As soon as I saw this title on the bookshelf, it caught my eye. Since I’ve been trying to curb my spending, I just skimmed it and put it back. Well, I returned a week later and decided to buy it after skimming it again.
I’m not finished with the book yet (although it’s just a short volume, 148 pages), but so far it has overturned my expectations in a way that I think is probably enlightening.
Although I haven’t heard anything new from these authors with respect to the basic facts at hand and the conclusions they reach (their predictions about where the U.S. economy is headed, the steps needed to improve it, etc.), the interpretations that they have given these facts are ones I have not heard before.
In some cases I’ve been flat-out eyebrow-scrinching when I can’t believe they so simplistically, uncritically state certain judgments as though they were common sense or uncontroversial accepted knowledge (I guess, in their circles, they are).
At first I was sure they were just being darkly sarcastic, but similar comments and slants later on in the book lead me to question that, too. Here’s one, for an example:
“Back when the United States had the money, it mattered for Americans and it mattered more for others. The American government could and did use its public money and could and did channel the private money of Americans in what it regarded as its own, the nation’s, and the world’s interest. Having the money was a powerful tool and force. America, of course, used its economic dominance exclusively for global good.”
To be sure, the authors do go on to acknowledge that “it was the American government that decided what was globally good,” but it seems clear which naive interpretation they defend. Unsurprisingly, certain political and historical details have been left conveniently unaddressed.
It doesn’t help my reading of the book that the authors continually invoke the North Atlantic economic alliance and never once mention Canada (Canada’s not even in the index; Britain even gets swept under the “Western Europe” carpet). Am I to assume they assume either (1) Canada is too small an economy to matter or (2) they assume it’s not sufficiently distinct from the U.S. to mention separately? If it’s the latter, they’re hopelessly ignorant. If it’s the former, – size is what it is, but stop hiding the fact that the U.S. depends on so much of Canada’s oil, resources and infrastructure and give some credit where credit is due.
I’m a fan of much of the free market system and neoliberal ideology, but as I’ve learned in part from reading this book, it seems clear to me that some type of “mixed economy” is necessary (and a mixed economy is just what most “capitalist” nations have, including the U.S.) and socially preferable.
Sovereign Wealth Fund Scare
These authors are so overly concerned about the imagined threat of “foreign” sovereign wealth funds (investment funds owned by national governments), that they overlook the fact that the U.S. is just as “foreign” to everyone else who wasn’t born there. They continue to assume that the U.S. is a neutral, or noble, political economic actor – or that politics don’t enter into U.S. international economic decisions. There is no discussion of the roles of the World Bank or IMF or the UN, or American neoliberal restructuring around the world.
I’m not saying the authors don’t raise valid concerns about America as a national economy losing its money – it just seems more like a hasty smorgasbord of half-baked fearful thoughts about America losing its “#1″ status. Page to page, it is not the most logically ordered read, and the tone of the argument oscillates nervously between the cautionary “sky-is-falling” and caustic apprehension directed at the success of emerging market economies – the success of whom, of course, is completely the result of American neoliberal helping hands.
So, it’s a confusing book, to me. The authors presented a detailed, careful analysis and reach sound conclusions (”Americans must produce more, save more, and spend less“), but the story given to support the developments that led up to the present post-crisis moment are not without their ideological slant (as I know nothing ever completely is).
To their credit, Cohen and DeLong don’t shy away from complexities or completely white-wash America’s role, but I cringe at the still America-centric and reductive interpretations they have of other nations, views which consider them in the simple terms of how able or not able they have been to fit into the neoliberal agenda and thus become a “fully developed” society or thereby a member in “good standing” of the world community.
I do appreciate the fact that they acknowledge the possibility of the disappearance of American “exceptionalism.” Rather than judging other countries for how far off the mark they are against U.S. standards, it is time to allow the U.S. to become, rather, just a country like everyone else:
“In either case, the end is inevitable: you must become, recognize that you have become, and act like a normal country. For America, this will be a shock: America has not been a normal country for a long, long time.”
Do you have thoughts on the book? Am I completely wrong? If I change my thoughts as I come to the end of the book, I’ll try to post about it again.
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