Public policy maven looks to resurrect what he believes is a time-tested strategy for building a prosperous America.
Gregory fearlessly attacks two vaunted theories: Laissez-Faire and Keynesian economics. Both, he argues, failed as fiscal policies and cannot ensure a lasting recovery. The “trickle-down” prosperity promised since the 1980s never happened, as a greater share of national income became concentrated among top earners. Conversely, Keynesian principles were never appropriately implemented; instead politicians used them as an excuse to get any type of funding approved. A wonkish intellectual who worked for the Michigan Legislature, Gregory is blunt in his diagnosis and even more certain of the cure. He advocates “Investment Budgeting” – government-sponsored infrastructure projects aimed at spurring economic growth. If history provides Gregory ammunition against current policy, it’s also where he finds evidence that strategic infrastructure investment works. Canals, railroads and Interstate highways are hailed as projects that created jobs in the short-run but also fueled future expansion as businesses took advantage of their benefits. To bolster his case for Investment Budgeting, the author paints a bleak picture of America in a “Silent Depression,” a 40-year downward spiral marked by growing income inequality and a shrinking middle class. Much of the blame is placed on the usual suspects: complacent policymakers and a self-interested business lobby. Skepticism is fair game in policy discussions, so the book will get plenty of head-shaking from those who believe Uncle Sam does more harm than good. Its populist overtones, however, will resonate with the disaffected. The most controversial chapter is “Blacks and the Excess Labor Force,” which asserts that the war on crime and drugs unfairly targets the “Black underclass.” The chapter doesn’t synergize with the rest of the text, but it raises questions about the efficacy of the U.S. prison system. Gregory writes with the unique perspective of having once served time himself. While he tries to convince readers of hidden political agendas, Gregory doesn’t push class warfare. He envisions “bottoms-up” growth by putting more people to work.
An about-face proposal for a more resilient economy, where the past isn’t just prologue, it’s a prescription for success.