The author, latterly, of the gloomy Business Civilization in Decline (1976) has shifted gears; in this brief essay he...



The author, latterly, of the gloomy Business Civilization in Decline (1976) has shifted gears; in this brief essay he quietly and firmly addresses the question of why, though the 1973-74 economic crisis has been weathered, recovery has been slow and unease remains. On the assumption that the system is faulty, Heilbroner reviews the process of economic growth as delineated by Marx, identifies the sources of potential disruption (e.g., labor's tendency to resist irksome work during long periods of prosperity), and concludes that success--not malfunction--makes the system crisis-prone. Persistent inflation also figures--owing, in significant measure, to government intercession to maintain economic performance and meet ever-rising expectations. Advances are uneven, so different groups (unions, companies, the unemployed) jockey for position, creating ""a vicious and mounting spiral."" And when government acts to rein in the (government-induced) process, recession occurs, resulting in ""stop-go' business cycles. A current contributory factor is ""the rise and subsequent fall of the American imperium""--by which Heilbroner means, finally, the battering of the dollar. But this, given the inherent strength of the American economy, suggests that something irrational is involved, a crisis of confidence. And it is here that Heilbroner is perhaps most subtle and astute, for he notes, inarguably, that the capitalist class has never been convinced that ""the economic vehicle would not tip over"" nor could it ""square the results of the economic system with the values of its political and social beliefs."" From insecurity and defensiveness, then, come the system's swings in mood. How to get it back to steady, sustained growth? Only by economic planning, Heilbroner maintains, and finds it warranted, even mandated, by environmental problems. Some long-range prognostications follow, but the basic argument is so succinct, so concrete and pertinent as to be within anyone's reach--and decidedly worth attention.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 1978


Page Count: -

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1978