AMERICA'S IMPASSE: The Rise and Fall of the Politics of Growth by Alan Wolfe
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AMERICA'S IMPASSE: The Rise and Fall of the Politics of Growth

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President Reagan's recent successes on budget and tax cuts have been widely seen as a radical departure from policies followed since the New Deal. Wolfe, a Queens College, CUNY, sociologist (The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Threat), sees them instead as the latest in a long series of growth-oriented maneuvers. Wolfe argues that World War II resulted in a transformation in the American scene on three important levels: political power became centralized and expanded in the federal government; the economy became centralized and expanded through monopolization; and the military became permanently entrenched in both the state and the economy. Whereas the New Deal had involved a political struggle between advocates of state-directed action toward social goals and advocates of business freedom, the postwar political era ushered in by Truman was predicated on a consensus behind economic growth--facilitated by American domination of the world economy. Truman's coalition was differently based than FDR's: unions instead of unorganized workers; aggressive liberal internationalists instead of internationalist ""idealists""; interest groups instead of individuals; advocates of growth instead of reformers. In short, Truman's coalition lopped off the right and left of the political spectrum, uniting the center around world economic domination, anti-communism, and trickle-down wealth. Wolfe minimizes the differences between the political parties, claiming that the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations continued along the same course. But the Vietnam War, the rising demands of the Third Word, and the maturization of America's economic rivals signaled an end to the economic preconditions of the politics of growth. Nixon, he argues, saw this change but failed to meet the challenge of forging a new politics, despite his efforts to revamp the Republican electoral base and to protect the US economy while ""thawing"" relations with communist states. Carter, too, failed, combining a rhetoric of diminished expectations with liberal internationalist economic policies left over from the growth period. Reagan, far from reversing the policies of the last 35 years, has employed the tactic of ""supply-side"" stimulation to achieve what ""demand-side"" policies have failed to do--namely, insure continued growth. But in Wolfe's view, these policies will only worsen the global economic conditions that have sapped American economic might, leaving Reagan no better off than Carter was. The only remedy is to fashion a new political consensus that no longer relies on growth, but accepts the role of the state in realizing goals of full employment, national economic and military security, price stability, economic re-distribution, etc. This amounts to a kind of New Deal revived, with less emphasis on demand stimulation and more on ""supply-side"" incentives toward social goals. Whether or not Wolfe's analysis of the past supports such a hope, his long-term view does put Reagan in perspective and make sense out of his immediate predecessors, no mean feat. Some fresh, provocative thinking, and highly readable.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1981
Publisher: Pantheon