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Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity Hardcover – September 17, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Business leader and esteemed economic thinker James M. Stone outlines simple solutions to America's five most pressing public policy issues, from healthcare to education to inequality. Learn more | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The economic boom of the 1990s-low unemployment and inflation, a soaring stock market, big government surpluses-was actually something of a bust, according to this incisive study. Pollin, an academic economist and co-author of The Living Wage, presents his own research on the period and ably synthesizes a comprehensive left critique of Clintonomics. He argues that the Clinton-era boom was mediocre compared with previous ones and based on an unsustainable stock market bubble, the result of financial deregulation that left households and companies carrying high levels of debt and the economy unstable. The benefits, moreover, accrued mainly to the rich, he says; workers' wages stagnated for most of the period, even as their productivity climbed, thanks to pervasive job insecurity caused by foreign competition and weak unions. Meanwhile, Clinton's "Third Way" policies of welfare and social spending cutbacks and shrinking the relative size of government squandered a historic opportunity to reduce poverty. Abroad, the neoliberal prescription of government austerity, privatization and free trade pressed on Third World countries by the Clinton Administration led to slow growth, financial crises and depression. Needless to say, Pollin doesn't view Clinton's successor as an improvement, and lambastes what he sees as Bush's single-minded fixation on undermining organized labor and showering tax cuts on the rich. Pollin's sophisticated but accessible treatment, free of jargon and unobtrusively supported by telling statistics and graphs, is a model of lucid argumentation that will appeal to wonks and laypeople alike. His call for a social democratic program of full employment, higher minimum wages, labor rights and reinvigorated government regulation presents a compelling challenge to the free-market, free-trade orthodoxies of neoliberalism.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Contours of Descent is lucid economics as if reality matters. Cutting through the myths, hype and diversionary corporate-side indicators, Professor Pollin lays out an agenda to turn around the economy that is increasingly disconnecting from millions of workers and their well-being. A laser-beam exposure of globalization as defined by the World Bank, the IMF, Alan Greenspan and the corporate supremacists.”—Ralph Nader

“Robert Pollin’s readable and sharply argued book is an excellent guide to the reality of recent US economic policy and its global implications.”—Andrew Glyn, Oxford University

“This insightful book dissects the consequences of the neoliberal revolution of the 1990s, and offers valuable lessons for the neophyte and professional economist alike.”—Professor Dani Rodrik, Harvard University

“Professor Pollin is one of the leading heterodox economists in the US. His rigorous and insightful analysis convincingly demonstrates that Clinton and Bush as well as the IMF have each followed fundamentally similar neoliberal economic policies to the detriment of people in the US and the developing world. Importantly, the book also outlines an alternative policy program for building a prosperous US and world economy. It is a ‘must read’ for those who wish to understand recent developments in the US and the world economy.”—Professor Ajiit Singh, Cambridge University

Contours of Descent does a great job in making current U.S. and global economic issues accessible to the average reader. Pollin presents a clear discussion of what he terms ‘the Marx Problem,’ ‘the Keynes Problem,’ and ‘the Polanyi Problem,’ as they apply both in the U.S. under Clinton and Bush, and in the developing countries. Most importantly, the book ends by demonstrating that ‘another path is possible’—sketching a workable egalitarian policy agenda in both the U.S. and developing country context, focused on full employment, defending workers rights, and regulating financial markets.”—Professor Lourdes Beneria, Cornell University

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Verso; First Edition edition (September 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1859846734
  • ISBN-13: 978-1859846735
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,942,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Malvin VINE VOICE on January 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robert Pollin's "Contours of Descent" is a lucid and coherent dissection of neoliberal economic policies as practiced in the U.S. and around the world. The author very effectively cuts through the political doublespeak of recent U.S. administrations to show that neoliberalism has served as the guiding principle for both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Following a careful and methodical critique of the Clinton/Bush record, Mr. Pollin advances an alternative set of policy proscriptions that might lead us towards a more equitable, stable and prosperous world.
Mr. Pollin is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. The humanity and practicality that infuses this book is no doubt a reflection of Mr. Pollin's real world experiences, which includes work on developing living wage proposals in various U.S. cities, serving as a consultant to the United Nations Development Program in Bolivia, and as Economic Spokesperson to the 1992 Presidential campaign of Governor Jerry Brown.
Neoliberalism is defined by the "Washington consensus" of decreased government spending, free trade and deregulated markets. Mr. Pollin critiques the system for its three major defects: The "Marx problem" pertaining to the relative bargaining relationship between employers and workers; the "Keynes problem" of the tendency of financial markets to engage in speculation; and the "Polanyi problem" of the corrupting effect of corporate power.
The author builds a convincing case that all three problems have been exacerbated by neoliberalist policies, resulting in a host of deleterious effects. These include widening gaps between the rich and poor (Marx), speculative bubbles in the financial markets (Keynes), accounting scandals (Polanyi), and others.
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Format: Hardcover
This is not only one of the most readable, persuasive, and substantial books I have ever read on the US economy - it also probes well below the surface of much of the current media hype.
While Pollin takes on the shameless economic policies of Bush - rewarding the rich at the expense of everyone else - he also argues strongly against Paul Krugman or other apologists for Clinton. Arguing that essentially both Bush and Clinton (and Greenspan throughout) have operated under the same absolute Washington 'Consensus' ideas about the economy, he shows how these ideas have led to greater inequalities in US society and worse conditions for the average American. The fabulous decade (the late nineties) were really just a "hollow boom." He also explains how neoliberalism has been a disaster for the developing world.
But its not all gloom and doom. Pollin has a chapter on simple and proven economic changes that could be achieved and which would not only give every American a fairer chance, but would boost the economy at the same time. If you want great background reading to Democrats economic proposals for the 2004 elections - and any real and achievable change - read this book !!!
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Read "Contours of Descent: U.S. Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity" by Robert Pollin, the co-author of "Living Wage." Pollin is a brilliant economist interested in using economics for the good of our society. He's also ruthlessly honest, and you won't catch him bragging, a' la Dick Gephardt, about the glorious Clinton days. Pollin's critique of Clinton's economic program is harsh and that of W. Bush's devestating. The lessons are clear, and Pollin closes with useful recommendations.
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From "Clintontime" by Alexander Cockburn at (...)

We find the liberal populists Michael Moore, Al Franken, Paul Krugman and Molly Ivins all pouring sarcastic rebukes on Bush2 and, categorically or by implication, suggesting that in favoring the very rich and looting the economy in their interests Bush stands in despicable contrast to his immediate predecessor in the Oval Office.

So just get a Democrat, any Democrat, back in the White House and the skies will begin to clear again.

But suppose a less forgiving scrutiny of the Clinton years discloses that these years did nothing to alter the rules of the neoliberal game that began in the Reagan/Thatcher era with the push to boost after-tax corporate profits, shift bargaining power to business, erode social protections for workers, make the rich richer, the middle tier at best stand still and the poor get poorer.

We have just such an unsparing scrutiny of Clintonomics in the form of Robert Pollin's Contours of Descent.

Pollin is unambiguous. "It was under Clinton" he points out, "that the distribution of wealth in the US became more skewed than it had at any time in the previous forty years. Inside the US under Clinton the ratio of wages for the average worker to the pay of the average CEO rose from 113 to 1 in 1991 to 1 to 449 when he quit. In the world, exclusive of China, between 1980 and 1988 and considering the difference between the richest and poorest 10 per cent of humanity, inequality grew by 19 per cent; by 77 per cent, if you take the richest and poorest 1 per cent.

The basic picture?
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