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Gilder (Wealth and Poverty) is a supply-side propagandist whose crackpot qualities include an almost mystical appreciation of entrepreneurial genius. This takes the form, here, of soppy paeans to individual entrepreneurs, coupled with jeremiads against politicians, intellectuals, and economists for making their life tough. (Economists from Adam Smith to Keynes are disparaged for believing in economic laws, including the invisible hand of the market, rather than in entrepreneurial creativity.) But having it tough goes with each of the persons profiled here--starting with Gilder's first example, potato magnate J. R. Simplot. An Idaho farmboy with an apparently brutish father, Simplot struck out on his own at 14. Entrepreneurs, Gilder observes, invariably come from broken or otherwise disrupted homes. Buying cheap and selling dear, Simplot utilized a kind of counter-intuition that led him to accumulate pigs when there was a glut of pork, only to benefit when demand rose. Entrepreneurs, says Gilder, don't respond to markets; they create them or anticipate them. Simplot's big breakthroughs were developing a potato-sorter and figuring out how to produce good, cheap dehydrated potatoes and onions, which enabled him to benefit handsomely from the WW II demand for his products. Simplot's efforts to hide his profits from taxation, which branded him a war profiteer, are applauded by Gilder, who simply defends the entrepreneur's need to keep recycling profits (and ignores other issues). By producing frozen french fries to the McDonald's standard, Simplot went on to greater wealth; and now he has a microprocessor investment (in a company founded by Idaho twins who once sorted Simplot potatoes). Whether the subject is water-treatment processes, Panasonic radios, personal computers, or cars, Gilder stresses the failures that precede success, the daring price cuts, and the vision (in one case, of a whole new city surrounding an Oklahoma golf course) that characterize his heroes. On the other side are the materialistic, atheistic nay-sayers; for them ""matter is non-renewable, flesh is finite and exhaustible, co-eds flee the withering touch, youth is fleeting and beset by natural laws and depletions of energy."" Mythmaking, and superficial at that--but there will be takers and those who buy it.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster