THE GOOD LIFE AND ITS DISCONTENTS by Robert J. Samuelson

THE GOOD LIFE AND ITS DISCONTENTS

How the American Dream Became a Fantasy, 1945-1995
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A journalist's cursory diagnosis of what he believes ails the body politic in the latter-day US. Newsweek and Washington Post columnist Samuelson only amorphously defines the angst, disenchantment, funk, or malaise that supposedly has obstructed America's pursuit of happiness these many years since VJ day. He nonetheless offers a clear if bleak picture of its causes. In the author's view, the domestic economy fared so well in the years immediately following WW II that the electorate began to assume Big Government in league with Big Business could guarantee not only endless affluence but also such ancillary blessings as upward mobility, cradle-to-grave financial security, racial harmony, reduced crime rates, greater social justice, and even a more stable world order. In time, he notes, the shared credo of entitlement expanded to include a new imperative: personal fulfillment, a permissive ethic that discarded traditional rules of conduct, devalued accountability, and imposed unbearable burdens on institutions. It eventually became apparent that the state was but one of the many global influences on the US economy. Nor, it developed, could corporate managers credibly claim to be miracle workers. Worse yet, risk and pain proved perdurable concomitants of capitalism's rewards, a reality that frequently pitted competitiveness against compassion in the marketplace. In the meantime, hordes of interest groups emerged to plead their parochial causes, while Washington (despite vast outlays and budget deficits) failed to deliver on many promises. Among other unfortunate consequences, the public's faith in government has been eroded if not destroyed. At the close, Samuelson provides a renewal agenda based on curbing the ``casual use of government . . . as the problem solver of last resort'' and a commitment to individual responsibility. Glib perspectives on what de Tocqueville termed America's ``revolution of rising expectations,'' from an observer who fancies himself disillusioned. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8129-2592-0
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1995