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America has gone badly off course in the last quarter-century, asserts the author of the countercultural vade mecum The Greening of America (1970). ""We confront conditions that no decent society can tolerate, such as homelessness and the destruction of hope in millions of young people,"" Reich writes. ""We face the very real danger of nonsurvival if we do not change."" He attributes many of these conditions to irresponsible, cancerous economic growth and to the economic coercion that fuels it, and he excels at showing that this supposed economic progress is in fact impoverishing. Reich argues that pollution, crime, and other by-products of unfettered corporatism ought to be considered ""rogue costs,"" and he offers useful ideas, borrowing from recent economic theory, on introducing a scheme of Net Economic Welfare to replace the old Gross National Product so that such costs can be reckoned in the bottom line. More pointedly, he suggests that the most profound changes in the last quarter-century have been the decline of the free market and the collapse of public government. But Reich too often relies on simplistic analysis and scattershot prescription to discuss the nation's shortcomings, and he offers few convincing solutions. It is not helpful, when talking of the horrendous crime patterns of recent years, to volunteer merely that ""the System gains a lot from crime. The System needs an enemy now that the cold war is over."" It is no more helpful to proclaim, ""We must rise to a level where We the People dominate the machine."" Such sloganeering did not fly in 1970, when Reich promised that a bell-bottomed revolution would save the world; it flies no better today, and it undermines the promise and authority of his book. Even with its many good points, this succeeds only as a sermon to the choir.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Crown