HEALING AMERICA by Richard Cornuelle


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In 1965 it was Reclaiming the American Dream; in 1975, De-Managing America. But the time may have come, to a degree, for Cornuelle's idea that voluntary associations can do what the government can't--even if few would be ready to dismantle the Social Security system or entrust nongovernmental organizations with responsibility for reducing unemployment. (Cornuelle was once head of the NAM.) Historically, the argument still has its problems. Cornuelle is right in noting that the failure of Hoover's voluntary solutions to the Depression, in 1931-32, discredited ""the independent sector""; he is right in noting that New Deal policies did not bring lasting economic recovery; he is not wrong in noting that Keynes' faith in government spending--embraced by FDR only after the 1937 recession--reflected the conditions of the 1930s. (For a fine recent discussion of the issues, see Albert Romasco's The Politics of Recovery, p. 293.) But these truths together do not demonstrate the feasibility of a Hoover solution to the far greater problems of welfare-state capitalism and an interdependent world economy. Where Cornuelle seems to have a better case is in noting the failure of successive administrations ""to make government work better""--but, in the words of his argument for reconsidering voluntarism, ""that [does] not mean it never could."" Where he does have a case, however, is in noting the proliferation--in the US and abroad--of ""countereconomies"" and local initiatives. Thus, making common cause with right-wing libertarians and left-wing democrats, he can today propound ""voluntary social activism"" and full use of ""the human qualities most essential to building a good society."" This does not give the book as a whole any great importance--by comparison, for example, with Jane Jacobs' observations on neighborhood alertness in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which Cornuelle cites (or Joseph Bower's diagnosis, above); it does, however, have a certain born-again attraction.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1983
Publisher: Putnam