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The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics Hardcover – September 12, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (September 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618685405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618685400
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,167,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The author, a senior editor at the New Republic, is best known for declaring I hate President George W. Bush in 2003. This book traces the roots of his dislike back 30 years, when supply-side economics took over the Republican Party and made cutting taxes the GOP answer to all political and economic questions. American politics has been hijacked by a tiny coterie of right-wing economic extremists, Chait declares, some of them ideological zealots, others merely greedy, a few of them possibly insane. To which he adds, the Republicans' success at defeating the democratic process explains why it has been able to enact its agenda despite a lack of popular support. The rhetoric is inflammatory, but the case is laid out with clarity. Chait claims that traditional Republicans, religious people and social, fiscal and foreign policy conservatives have been cheated as much as liberals, and that unparalleled corruption and ruthless cynicism in Washington and the timidity of nonpartisan media allow the minority to rule. His analysis should appeal to anyone interested in politics, though many may find the style too irritating to endure. (Sept. 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"Chait is both very serious and seriously funny as he traces the rise of conservatism over the past thirty years." --Michael Kinsley

"Jonathan Chait has nailed a large and important story about . . . the bamboozling of America . . . he writes with a mordant wit." --Sean Wilentz

"Jonathan Chait has written a classic of political journalism . . . Prepare to be shocked." --Michael Lewis, author of Liar's Poker, Moneyball, and The Blindside

"Who says economic policy has to be dry? [Chait] brings a lively wit and a limpid style to the topic." --Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor, National Review, and author of The Party of Death

"Agree or not with the author's liberal beliefs, consider this a stimulating analysis of how public policy is formulated today." Kirkus Reviews

"His analysis should appeal to anyone interested in politics" Publishers Weekly

"[If] you're only going to read one book [about what's wrong with the modern Republican Party], this is the one." --Kevin Drum, Washington Monthly

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Customer Reviews

This book is well documented, well written, and has a clear and cohesive point.
TMonny
If you want to learn something about economic policy while enjoying a thumping good read, I can't recommend a better choice.
Tom L. Huffman
If this book were entitled "The Big Con by Egocentric, Greedy Politicians," it would have been a better book.
Donald Mitchell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Tom L. Huffman on September 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am reluctant to give 5 stars to any review, but I succumbed to the temptation in this case simply because for what it does this book is just about as good as it gets.

It reminds me somewhat of Paul Krugman's scarily prescient book "Fuzzy Math" that predicted all of the fiscal calamities that followed the enactment of the Bush tax cuts.

Chait's book is similar to Fuzzy Math on two counts: first, it offers a sustained, cogent criticism of Bush economic policy; and second, it is extremely well-written. Chait has an admirable ability to make fairly technical subject matter completely clear to a lay audience. He increases readability even more by sprinkling his prose with a healthy dose of humor. I couldn't put the book down, devouring it in a weekend.

However, The Big Con has a considerably more ambitious scope than Fuzzy Math, which was essentially limited to an analysis of Bush's 2001 tax cuts. The Big Con focuses upon the entire history of supply-side economics, the philosophy that has, as Chait aptly demonstrates, completely captured the Republican party despite the fact that it has virtually no support among professional economists.

If you want to learn something about economic policy while enjoying a thumping good read, I can't recommend a better choice.
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74 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Omer Belsky on October 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The title of Jonathan Chait's book is its worst aspect. It makes him seem like a left wing demagogue, which he isn't. But it does force on him this witty introduction:

"I have this problem. Whenever I try to explain what's happening in American politics - I mean, what's really happening - I wind up sounding a bit like an unhinged conspiracy theorist. But honestly, I'm not... so please give me a chance to explain myself when I tell you that American politics has been hijacked by a tiny coterie of right wing economic extremists, some of them ideological zealots, others merely greedy, a few of them possibly insane"

Chait's thesis is hardly novel: In recent decades, the Republican Party has turned a hard right, pulling the entire American political landscape with it. And yet, ironically, the American Public is moving in the opposite direction, becoming increasingly Liberal.

One of Chait's main theses is that journalists, including those in leading outlets, don't understand economics. Yet based on his footnotes, most of Chait's Economics, Sociology and History comes from the popular press. He quotes neither official data nor scholarly literature.

He consequently makes embarrassing mistakes: minor ones, like claiming that Communists wanted the US to enter WWII before the USSR nonaggression pact with Germany, which was actually signed before the war's outbreak (p. 259). Substantial ones, too: he misconstrues the story of the Supreme Court confirmation of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. Chait sometimes applies a single label (predominantly "Conservatives") to refer to different groups with different agendas: Libertarians, K-Street Lobbyists, Bush Cronies, etc.
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49 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Curtis Daddy Love on September 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
It's a pretty good book. Those who think that conservative economic policies are well-supported by some kind of professional consensus among economists will be shocked, shocked to learn that on at least one of the key elements of Republican Party economic policy thinking -- their obsession with cutting taxes -- the ideas being put forward to justify it by the Bush administration, The Wall Street Journal, and all the rest are crackpot economic notions that are being mainstreamed only by virtue of (what else?) relentless message discipline. These same crackpots (and presumably liars) would have you believe that returning to Clinton-era levels of taxation would wreck the economy, that retirement security can best be provided to all by expanding tax breaks for rich people, that health care can best be improved by expanding tax breaks for rich people, that sound education policy requires expended tax breaks for rich people, and so on. Um, wrong on the facts, wrong according to the ACTUAL consensus.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By William Podmore on February 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In this brilliantly-written book, Jonathan Chait, senior editor at the New Republic, shows simply and lucidly how a tightly knit group of politically and economically motivated men have taken over the US state.

Right-wing economic extremists and business lobbyists now control the terms of the debate and determine the political climate. He shows how this tiny coterie has turned the Republican Party into a machine for protecting and expanding the wealth of the very rich.

It has been a coup on behalf of the plutocracy, resulting in a massive looting of the Treasury, huge corporate subsidies, vastly increased inequality and growing poverty. Since the 1970s, the top 0.1% of Americans has tripled its share of the national income; the top 0.01% has quadrupled its share of national income to 3%.

The chosen policy is single and simple - cut taxes on the rich. This is supposed to increase incentives, making the economy grow. Tax cuts supposedly increase tax revenues - less is more, greed is good. How differently we run things here in Britain!

The policy does not reflect what most Americans want. They want a more active government, providing more services, taxing the rich more through a more progressive tax system. The government does not even reflect what most Republican Party members or voters want, but only what its funders want.

Because the government does not reflect public opinion, it has to lie about its policies. The media, owned by the very rich, fail to analyse or challenge these policies. Instead, they focus on the presumed strengths or weaknesses of politicians' characters.

To pursue its unpopular economic agenda, the American government has had to break down the American political system, corrupt American politics and defeat democracy. The separation of powers is no more, and there is no rule of law.
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