Economic Dreams and Dreamers

Book Review: Barlett, Donald L, and Steele, James B. “The Betrayal of the American Dream.” Public Affairs, NY, 2012 Dallas library 330.973 B289B 2012


If recent economic developments have not already terrified you, this might be a good book to absorb. It is very much like “Runaway Inequality,” the book promoted by the Communications Workers of America that I reviewed earlier.  It has some of the same dire warnings and suggested solutions as the classes that the AFL-CIO conducted under the name “Common Sense Economics.”

The authors really hate “free trade,” tax giveaways to the rich, deregulation, or capitalist-directed globalization.

Here is the message in a nutshell: “Something terrible happened in America in the 1970s. Since then, virtually all new economic developments have been bad for the working people and crazy good for the very rich. Inequality is rampant. We need to bring back some of the more reasonable practices that were in place before the disaster struck.”

In my review of “Runaway Inequality,” I pointed out that our recent period isn’t the odd one. The odd one was the third quarter of the 20th century. The reasonably good times when some of the productivity gains streamed into workers’ paychecks were not normal. They were just weird.

Today, when the capitalists grab everything in a runaway train ride to oblivion, that’s what’s normal. Trying to go back to the practices of the 1950s is a lot harder than it looks, because the ruling rich are dead-set against it.

Why weren’t the rich dead set against equitable economic practices in 1950? I can think of at least three good explanations. 1) They ruled the world. They had almost no international competition because they had destroyed every other country during the war. 2) American labor was very strong after a tremendous upsurge 1935-1947. 3) The Soviet Union was still seen as a viable alternative to capitalism, and it was important to buy and/or destroy any pro-Soviet sentiment. None of those things were true in America by the time Ronald Reagan was elected.

Even though this book has great reporting on economic events, and even though it has very intelligent prescriptions for making economic things the way they used to be, I don’t think their hopes for the future are likely to happen. The book is great at explaining, but not so useful as a guide to action.

Actually, I began to be skeptical in the introductory pages when they said, “…we define the ‘middle class’ strictly by income….” They could have just said “middle income” instead of “middle class.” The problem with trying to rally middle-income people is that they aren’t really a class. A class is defined by political interests, and middle-income people are all over the map in their interests. Some of them are workers, some of them are lawyers, some of them are trust fund babies, some of them are shopkeepers. 

If someone is serious about making change, they need to start thinking about the working class.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on radio KNON FM89.3 in Dallas at 9 AM central time every Saturday. Podcasts can be found from the “events’ tab on the web site. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

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