- Hardcover: 496 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Press (October 16, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0735222444
- ISBN-13: 978-0735222441
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 38 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Capitalism in America: A History Hardcover – October 16, 2018
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“This book snaps, crackles and pops . . . Three themes are highlighted—productivity as the measure of economic progress; the ‘Siamese twins of creation and destruction’ as the sources of productivity growth; and the political reaction to the consequences of creative destruction . . . Readers will emerge from this heady blend of economic, business, and political history with a sense of exhilaration that so much of the American experience could be described so vividly and insightfully.” —Financial Times, one of the Best Books of The Year in Economics
“Capitalism in America makes a strong case, with some wonderful insights into business history. Innovation, spread to the masses, is indeed the engine of capitalist economies.” —The Economist
"Well worth reading." —The Washington Post
“A masterful guide to capitalism American style . . . You don’t have to be an economics wonk to enjoy and learn from Capitalism in America.” —The Washington Times
“Strongly recommended. This illuminating and in-depth history . . . is a valuable contribution to U.S. business history because it explains financial events and the culture of innovation from macroeconomic perspectives and offers remarkable insights into the current business climate.” —Library Journal, starred review
“A smart and engaging look at the workings of the economic machine under various regimes, isolationist and internationalist alike.” —Kirkus
“A sweeping and brilliantly told narrative by two authors who have spent their careers thinking about the wellsprings of economic growth. Anchored by the combination of Alan Greenspan’s legendary skill with data and talent for analysis, and Adrian Wooldridge’s knowledge and perspective on business history, Capitalism in America is full of insights that will surprise you and change your perspective on many of the key episodes of U.S history.” —Liaquat Ahamed, author of Lords of Finance, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize
“A work of bold sweep and illuminating insight that tells nothing less than the story of American capitalism—both its extraordinary achievements and its darkest moments—from the earliest days in colonies ‘at the edge of the world,’ to the Internet revolution. Greenspan and Wooldridge combine penetrating analysis with striking portraits of the people who made it all happen, which, together, demonstrate their theme of the constant capacity for innovation and reinvention. At a time when ‘capitalism’ itself is a subject of doubt and target of assault, this is a book that the times demand, and one that will contribute much to the debate.” —Daniel Yergin, author of The Prize and The Quest and co-author of Commanding Heights: the Battle for the World Economy
About the Author
Alan Greenspan was born in 1926 and reared in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. After studying the clarinet at Juilliard and working as a professional musician, he earned his BA, MA, and PhD in economics from New York University. In 1954, he cofounded the economic consulting firm Townsend-Greenspan & Company. From 1974 to 1977, he served as chair of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Gerald Ford. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan appointed him chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, a position Greenspan held until his retirement in 2006. He is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller The Age of Turbulence.
Adrian Wooldridge is a Washington correspondent for The Economist and was its West Coast bureau chief, based in Los Angeles. He is the author of Measuring the Mind: Education and Psychology in England, 1860–1990. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, and The Times of London, and has appeared on NPR and the BBC.
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My background has been as an industrial consultant for international businesses, and a real estate investor in the U.S. I have experienced the economy from industrial, international, and real estate perspectives.
This book thoroughly covers the range of economic debates we are confronting as we try to understand why the economy collapsed in 2008 and why it grew so sluggishly until the recent upturn starting with Trump’s election. Was it because:
• Labor unions made our workforce lazy and overpaid
• Our corporation managements became complacent, lazy, self-serving, and frankly stupid
• Our corporations became inefficient conglomerates, then fired too many employees when they “re-engineered.”
• Our “entrepreneurism” has declined
• Government-imposed regulations and taxes are stifling business
• We spend too much on social welfare programs
• We dis-invested in our industries in order to create in a financial economy driven by Wall Street stock jobbers who engaged in “financial chicanery to dupe investors.”
• George W. Bush and the Republican Congress of 2001-2006 mismanaged the government by enacting tax cuts while increasing government spending
• Too many jobs were moved out of the country to Mexico and China
• Globalization harmed us because
• …..other countries make things better than we do
• …..other countries steal our technologies and don’t allow American products to be sold in their countries.
• Our brick-and-mortar industries were disrupted by the internet
• We let more immigrants into the country that we had jobs to employ them.
• We allowed corporations to revoke the “social contract” of keeping their American workers employed.
Greenspan and Wooldridge cover a lot of ground! Their discussions of current economic events are layered on top of a well-written history of capitalism in the USA. To me, the pivot point of the book is the optimistic time in 2000 when President Clinton said:
“We are fortunate to be alive at this moment in history. Never before has our nation enjoyed, at once, so much prosperity and social progress with so little internal crisis and so few external threats.” The country had more jobs and higher wages than it had ever had before. It had turned deficits into surpluses and lagging productivity growth into a productivity boom. It had replaced outmoded ideologies—Republican ideology that saw all government intervention as pointless and Democratic ideology that tried to protect all jobs from economic change—with a new pro-growth consensus. “My fellow Americans,” Clinton announced, “we have crossed the bridge to the twenty-first century.”
