GREENBACK PLANET

HOW THE DOLLAR CONQUERED THE WORLD AND THREATENED CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT

In this succinct overview, two-time Pulitzer finalist Brands (History/Univ. of Texas; The Murder of Jim Fisk for the Love of Josie Mansfield: A Tragedy of the Gilded Age, 2011, etc.) traces the role of the dollar in shaping America's rise to global preeminence.

The author looks at historical benchmarks beginning with two signal events: the issuance of greenbacks as legal tender in 1862 and the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The establishment of the Federal Reserve System 50 years later formalized the second pole in the pendulum swings of U.S. financial policy—between emphasis on a balanced budget and tight credit and the liquidity needed to support industrial growth and high employment, both of which are at the forefront of today's political controversies. Following World War I, the increasingly important international role of the United States led to the establishment of the gold-backed dollar as a global currency, and its replacement by the greenback in 1971 when Richard Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold. Along with an overview of the past 150 years, Brands examines fascinating little-known sidelights. While William Jennings Bryan's famous pro-silver speech attacked the gold-backed dollar, in the 1870s silver was the scarcer metal and silver dollars a rarity. Contrary to the prevailing opinion that America's international dominance rests on the country's military, Brands ascribes it to the “dollar's power” which enabled the nation to “insist on market-opening measures.” The author suggests that in the 21st century, American financial hegemony will be replaced, leaving America's international role in the new post-dollar world an open question. A welcome, balanced look at this hotly debated issue, written with the author's usual flair.

 

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-292-72341-2

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more