Only the Rich Can Play: How Washington Works in the New Gilded Age

David Wessel. Public Affairs, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5417-5719-6

Pulitzer winner Wessel (Red Ink) traces the concept of opportunity zones from their origin at a Washington insider dinner in 2013 in this trenchant exposé. The idea of opportunity zones, “struggling parts of the country” that can be economically revitalized by giving investors tax breaks, are the brainchild of Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker, Wessel explains: he built a “bipartisan coalition in Congress to write his idea into law,” which succeeded in 2017. Wessel notes the irony as struggling communities desperate for outside investment—such as Baltimore and Appalachia—are passed over by investors who favor more promising ventures. And a lack of restrictions, Wessel contends, has allowed wealthy investors their tax breaks without the renewal the program was designed for (as seen in an opportunity-zone-funded Ritz-Carlton residence in Downtown Portland). But Wessel does find some zones doing it right: SoLa Impact provides affordable housing to residents of South Los Angeles, for example. Wessel’s colorful, in-depth investigative reporting shines as he takes readers to an Opportunity Zone expo on the Las Vegas strip, behind the scenes of Washington, D.C., think tanks, and on the ground in West Coast communities. Comprehensive and shocking, this is an eye-opener. (Oct.)
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