Henry J. Aaron is a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, where he holds the Bruce and Virginia MacLaury Chair. Among his many books are Can We Say No? The Challenge of Rationing Health Care, with William B. Schwartz and Melissa Cox (Brookings, 2006), and Reforming Medicare: Options,Tradeoffs, and Opportunities, written with Jeanne Lambrew (Brookings, 2008). Robert D. Reischauer was a former director of the Congressional Budget Office.
In this book, the sixteenth volume in the Brookings series in Social Economics, Henry Aaron describes both the initial consensus and its subsequent decline. He examines the evolution of attitude and pronouncements by scholars and popular writers on the role of the federal government and its capacity to bring about beneficial change in three broad areas: poverty and discrimination, education and training, and unemployment and inflation. He argues that the political eclipse of the Great Society depended more on events external to it—war in Vietnam, dissolution of the civil rights coalition, and, finally, the Watergate scandal and all its repercussions—than on its intrinsic failings. Aaron concludes that both the initial commitment to use national polices to solve social and economic problems and the subsequent disillusionment of scholars and laymen alike rest largely on preconceptions and faiths that have little to do with research themselves.