And even better — there are solutions. As he breaks down the “terrible ten,” most pressing issues of our time such as poverty, immigration, Islamic extremism and political gridlock, he also provides concrete illustrations of how different countries have tackled them.

Ten problems (half political, half economic), ten countries, ten solutions.

But first, it is important to note Tepperman’s premise, as illustrated by the cases he presented. Much of these solutions rely on existing government structures and more specifically, politicians.

Take Brazil for example. In a country where about a third of the population is beneath the international poverty line (defined as living on less than $2 a day), former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva implemented a policy which defied all conventional wisdom (and politicking). He introduced Bolsa Família, a social welfare program which attempted to reduce short-term poverty by providing direct cash transfers provided that families ensure their children’s educated and vaccination.

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Described by The Economist as an anti-poverty scheme that was winning converts
worldwide, close to about forty million Brazilians moved from poverty into middle class, with the average household income up by 27 percent.

The program is not without fault of course, and also drew criticism from other sectors of the government and Brazilian society. Still, Tepperman was able to illustrate something that many nations are adopting at the moment, like the Philippines and Zambia.In Canada, the country’s positive outlook regarding immigration had its roots in Justin Trudeau’s father Pierre, the 15th Prime Minister of the country who introduced multiculturalism to the nation as he grappled with national identities.

In Rwanda, Paul Kagame, who commanded the rebel forces that ended the Rwanda genocide between the Tutsis and the Hutus implemented a process that many were doubtful of: gacaca (a Kinyarwanda term which roughly translates to “justice on the grass”), an indigenous precolonial mechanism for dispute resolution.

In Mexico, President Enrique Peña Nieto surprised the country the day after his inauguration with Pacto por México, “an extremely aggressive, ninety-five-item reform agenda aimed at resolving the country’s worst political, social and economic problems” after more than a decade of political gridlock in the country. The U.S. could take note of this.

The Fix - Quotes1What Tepperman succeeds in showing is that with each change, the driver is always a gutsy leader unafraid to fail, audacious in their efforts to try something new.

This is the premise with which he worked on, and with the cases in each country that he provided, he was able to illustrate what it took to solve a specific crisis to near-success. How he also chose an array of solutions, including the most humanistic approaches to the “terrible ten” is impressive.

While that gives people like me hope, there are far bigger questions that remain. I’m no economist, nor a political theorist but I can’t help but wonder about the longevity of the solutions proposed, and the specificity of each to a nation.

I guess what I am looking for is a thread in the “terrible ten,” and how each problem is interrelated. None of these exist in a vacuum, and the root of each issue can almost be traced back to a structure or a system. I was hoping for that initially.

Overall, The Fix was useful in highlighting examples of how each country and their respective leader or leading entity resolved to tackle a specific problem. What it falls short of is making the connections, in envisioning the system that caused all of these problems to begin with, something that I personally wanted to see.

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The Fix: How Countries Use Crises to Solve the World’s Worst Problems by Jonathan Tepperman (Amazon | Indiebound)
Tim Duggan Books (320 pages)
July 25, 2017 (Reprint edition)
My rating: ★★★
Survival of Nations: How Countries Thrive in a World in Decline

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Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. 

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