A blistering jeremiad that gives new vibrancy to the political clichÉ that Washington is out of touch with the average...


"ARROGANT CAPITAL: Washington, Wall Street, and the Frustrations of American Politics"

A blistering jeremiad that gives new vibrancy to the political clichÉ that Washington is out of touch with the average American. At first glance, it would seem that any book rehashing this idea, even calling for a Jeffersonian-style electoral revolution, is hardly onto anything new. But Phillips (The Politics of Rich and Poor, 1990) is a brilliant reader of the political tea leaves; this seasoned Washington observer more than compensates for boiler-plate populism with a steady accretion of detail and provocative historical comparisons. For instance, he not only notes how parasitic the Beltway has become, but catalogues it with alarming data: the capital is overrun, he states, by 40,000-50,000 lawyers, 90,000 lobbyists, a Congressional staff of 20,000, and 12,000 journalists. Phillips also finds novel examples of ""the capital's intermingling of public service, loose money, vocational incest, overinflated salaries, and ethical flexibility."" One instance is what he calls ""loophole nepotism,"" the congressional practice of putting relatives on a colleague's payroll. Former assets of the American tradition have become liabilities, he thinks, including a separation of powers that discourages cooperation and responsibility, and a labyrinthine framework with 83,000 state, county, and city government subdivisions. Moreover, the government's inability to regulate electronic financial speculation has exposed the middle class to the decline of the manufacturing sector and even white-collar downsizing. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are willing to reform the mess since they feed at the special-interest trough. Phillips draws useful parallels with three capitals once afflicted with unproductive hangers-on: Madrid in the 1590s, the Hague in the 1690s, and London in the 1890s. He calls for reform measures ranging from the quixotic (periodically moving Congress out of the capital) to the sensible (the elimination of incentives for lawyers and lobbyists). Unusually wise to the dodges of Washington's rich and powerful.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1994


Page Count: 248

Publisher: "Little, Brown"

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994