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.
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“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
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“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