Deft and detailed defense of government activism to alleviate poverty and extreme inequality in the US.
Despite a long period of dynamic economic growth, the gap between rich and poor in the US continues to grow while real wages stagnate. Page (Political Science/Northwestern Univ.) and Simmons (Political Science/Univ. of Wisconsin) argue that this situation is not only morally wrong, but injurious to social and economic stability. Bucking the current conventional wisdom, the authors maintain that government policymaking can reduce poverty and enhance equality—while still contributing to economic efficiency and individual freedom. They hold that government is not inept by nature, nor has it been made impotent by the competitive demands of globalization. The strategy of the authors here is to look at government policy that has worked and analyze ways in which such policy might be extended or more broadly applied. As with the Head Start program, much can be done to prepare people early on for a life of productive work, but government must also strive to insure the availability of jobs with good wages. As with Social Security, government can promulgate policies that both provide citizens the basic necessities of life and protect them from predictable and unpredictable crises. But before any such policies can be enacted, we are told, the inordinate influence of money on politics and its power to block reform must be overcome; political inequality must be addressed if economic fairness is to be achieved. Much of what the authors say here is not new, but the detail with which they present their views and the richness of their overall vision make this a compelling treatise. It is sure to raise hackles and stir debate—but that, after all, is the point.
A sterling contribution to the ongoing discussion of what this country might or should become.