An old Wall Street jape holds that if all the world's economists were laid end to end, they would never reach a conclusion. Its neo-Keynesian biases apart, Holt's survey of the arguably limited role America has played in the wider world's economic affairs is vulnerable to the same charge. Which is not to say that the London-based consultant fails to provide a coherent briefing on the history of US commerce and finance. Indeed, he makes a generally good job of tracking the development of domestic business activity from colonial times through the Industrial Revolution, two world wars, a Great Depression, and other landmark events in the modern era. While the author implies throughout that an affluent America should have taken at least shared responsibility for managing the world's economy, he never follows through with an explanation of how Washington could have taken a path different from the one that has afforded foreign vendors of goods and services almost unrestricted access to the vast US market and encouraged indigenous investment bankers to supply multinationals with much of the capital they required for expansion. Instead, Holt offers vaguely critical commentary on America's recurrent isolationism, periodic concern for balanced budgets, and propensity for throwing its weight around in aid of laissez-faire rather than seizing opportunities to exert hegemonic leadership in a statist order marked by managed trade, central planning, interventionist governance, and other precepts from the collectivist canon. But at the end of the day Holt lacks the courage of his implicit conviction that Lord Keynes was eminently correct in maintaining the economic fate of nations is too important to be entrusted entirely to market forces. This low-key appreciation of America's emergence as an economic superpower lacks the interpretive fortitude that makes for telling judgments.
Read full book review >