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The Case for Big Government (The Public Square) 1st Edition

2.7 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691123318
ISBN-10: 0691123314
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Former New York Times economics columnist Madrick takes aim at what he perceives as a dominant American antigovernment ideology with this overly ambitious text. The author's decidedly left-of-center thesis rests on the argument that "active and sizable government" is "essential to growth and prosperity." To make his case, Madrick begins with a too brief history of the relationship between the American government and the economy, from Hamilton and Jefferson's attitude toward laissez-faire economics through Jacob Riis's famous documentation of urban squalor near the turn of the 20th century to the Great Society initiatives of the 1960s. The author details the country's economic problems since the 1970s, despite the relative prosperity of the 1990s. In elaborating these points, Madrick attacks both the right and the left, and he returns consistently to the persistent influence of Milton Friedman on the antigovernment bias in American politics. This well-researched but somewhat formless book concludes with an extensive progressive agenda for redressing the limited influence of American government, covering a wide range of issues, from same-sex marriage to universal pre-k education. (Nov.)
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From Booklist

Former New York Times economics columnist Madrick announces this book as a refutation of laissez-faire economics encapsulated in Milton Friedman’s classic Capitalism and Freedom (1962). Friedman’s low-tax, deregulation principles, laments Madrick, have spread from its Republican Party bastion into the Clintonian centrist segment of the Democratic Party, impeding an expansion of the kind of government Madrick desires. His argument for hiking taxes, increasing spending, and creating new bureaucracies runs on parallel tracks: one maintains that such measures have not historically impeded economic growth; the other asserts social-justice reasons for transforming the American welfare state into the Euro-style version. Both tracks carry Madrick’s data-heavy citations of studies and statistics, which, if a fair sampling of professional economic research, seem convincing. However, Madrick’s dismissive coverage of free-market-oriented scholars as ideological and simplistic raises doubt, though perhaps not among proponents of government-run day care, government-paid universal health care, government-equalized K–12 spending, government-paid college tuition, and much more that Madrick urges. Helpful to debaters, Madrick’s work succinctly summarizes a perspective from the Left on America’s economic problems. --Gilbert Taylor

Product Details

  • Series: The Public Square
  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1 edition (October 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691123314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691123318
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,628,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

JEFF MADRICK is a former economics columnist for The New York Times and has been a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books for many years. He is editor of Challenge Magazine, visiting professor of humanities at The Cooper Union, and senior fellow at The Roosevelt Institute and the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, The New School. He is the author of a half dozen books, including Taking America (Bantam), and The End of Affluence (Random House), both of which were New York Times Notable Books of the Year. Taking America was also chosen by Business Week as one of the ten best books of the year. His most recent books are Why Economies Grow (Basic Books) and The Case for Big Government, which won a general non-fiction award from Pen America. His new book, published in mid-2011 by Alfred A. Knopf, is Age of Greed, The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present.

He has written for many other publications, including The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Institutional Investor, The Nation, American Prospect, The Boston Globe, Newsday, Dissent, and the business, op-ed, and magazine sections of The New York Times. He has appeared on Charlie Rose, The Lehrer News Hour, Now With Bill Moyers, Frontline, CNN, CNBC, CBS, BBC,and NPR. He was formerly finance editor of Business Week Magazine, a columnist for Money Magazine, and an NBC News reporter and commentator. His awards also include an Emmy and a Page One Award. He was educated at New York University and Harvard University, and was a Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Well, conservatism is in retreat in the United States and `liberal' is no longer a term of abuse. So, what are liberals going to do about long term social policy? I don't mean how should we deal with the current crisis, but rather how should we set and meet social goals to make a better society in the long run? I say "we" advisedly because I am neither a liberal nor a conservative. Rather I am more of a social planner-type who just wants to get the job done. This tends to make me critical of, and exasperated by, traditional political ideologies, which often substitute political correctness for solid ideas. This is why I read Madrick's book. Madrick is a true liberal of Michael Dukakis vintage, so his ideas will be in the running for such a vision in the next several years, provided we emerge healthy from the current financial meltdown.

If you want a well documented exposition of the thesis that the size of the government sector is not a problem, this is your book. I know that this finding will come as a shock to many, especially younger, readers who have been lectured to all their lives about the sins of drug abuse and big government, but Madrick is quite correct. It is not the size of government that affects social welfare, but rather the content of its taxation, expenditure¸ and regulatory policies. The simple fact is that there is no advanced economy without a large state sector, and traditional economic theory tells us exactly why: market failures and unintended outcome must be corrected by social intervention, in the absence of which a high level of wealth cannot be sustained.

If you want innovative ideas about new ways that government can serve the people, Madrick is not your man.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Republicans seem to be in denial that we already have a huge government. the difference is that Republicans support big govt. for the sake of the warfare state, while demos for the welfare state. what about statistic that 80% of R&D at universities is supported directly or indirectly by the Pentagon? Americans need to understand that all the investment in the military produces end products that either are destroyed (bombs, bullets) or wear out (trucks, guns). that investment if applied to civilian life would produce permanent end products such as houses, infrastructure improvements and the like. your statistics on income disparity and stagnation are very sobering. i left america to move overseas after college in 1982 and returned in 2005. hardly recognized the nation. people work much harder for much less. quality of life plummets. nature of media is like a vast dumbed down propaganda machine. impression that the country is one vast intellectual prison camp. it also seems to me that the debate on health care and the refusal to seriously consider the single payer option used in many european countries indicates that americans no longer have a sense of social contract. the mass media also is so corporately driven that it is able to shape the debate on any particular issue according to the dictates of wall st. and the financier class. our country has become in all but name a third world nation of gross social and economic inequality.

The only things I found disappointing in your book were:

a. your discussion of globalization. your proposal that the US pressure its trading partners to improve their wage structures and environmental efforts seems hopelessly naive, especially since US wages are so regressive themselves.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jeff Madrick presents an historical outline of an active U.S. government and how it must maintain an active role if we are to continue our prosperity through a mainly capitalist economic system.
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Format: Hardcover
A good part of Jeff Madrick's "The Case for Big Government" has been
overtaken by events. Want much more spending on public works or
alternative energy? You got it.

On the other hand, federally subsidized (Madrick mistakenly calls it free)
national prekindergartens? Not yet.

New School policy wonk Madrick's solutions aren't new or interesting
anyway, just what you'd expect if a former Ted Kennedy staffer ground up
10 pounds of his old boss's speeches and made a papier mache policy out of
them. However, Madrick's analysis of what's wrong is interesting.

Not very new, but it's something we haven't been hearing enough lately: In
a nutshell, what's wrong now is exactly Reaganomics fulfilled.

Madrick calls Reagan the Great Pessimist, because, despite his cheery
delivery, he offered America a stinted, stultified version of itself, one
in which, for the first time, Americans were told their children would not
do better than their parents had. And, of course, we haven't. Not most of

The figures do not lie. Most of the gain in American wealth over the past
30 years went to a few who started out rich. Working people got stiffed.

In exchange for real jobs, they were offered -- and swallowed -- a bogus
vision of unleashing the power of the markets that would lead to easy and
endless prosperity.

Part of the con was the idea that government was the problem. As we now
know, unsupervised markets were the problem.
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