246 of 262 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (Kindle Edition)
George Packer, we learn from the book's jacket blurb, is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine which means he has access to that publication's marvelous fact checking apparatus that is so good, many fact checkers at The New Yorker have gone on to write their own non fiction books. Packer has borrowed liberally from the John Dos Pasos U.S.A. Trilogy, especially its "Camera Eye" sequences to produce a book with an artistic sense of the possible, and the creative interpretations that go along with them.
Through a series of glimmering short essays, Packer has put together a story of how wealth has concentrated itself in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century, and the first decade of the 21st. One lesson most of us learned about the Great Depression was that the wealthy, by themselves, could not sustain the U.S. economy in 1932. One commentator wrote that every person making over $100,000 would have had to buy 32 cars in order to stave off the economic consequences of the 1929 stock market crash. On the contrary, the lesson drawn by Packer about the 2008 Great Recession is that today, the wealthy are so wealthy they can indeed sustain the U.S. economy almost by themselves. This staggering conclusion is brought home to readers in Packer's brief but luminous essay on Sam Walton where he writes that six of Walton's descendants had as much money as 30% of the least well off Americans. The story of how America's other top income earners fared until the onset of The Great Recession is told in the essay on Robert Rubin: the top 1% of wage earners saw their incomes triple. People in the middle enjoyed a 20% income increase, people at the bottom had flat income which means on an inflation adjusted basis, they lost money. For his part, Robert Rubin argued against regulation of derivatives. Then, after derivatives killed America in 2008, Robert Rubin argued against any responsibility. When a Congressional investigator told Rubin he couldn't have it both ways, Robert Rubin hurriedly left the room. Stop the cameras, stop the book. The fact that Robert Rubin was allowed to leave the room comes off as a major thesis of this book.
The gap between what Americans have and what they cheer for is another layer of Packer's analysis, although the book's commentary is somehow less successful when ordinary Americans like Tammy Thomas and Dean Price are Packer's subjects and I was less willing to follow their stories than I was when household name personalties like Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich were under Packer's microscope and his work on them seemed spellbinding.
This is a deeply unsettling book, and in the end, Unwinding seems an inappropriate description for it - The Great Adjustment seems more specifically geared to what actually took place in the country - those with more struggle to adjust to unfathomable wealth, those with less struggling with their new reality.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 27, 2013 5:37:16 PM PDT
An intriguing review and commentary. I'm definitely getting this book.
In reply to an earlier post on May 28, 2013 1:31:20 PM PDT
Robert Taylor Brewer says:
It's early in the year, but my gues is this is a NY Times Notable Book for 2013
Tks for responding
Posted on Jun 10, 2013 5:06:14 AM PDT
Charlie RF says:
Richer Capitalists and Poorer Wage-earners
How do I say this without sounding like Karl Marx? The alliance between America's capitalists and wage-earners is breaking up.
We often hear that we are the world's wealthiest nation - capitalists and workers alike. Until now the plain fact that a few of us own most of the permanent wealth, while the rest of us earn and spend our incomes year-to-year didn't much matter.
That's because we needed each other. Just about everything that American capitalists invested in had to be produced by American workers. So supply and demand arranged for those workers to share in the fruits of productivity.
Recently however, China and India have become viable labor markets. It's going to be a long, long time until their labor will be priced close to ours.
If you think that your education separates you from this competition, talk to the thousands of engineers and scientists whose jobs are already being shipped overseas. If you think that your non-exportable job as a waitress, or doctor, or lawyer, or entrepreneur is protected, you misunderstand markets. Consider what happens to your income if those who pay you or those who might compete with you are faced with third-world incomes.
These foreign folks are just gearing up. The generation learning English as a matter of course is still in school - often fine universities. Their contract law is scary, but evolving. Their physical infrastructure is in its infancy. Even so, their labor supply already weighs heavily upon our labor demand and our wages are depressed even as productivity rises. They are not to blame, nor are you.
What about the greedy capitalists? Well the markets for their products are as unforgiving as your labor markets. If their companies fail to optimize labor costs, price competition will grind them to dust. It is the wheel of history that threatens to align American incomes with those of poor countries.
Our economists, cosseted in tenured security, love to remind us that "our economy" benefits from free trade - as if wage-earners and capitalists still ascend together on the rising tide. But will foreign labor competition become so penetrating that our $20 per hour jobs will be driven down to $5 per hour?
These dominant forces promise an America of richer capitalists and poorer wage-earners - two economic classes with conflicting political interests. Falling wages will provoke American wage-earners to seek to "share the wealth," inevitably causing an angry realignment of our political parties. Though it's rude and unfashionable to speak of it, this tidal wave will engulf a voting booth near you - sooner than you think.
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 23, 2013 10:55:03 PM PDT
W. Rogers says:
What is wrong with sounding like Karl Marx?
Posted on Jul 5, 2013 6:26:47 PM PDT
>>>" the wealthy are so wealthy they can indeed sustain the U.S. economy almost by themselves. This staggering conclusion is brought home to readers in Packer's brief but luminous essay on Sam Walton. . . ."
I'm just wondering if you actually critically thought about this for 5 seconds? Because if you did you would have realized just how ludicrously false this premise is. I guess The New Yorker's "marvelous fact checking apparatus that is so good," really dropped the ball on this one.
Rather than spend tons of time disputing the obvious error I can just point you to this YouTube video that illustrates the point graphically.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 2, 2016 5:03:47 PM PST
Avid Reader says:
I know you wrote your statement three years ago, but Super Tuesday 2016 certainly bore them out! I need to read this book.
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