DECADE OF DECISION by Michael Harrington
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A talky, preachy, nonetheless well-taken argument against bedding down with business for the common good. It's well-taken because almost no one but Harrington, with his cranky old-time socialism, is currently taking it: Americans have, as he charges, become comfortable with 6% ""structural unemployment""; in a reversal of traditional free-market assumptions, we are trusting to increased investment, not increased consumption, to reactivate the economy. The Sixties, Harrington points out, spawned the novel idea of ""making money by doing good""--via investments in Bedford-Stuyvesant, for instance; in the Seventies, business investment became ""the key to the well-being of the entire society."" Concomitantly, we've accepted without protest paper claims that poverty has been abolished. And, disillusioned with education as an economic leveler, we've lost interest in education, period. Harrington's method of dealing with these matters--to take one set of findings and pummel them with another--does not of itself induce assent. But surely measurements of the poverty level which, keyed to 1955 criteria, placed it in 1977 at $6,191 for an urban family of four, are flawed; surely anything below half the national median income--then $16,010--constitutes deprivation. Here, as the author of The Other America and its lobbyist-at-large, Harrington is on firmer ground (in crediting food stamps with real value, for instance, and questioning the dollar-value of Medicaid) than he is in castigating the owners of capital--and ignoring the managerial elite. And his practice of fielding an assortment of recent writings yields, besides staged confrontations, some interesting congruences--as between Fred Hirsch's finding that some goods are valued for their exclusiveness, and Lester Thurow's conclusion that higher education has become, not a step to success, but a ""defensive maneuver."" Harrington is not wrong, then, in faulting all those ""antiegalitarians"" who dream of striking it rich themselves and refuse to see how bad off they are; neither is he wrong in contending that full employment, plus a leveling of incomes, would allow people to work at what they like and study to learn. His proposed solutions, however, are predicated on ""national planning"" and massive governmental interventions--and thus run counter to the very mistrust of big government that he pays obeisance to at the close. This is to be read, though, not for the how but for the why--for a view that doesn't seek salvation in the Dow Jones average and the quarterly GNP.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1980
Publisher: Simon & Schuster