American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper

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A “provocative” (Kirkus Reviews), timely, and topical work that examines what’s good for American business and what’s good for Americans—and why those interests are misaligned.

In American Amnesia, bestselling political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson trace the economic and political history of the United States over the last century and show how a viable mixed economy has long been the dominant engine of America’s prosperity. We have largely forgotten this reliance, as many political circles and corporate actors have come to mistakenly see government as a hindrance rather than the propeller it once was. “American Amnesia” is more than a rhetorical phrase; elites have literally forgotten, or at least forgotten to talk about, the essential role of public authority in achieving big positive-sum bargains in advanced societies.

The mixed economy was the most important social innovation of the twentieth century. It spread a previously unimaginable level of broad prosperity. It enabled steep increases in education, health, longevity, and economic security. And yet, extraordinarily, it is anathema to many current economic and political elites. Looking at this record of remarkable accomplishment, they recoil in horror. And as the advocates of anti-government free market fundamentalist have gained power, they are hell-bent on scrapping the instrument of nearly a century of unprecedented economic and social progress. In the American Amnesia, Hacker and Pierson explain the full “story of how government helped make America great, how the enthusiasm for bashing government is behind its current malaise, and how a return to effective government is the answer the nation is looking for” (The New York Times).
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About the author

Jacob S. Hacker is the Stanley B. Resor Professor of Political Science at Yale University. A Fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC, he is the author of The Great Risk Shift: The New Economic Insecurity and the Decline of the American Dream, The Divided Welfare State, and, with Paul Pierson, of American Amnesia: The Forgotten Roots of Our Prosperity; Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class; Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. He has appeared recently on The NewsHour, MSNBC, All Things Considered, and Marketplace. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

Paul Pierson is the John Gross Professor of Political Science at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Politics in Time, Dismantling the Welfare State?, and (with Jacob S. Hacker), American Amnesia: The Forgotten Roots of Our Prosperity; Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class; Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, and The New York Review of Books. He lives in Berkeley, California.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Simon and Schuster
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Published on
Mar 29, 2016
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Pages
464
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ISBN
9781451667844
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
Political Science / American Government / National
Political Science / History & Theory
Political Science / Public Policy / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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A groundbreaking work that identifies the real culprit behind one of the great economic crimes of our time— the growing inequality of incomes between the vast majority of Americans and the richest of the rich.

We all know that the very rich have gotten a lot richer these past few decades while most Americans haven’t. In fact, the exorbitantly paid have continued to thrive during the current economic crisis, even as the rest of Americans have continued to fall behind. Why do the “haveit- alls” have so much more? And how have they managed to restructure the economy to reap the lion’s share of the gains and shift the costs of their new economic playground downward, tearing new holes in the safety net and saddling all of us with increased debt and risk? Lots of so-called experts claim to have solved this great mystery, but no one has really gotten to the bottom of it—until now.

In their lively and provocative Winner-Take-All Politics, renowned political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson demonstrate convincingly that the usual suspects—foreign trade and financial globalization, technological changes in the workplace, increased education at the top—are largely innocent of the charges against them. Instead, they indict an unlikely suspect and take us on an entertaining tour of the mountain of evidence against the culprit. The guilty party is American politics. Runaway inequality and the present economic crisis reflect what government has done to aid the rich and what it has not done to safeguard the interests of the middle class. The winner-take-all economy is primarily a result of winner-take-all politics.

In an innovative historical departure, Hacker and Pierson trace the rise of the winner-take-all economy back to the late 1970s when, under a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, a major transformation of American politics occurred. With big business and conservative ideologues organizing themselves to undo the regulations and progressive tax policies that had helped ensure a fair distribution of economic rewards, deregulation got under way, taxes were cut for the wealthiest, and business decisively defeated labor in Washington. And this transformation continued under Reagan and the Bushes as well as under Clinton, with both parties catering to the interests of those at the very top. Hacker and Pierson’s gripping narration of the epic battles waged during President Obama’s first two years in office reveals an unpleasant but catalyzing truth: winner-take-all politics, while under challenge, is still very much with us.

Winner-Take-All Politics—part revelatory history, part political analysis, part intellectual journey— shows how a political system that traditionally has been responsive to the interests of the middle class has been hijacked by the superrich. In doing so, it not only changes how we think about American politics, but also points the way to rebuilding a democracy that serves the interests of the many rather than just those of the wealthy few.
New York Times Bestseller

What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?

"The election happened," remembers Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, then deputy secretary of the Department of Energy. "And then there was radio silence." Across all departments, similar stories were playing out: Trump appointees were few and far between; those that did show up were shockingly uninformed about the functions of their new workplace. Some even threw away the briefing books that had been prepared for them.

Michael Lewis’s brilliant narrative takes us into the engine rooms of a government under attack by its own leaders. In Agriculture the funding of vital programs like food stamps and school lunches is being slashed. The Commerce Department may not have enough staff to conduct the 2020 Census properly. Over at Energy, where international nuclear risk is managed, it’s not clear there will be enough inspectors to track and locate black market uranium before terrorists do.

Willful ignorance plays a role in these looming disasters. If your ambition is to maximize short-term gains without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing those costs. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems. There is upside to ignorance, and downside to knowledge. Knowledge makes life messier. It makes it a bit more difficult for a person who wishes to shrink the world to a worldview.

If there are dangerous fools in this book, there are also heroes, unsung, of course. They are the linchpins of the system—those public servants whose knowledge, dedication, and proactivity keep the machinery running. Michael Lewis finds them, and he asks them what keeps them up at night.

From America’s preeminent columnist, named by the Financial Times the most influential commentator in the nation, the long-awaited collection of Charles Krauthammer’s essential, timeless writings.
 
A brilliant stylist known for an uncompromising honesty that challenges conventional wisdom at every turn, Krauthammer has for decades daz­zled readers with his keen insight into politics and government. His weekly column is a must-read in Washington and across the country. Now, finally, the best of Krauthammer’s intelligence, erudition and wit are collected in one volume.
 
Readers will find here not only the country’s leading conservative thinker offering a pas­sionate defense of limited government, but also a highly independent mind whose views—on feminism, evolution and the death penalty, for example—defy ideological convention. Things That Matter also features several of Krautham­mer’s major path-breaking essays—on bioeth­ics, on Jewish destiny and on America’s role as the world’s superpower—that have pro­foundly influenced the nation’s thoughts and policies. And finally, the collection presents a trove of always penetrating, often bemused re­flections on everything from border collies to Halley’s Comet, from Woody Allen to Win­ston Churchill, from the punishing pleasures of speed chess to the elegance of the perfectly thrown outfield assist.
 
With a special, highly autobiographical in­troduction in which Krauthammer reflects on the events that shaped his career and political philosophy, this indispensible chronicle takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the fashions and follies, the tragedies and triumphs, of the last three decades of American life.
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