As Jeff Madrick makes clear in a narrative at once sweeping, fast-paced, and incisive, the single-minded pursuit of huge personal wealth has been on the rise in the United States since the 1970s, led by a few individuals who have argued that self-interest guides society more effectively than community concerns. These stewards of American capitalism have insisted on the central and essential place of accumulated wealth through the booms, busts, and recessions of the last half century, giving rise to our current woes.
In telling the stories of these politicians, economists, and financiers who declared a moral battle for freedom but instead gave rise to an age of greed, Madrick traces the lineage of some of our nation’s most pressing economic problems. He begins with Walter Wriston, head of what would become Citicorp, who led the battle against government regulation. He examines the ideas of economist Milton Friedman, who created the plan for an anti-Rooseveltian America; the politically expedient decisions of Richard Nixon that fueled inflation; the philosophy of Alan Greenspan, on whose libertarian ideology a house of cards was built on Wall Street; and the actions of Sandy Weill, who constructed the largest financial institution in the world, which would have gone bankrupt in 2008 without a federal bailout of $45 billion. Significant figures including Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken, Jack Welch, and Ronald Reagan play key roles as well.
Intense economic inequity and instability is the story of our age, and Jeff Madrick tells it with style, clarity, and an unerring command of his subject.
From the Hardcover edition.
Budget deficits are bad. A strong dollar is good. Controlling inflation is paramount. Pay reflects greater worker skills. A deregulated free market is fair and effective. Theories like these have become mantras among American economists both liberal and conservative over recent decades. Validated originally by patron saints like Milton Friedman, they’ve assumed the status of self-evident truths across much of the mainstream. Jeff Madrick, former columnist for The New York Times and Harper’s, argues compellingly that a reconsideration is long overdue.
Since the financial turmoil of the 1970s made stagnating wages and relatively high unemployment the norm, Madrick argues, many leading economists have retrenched to the classical (and outdated) bulwarks of theory, drawing their ideas more from purist principles than from the real-world behavior of governments and markets—while, ironically, deeply affecting those governments and markets by their counsel. Madrick atomizes seven of the greatest false idols of modern economic theory, illustrating how these ideas have been damaging markets, infrastructure, and individual livelihoods for years, causing hundreds of billions of dollars of wasted investment, financial crisis after financial crisis, poor and unequal public education, primitive public transportation, gross inequality of income and wealth and stagnating wages, and uncontrolled military spending.
Using the Great Recession as his foremost case study, Madrick shows how the decisions America should have made before, during, and after the financial crisis were suppressed by wrongheaded but popular theory, and how the consequences are still disadvantaging working America and undermining the foundations of global commerce. Madrick spares no sinners as he reveals how the “Friedman doctrine” has undermined the meaning of citizenship and community, how the “Great Moderation” became a great jobs emergency, and how economists were so concerned with getting the incentives right for Wall Street that they got financial regulation all wrong. He in turn examines the too-often-marginalized good ideas of modern economics and convincingly argues just how beneficial they could be—if they can gain traction among policy makers.
Trenchant, sweeping, and empirical, Seven Bad Ideas resoundingly disrupts the status quo of modern economic theory.
From the Hardcover edition.
Madrick explains why politics and economics should go hand in hand; why America benefits when the government actively nourishes economic growth; and why America must reject free market orthodoxy and adopt ambitious government-centered programs. He looks critically at today's politicians--at Republicans seeking to revive nineteenth-century principles, and at Democrats who are abandoning the pioneering efforts of the Great Society. Madrick paints a devastating portrait of the nation's declining social opportunities and how the economy has failed its workers. He looks critically at today's politicians and demonstrates that the government must correct itself to address these serious issues.
A practical call to arms, The Case for Big Government asks for innovation, experimentation, and a willingness to fail. The book sets aside ideology and proposes bold steps to ensure the nation's vitality.