A masterful study to be read and reread by anyone interested in today's political economy.

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THE RISE AND FALL OF AMERICAN GROWTH

THE U.S. STANDARD OF LIVING SINCE THE CIVIL WAR

A comprehensive analysis of “one of the most fundamental questions about American economic history.”

Gordon (Social Sciences/Northwestern Univ.; Macroeconomics, 2008, etc.), a respected macroeconomist, provides a groundbreaking contribution to political economy. His emphasis is quite different from the familiar concerns of budget deficits and quarterly profits. He compares the growth of real wages, living standards, and innovations in technology over two periods: 1870 to 1940 and 1940 to 1970. The author identifies advances in lifestyles, and he establishes that New Deal labor policies, which caused real wages to rise faster than productivity, laid the foundation for “the Great Leap Forward” in the middle of the 20th century. The author also shows how horse-drawn streetcars and steam-powered trains expanded urban activities, and he examines how electrification and the internal combustion engine powered the Second Industrial Revolution. Gordon is primarily concerned with the quality of these successive improvements—which, he writes, “are missing from GDP altogether”—as well as the consumer price index, which tracks current sales and prices. “Our measure of capital input,” he writes, “is newly developed for this book and adjusts for the unusual aspects of investment behavior during the 1930s and 1940s.” The author uses his fresh methods to back his argument for the primary significance of the reforms that took place during the New Deal. These policies, many of which are now considered failures, are thus shown to have provided the groundwork for what was to come. This Great Leap Forward generated the momentum that continued into the 1970s. The book is not for general readers, but students and scholars in economics and American history will find within these pages much illuminating interpretation of a massive amount of data.

A masterful study to be read and reread by anyone interested in today's political economy.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-691-14772-7

Page Count: 776

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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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

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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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