Then it all fell apart. The economy collapsed, and the middle class shriveled. A blogger on election night 2016 explained Trump’s surprise victory thus:
People are suffering financially in ways that we haven't seen since the 1920s. We [Democrats] are close to losing in this election because Democrats who have enough money to be comfy don't see it. Don't know it and refuse to believe it.
The country is still poor. The job market still s----. Bernie tapped into that anger and so did Trump. This was a referendum on poverty and what causes it.
How do we restore growth to our economy and standard of living? Greenspan and Wooldridge provide answers in their final chapter AMERICA’S FADING DYNAMISM. In their view, our deficient growth seems to come down to two primary causes. The first is that productivity growth is deficient. Secondly, they theorize that we don’t embrace “creative destruction” like we used to.
I question the productivity argument, because we’ve off-shored so much of our manufacturing, that we’ve become a “service economy.” It’s difficult to measure productivity in services, because many services are intangible. How do we measure productivity in healthcare, now the largest sector of our economy, when the value of human life can’t be measured in economic terms? How do we measure the productivity of financial advisers when we don’t even know if their advice is sound?
I’m also not sure that Americans enjoyed all that “creative destruction” Greenspan says we relished in the past. Our social welfare state exists in its present form because Americans did not like being put out of their jobs every few years and watching their children starve. Or being packed off to the poorhouse like spavined horses when they became too infirm to work. Mr. Greenspan was in his youthful prime during the 1960’. He should be able to remember that a primary civil mission of the national government in those days was to maintain full employment. Americans have never enjoyed prolonged periods of unemployment.
And what about the trade deficit? We've never before handed off so much of our economy to Mexico and China in any prior period of our history. We are breaking new ground on the type of “destruction” that is not creative, but merely the removal of American workers from employment, and their replacement by foreigners who produce product that we import into the USA.
Perhaps our first effort at “restoring American dynamism” should be to bring the jobs back from Mexico and China, and then balance the trade by tariffs with countries that run chronic trade deficits with us in manufactured products. Alexander Hamilton taught us way back in 1790 that we cannot be a strong country without manufacturing most of what we consume or use as capital equipment. We are going to have to buckle down and relearn a lesson we never should have forgotten.
I am left with the impression that Mr. Greenspan’s primary proposed solution really boils down to "entitlement reform." That means cutting, or at least means-testing, Social Security and Medicare. He makes a (dubious?) connection between our allegedly spending too much public money on Social Security and Medicare, and our allegedly spending too little on investment in productivity-enhancing equipment in the private sector. Again, I wonder how we are going to invest in improving productivity when our companies are moving manufacturing to cheap-labor countries in order to AVOID spending money automating their American factories? Our corporation managements have hundreds of billions of dollars to spend buying back their companies' stock at inflated prices, and they DON'T have money to invest in improving the productivity of their businesses?
Despite these differences in perspective, I was educated by reading the wide and deep spectrum of Mr. Greenspan’s and Adrian Wooldridge’s economic history. Everyone from laypersons to professional economists can profit from it. The historical information and economic viewpoints are interesting and easy to absorb.
I think the right approach to this book is to comprehend Greenspan’s and Wooldridge’s economic history and viewpoints on current economic events. Then think them through and draw your own conclusions. Given the wide range of viewpoints, you’re bound to agree with some, while questioning others. That is what a well-written book, striving to be objective in covering a wide range of controversial points, should provoke the readers to do.
It may be worth mentioning that the crux of many of the negative reviews lies in the reader's disagreements with the arguments or conclusions made by Wooldridge and Greenspan. But a book is not poorly written, and certainly not deserving of abusive invective, simply because the reader disagrees with its arguments. Nor should one who pontificates from behind an amazon screen name be considered an authoritative opinion on economic analysis. Take these reviews with a grain of salt. Perhaps my own included.
On page 141, they say, "The most interesting figure in this retail revolution was Richard Sears," then go on to say, "In 1902, Sears was fulfilling 100,000 orders a day" and "In 1906, Sears and his business partner, Alvah Roebuck, took the company public and opened a $5 million mail-order plant in Chicago, the largest business building in the world."
But by 1906 Roebuck was gone and Sears no longer had an active role in the business. Sears' (the company) public offering, sharing of ownership with employees, construction of the massive facilities, and rise to greatness were entirely the doing of Julius Rosenwald, who had purchased control of the company. Richard Sears was an imaginative copywriter who often sold mediocre products before Rosenwald instituted far higher standards.
Given that this correct story is presented in every source, including many books, on Sears' history, it is hard for me to imagine how the authors could have come up with this fantasy. It was Rosenwald, his colleagues, and his successor General Robert Wood who made Sears the best and largest retailer in the world for much of the 20th century.
I dislike being a curmudgeon, but I expect better from potentially great books and their authors and editors.