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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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
Political Science / American Government / National
Political Science / General
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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Jacob S. Hacker
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.
Richard Haass
"A valuable primer on foreign policy: a primer that concerned citizens of all political persuasions—not to mention the president and his advisers—could benefit from reading." —The New York Times

An examination of a world increasingly defined by disorder and a United States unable to shape the world in its image, from the president of the Council on Foreign Relations

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. The rules, policies, and institutions that have guided the world since World War II have largely run their course. Respect for sovereignty alone cannot uphold order in an age defined by global challenges from terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons to climate change and cyberspace. Meanwhile, great power rivalry is returning. Weak states pose problems just as confounding as strong ones. The United States remains the world’s strongest country, but American foreign policy has at times made matters worse, both by what the U.S. has done and by what it has failed to do. The Middle East is in chaos, Asia is threatened by China’s rise and a reckless North Korea, and Europe, for decades the world’s most stable region, is now anything but. As Richard Haass explains, the election of Donald Trump and the unexpected vote for “Brexit” signals that many in modern democracies reject important aspects of globalization, including borders open to trade and immigrants.

In A World in Disarray, Haass argues for an updated global operating system—call it world order 2.0—that reflects the reality that power is widely distributed and that borders count for less. One critical element of this adjustment will be adopting a new approach to sovereignty, one that embraces its obligations and responsibilities as well as its rights and protections. Haass also details how the U.S. should act towards China and Russia, as well as in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. He suggests, too, what the country should do to address its dysfunctional politics, mounting debt, and the lack of agreement on the nature of its relationship with the world.

A World in Disarray is a wise examination, one rich in history, of the current world, along with how we got here and what needs doing. Haass shows that the world cannot have stability or prosperity without the United States, but that the United States cannot be a force for global stability and prosperity without its politicians and citizens reaching a new understanding.
E.J. Dionne
From the author of Why Americans Hate Politics, the New York Times bestselling and “notably fair-minded” (The New York Times Book Review), story of the GOP’s fracturing—from the 1964 Goldwater takeover to the Trump spectacle.

Why the Right Went Wrong offers an “up to the moment” (The Christian Science Monitor) historical view of the right since the 1960s. Its core contention is that American conservatism and the Republican Party took a wrong turn when they adopted Barry Goldwater’s worldview during and after the 1964 campaign. The radicalism of today’s conservatism is not the product of the Tea Party, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne writes. The Tea Partiers are the true heirs to Goldwater ideology. The purity movement did more than drive moderates out of the Republican Party—it beat back alternative definitions of conservatism.

Since 1968, no conservative administration—not Nixon not Reagan not two Bushes—could live up to the rhetoric rooted in the Goldwater movement that began to reshape American politics fifty years ago. The collapse of the Nixon presidency led to the rise of Ronald Reagan, the defeat of George H.W. Bush, to Newt Gingrich’s revolution. Bush initially undertook a partial modernization, preaching “compassionate conservatism” and a “Fourth Way” to Clinton’s “Third Way.” Conservatives quickly defined him as an advocate of “big government” and not conservative enough on spending, immigration, education, and Medicare. A return to the true faith was the only prescription on order. The result was the Tea Party, which Dionne says, was as much a reaction to Bush as to Obama.

The state of the Republican party, controlled by the strictest base, is diminished, Dionne writes. It has become white and older in a country that is no longer that. It needs to come back to life for its own health and that of the country’s, and in Why the Right Went Wrong, Dionne “expertly delineates where we are and how we got there” (Chicago Tribune)—and how to return.
Paul Pierson
The contemporary American political landscape has been marked by two paradoxical transformations: the emergence after 1960 of an increasingly activist state, and the rise of an assertive and politically powerful conservatism that strongly opposes activist government. Leading young scholars take up these issues in The Transformation of American Politics. Arguing that even conservative administrations have become more deeply involved in managing our economy and social choices, they examine why our political system nevertheless has grown divided as never before over the extent to which government should involve itself in our lives.

The contributors show how these two closely linked trends have influenced the reform and running of political institutions, patterns of civic engagement, and capacities for partisan mobilization--and fueled ever-heightening conflicts over the contours and reach of public policy. These transformations not only redefined who participates in American politics and how they do so, but altered the substance of political conflicts and the capacities of rival interests to succeed. Representing both an important analysis of American politics and an innovative contribution to the study of long-term political change, this pioneering volume reveals how partisan discourse and the relationship between citizens and their government have been redrawn and complicated by increased government programs.

The contributors are Andrea Louise Campbell, Jacob S. Hacker, Nolan McCarty, Suzanne Mettler, Paul Pierson, Theda Skocpol, Mark A. Smith, Steven M. Teles, and Julian E. Zelizer.

Joe Soss
Over the past three decades, the contours of American social, economic, and political life have changed dramatically. The post-war patterns of broadly distributed economic growth have given way to stark inequalities of income and wealth, the GOP and its allies have gained power and shifted U.S. politics rightward, and the role of government in the lives of Americans has changed fundamentally. Remaking America explores how these trends are related, investigating the complex interactions of economics, politics, and public policy.

Remaking America explains how the broad restructuring of government policy has both reflected and propelled major shifts in the character of inequality and democracy in the United States. The contributors explore how recent political and policy changes affect not just the social standing of Americans but also the character of democratic citizenship in the United States today. Lawrence Jacobs shows how partisan politics, public opinion, and interest groups have shaped the evolution of Medicare, but also how Medicare itself restructured health politics in America. Kimberly Morgan explains how highly visible tax policies created an opportunity for conservatives to lead a grassroots tax revolt that ultimately eroded of the revenues needed for social-welfare programs. Deborah Stone explores how new policies have redefined participation in the labor force—as opposed to fulfilling family or civic obligations—as the central criterion of citizenship. Frances Fox Piven explains how low-income women remain creative and vital political actors in an era in which welfare programs increasingly subject them to stringent behavioral requirements and monitoring. Joshua Guetzkow and Bruce Western document the rise of mass incarceration in America and illuminate its unhealthy effects on state social-policy efforts and the civic status of African-American men.

For many disadvantaged Americans who used to look to government as a source of opportunity and security, the state has become increasingly paternalistic and punitive. Far from standing alone, their experience reflects a broader set of political victories and policy revolutions that have fundamentally altered American democracy and society. Empirically grounded and theoretically informed, Remaking America connects the dots to provide insight into the remarkable social and political changes of the last three decades.

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