Most American conservatives take it as an article of faith that the less governmental involvement in affairs of the market and pocketbook the better. The rich do not, whatever they might say--for much of their wealth comes from the "power and preferment of government." So writes Kevin Phillips, the accomplished historian and one-time Washington insider, in this extraordinary survey of plutocracy, excess, and reform. "Laissez-faire is a pretense," he argues; as the wealth of the rich has grown, so has its control over government, making politics a hostage of money. Examining cycles of economic growth and decline from the founding days of the republic to the recent collapse of technology stocks, Phillips dispels notions of trickle-down wealth creation, pricks holes in speculative bubbles, and decries the ever-increasing "financialization" of the economy--all of which, he argues, have served to reduce the well-being of ordinary Americans and government alike. Highly readable for all its charts and graphs, Phillips's book offers a refreshing--and, of course, controversial--blend of economic history and social criticism. His conclusions won't please all readers, but just about everyone who comes to his pages will feel hackles rising. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
The influence of money on government is now, more then ever, a hot political issue. With a grand historical sweep that covers more than three centuries, Phillips's astute analysis of the effects of wealth and capital upon democracy is both eye-opening and disturbing. While his main thrust is an examination of "the increasing reliance of the American economy on finance," Phillips weaves a far wider, nuanced tapestry. Carefully building his arguments with telling detail (the growth of investment capitalism in Elizabethan England was essentially the result of privateering and piracy) and statistical evidence, he charts a long, exceptionally complicated history of interplay between governance and the accumulation of wealth. Explicating late-20th-century U.S. capitalism, for instance, by drawing comparisons to the technological advances and ensuing changes in commerce in the Renaissance, he also discusses how 18th-century Spanish colonialism is relevant to how "lending power began to erode... broad prosperity" in 1960s and '70s America. Finding detailed correspondences between the giddy greediness of America's Gilded Age (complete with a surprising quote from Walt Whitman "my theory includes riches and the getting of riches") and the "great technology mania and bubble of the 1990s," Phillips (The Cousins' War, etc.), noted NPR political analyst, notes that "the imbalance of wealth and democracy in the United States is unsustainable," as it was in highly nationalistic mid-18th-century Holland and late-19th-century Britain both of which underwent major social and political upheaval from the middle and underclasses. Lucidly written, scrupulously argued and culturally wide-ranging, this is an important and deeply original analysis of U.S. history and economics.
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