Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality

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Here is a bracing deconstruction of the framework for understanding the world that is learned as gospel in Economics 101, regardless of its imaginary assumptions and misleading half-truths.

Economism: an ideology that distorts the valid principles and tools of introductory college economics, propagated by self-styled experts, zealous lobbyists, clueless politicians, and ignorant pundits.

In order to illuminate the fallacies of economism, James Kwak first offers a primer on supply and demand, market equilibrium, and social welfare: the underpinnings of most popular economic arguments. Then he provides a historical account of how economism became a prevalent mode of thought in the United States—focusing on the people who packaged Econ 101 into sound bites that were then repeated until they took on the aura of truth. He shows us how issues of moment in contemporary American society—labor markets, taxes, finance, health care, and international trade, among others—are shaped by economism, demonstrating in each case with clarity and élan how, because of its failure to reflect the complexities of our world, economism has had a deleterious influence on policies that affect hundreds of millions of Americans.
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About the author

JAMES KWAK is a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law and the co-author, with Simon Johnson, of 13 Bankers and White House Burning. He has a Ph.D. in intellectual history from UC Berkeley and a J.D. from the Yale Law School. Before going to law school, he worked in the business world as a management consultant and a software entrepreneur.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Vintage
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Published on
Jan 10, 2017
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9781101871201
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economics / Theory
Political Science / Political Economy
Political Science / Public Policy / Economic Policy
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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A timely, counterintuitive defense of Wall Street and the big banks as the invisible—albeit flawed—engines that power our ideas, and should be made to work better for all of us

Maybe you think the banks should be broken up and the bankers should be held accountable for the financial crisis in 2008. Maybe you hate the greed of Wall Street but know that it’s important to the proper functioning of the world economy. Maybe you don’t really understand Wall Street, and phrases such as “credit default swap” make your eyes glaze over. Maybe you are utterly confused by the fact that after attacking Wall Street mercilessly during his campaign, Donald Trump has surrounded himself with Wall Street veterans. But if you like your smart phone or your widescreen TV, your car or your morning bacon, your pension or your 401(k), then—whether you know it or not—you are a fan of Wall Street.

William D. Cohan is no knee-jerk advocate for Wall Street and the big banks. He’s one of America’s most respected financial journalists and the progressive bestselling author of House of Cards. He has long been critical of the bad behavior that plagued much of Wall Street in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, and because he spent seventeen years as an investment banker on Wall Street, he is an expert on its inner workings as well.

But in recent years he’s become alarmed by the cheap shots and ceaseless vitriol directed at Wall Street’s bankers, traders, and executives—the people whose job it is to provide capital to those who need it, the grease that keeps our economy humming. In this brisk, no-nonsense narrative, Cohan reminds us of the good these institutions do—and the dire consequences for us all if the essential role they play in making our lives better is carelessly curtailed.

Praise for William D. Cohan

“Cohan writes with an insider’s knowledge of the workings of Wall Street, a reporter’s investigative instincts and a natural storyteller’s narrative command.”—The New York Times

“[Cohan is] one of our most able financial journalists.”—Los Angeles Times

“A former Wall Street man and a talented writer, [Cohan] has the rare gift not only of understanding the fiendishly complicated goings-on, but also of being able to explain them in terms the lay reader can grasp.”—The Observer (London)
As inequality grabs headlines, steals the show in presidential debates, and drives deep divides between the haves and have nots in America, class war brews. On one side, the wealthy wield power and advantage, wittingly or not, to keep the system operating in their favor—all while retreating into enclaves that separate them further and further from the poor and working class. On the other side, those who find it increasingly difficult to keep up or get ahead lash out—waging a rhetorical war against the rich and letting anger and resentment, however justifiable, keep us from seeing new potential solutions.

But can we suspend both class wars long enough to consider a new way forward? Is it really good for anyone that most of society’s wealth is pooling at the very top of the wealth ladder? Does anyone, including the one percent, really want to live in a society plagued by economic apartheid?

It is time to think differently, says longtime inequality expert and activist Chuck Collins. Born into the one percent, Collins gave away his inheritance at 26 and spent the next three decades mobilizing against inequality. He uses his perspective from both sides of the divide to deliver a new narrative.

Collins calls for a ceasefire and invites the wealthy to come back home, investing themselves and their wealth in struggling communities. And he asks the non-wealthy to build alliances with the one percent and others at the top of the wealth ladder.

Stories told along the way explore the roots of advantage, show how taxpayers subsidize the wealthy, and reveal how charity, used incorrectly, can actually reinforce extreme inequality. Readers meet pioneers who are crossing the divide to work together in new ways, including residents in the author’s own Boston-area neighborhood who have launched some of the most interesting community transition efforts in the nation.

In the end, Collins’s national and local solutions not only challenge inequality but also respond to climate change and offer an unexpected, fresh take on one of our most intransigent problems.

America is mired in debt—more than $30,000 for every man, woman, and child. Bitter fighting over deficits, taxes, and spending bedevils Washington, D.C., even as partisan gridlock has brought the government to the brink of default. Yet the more politicians on both sides of the aisle rant and the citizenry fumes, the more things seem to remain the same.
 
In White House Burning, Simon Johnson and James Kwak—authors of the national best seller 13 Bankers and cofounders of The Baseline Scenario, a widely cited blog on economics and public policy—demystify the national debt, explaining whence it came and, even more important, what it means to you and to future generations. They tell the story of the Founding Fathers’ divisive struggles over taxes and spending. They chart the rise of the almighty dollar, which makes it easy for the United States to borrow money. They account for the debasement of our political system in the 1980s and 1990s, which produced today’s dysfunctional and impotent Congress. And they show how, if we persist on our current course, the national debt will harm ordinary Americans by reducing the number of jobs, lowering living standards, increasing inequality, and forcing a sudden and drastic reduction in the government services we now take for granted.
 
But Johnson and Kwak also provide a clear and compelling vision for how our debt crisis can be solved while strengthening our economy and preserving the essential functions of government. They debunk the myth that such crucial programs as Social Security and Medicare must be slashed to the bone. White House Burning looks squarely at the burgeoning national debt and proposes to defuse its threat to our well-being without forcing struggling middle-class families and the elderly into poverty.
 
Carefully researched and informed by the same compelling storytelling and lucid analysis as 13 Bankers, White House Burning is an invaluable guide to the central political and economic issue of our time. It is certain to provoke vigorous debate.
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