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It Could Happen Here: America on the Brink Hardcover – October 6, 2009
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“It Could Happen Here arrives at a critical time, as we face economic inequality that could threaten the vitality of our middle class. Judson’s provocative thesis will cause you think about the risks for a nation divided between have’s and have not’s.” (Walter Isaacson, author of EINSTEIN and BENJAMIN FRANKLIN)
“Bruce Judson’s It Could Happen Here highlights a crucial issue for the future of our nation: How unequal can America get before we snap?” (Robert Reich, author of SUPERCAPITALISM and Fmr. Secretary of Labor)
“The middle class is scared and it should be. In effect, we are conducting an enormous social and political experiment—something like putting a pressure cooker on the stove over a full flame and waiting to see how long it takes to explode.” (Lester C. Thurow, author of THE FUTURE OF CAPITALISM and THE ZERO-SUM SOCIETY)
“[Judson’s] book will excite argument and discussion, serving as an excellent springboard for considering these important, timely issues.” (Booklist)
From the Back Cover
The severe economic downturn has been blamed on many things: deregulation, derivatives, greedy borrowers, negligent lenders. But could there be a deeper problem that is so severe, so long-lasting, and so dangerous that it makes these problems look like minor swerves in the road? Could we be facing an existential challenge to the promise of America, and to our system of government?
Inequality in America has reached historical highs. Throughout human history, this level of disparity has proven intolerable, almost always leading to political upheaval. Though many believe that America will never face a second revolution, that our politics are stable, in It Could Happen Here, Yale School of Management senior faculty fellow Bruce Judson makes the case that revolution is a real possibility here, driven by a thirty-year, unprecedented rise of inequality through six presidencies, three Fed chairmen, three recessions, and many years of expansion.
The last time inequality rivaled current levels was in 1928, just before the Crash and the Great Depression. Today we are in worse shape, divided into a tiny plutocracy of super-rich, on the one hand, and a fragile, indebted, unprotected "former middle class" on the other. As Judson shows, revolutions can occur suddenly, as happened with the Soviet Union's 1991 dissolution, and America today exhibits the central precursors to a collapse—extreme economic inequality and an increasingly impoverished middle class. He makes the most disturbing case yet for why our economics are leading us inevitably toward a devastating crisis.When Franklin Roosevelt faced a similar situa-tion, he was saved by World War II. This time, the conflict may be at home, not abroad.
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How is it that the Federal Reserve accounts to NO ONE and prints money to give to high paid, poor decision makers at the expense of taxpayers? The result is devaluing the dollar.
This author writes about the effect of what is going on, pointing out what it takes for the public to revolt. An average worker makes about the same amount of money as his father did 30 years ago.
A key concept is the importance of the perception of what is happening which outweighs the facts or story our leaders want to believe.
It is good reading especially after reading what Washington has been doing for basically 30 years.
The focus on the impact of rising income inequity and its ability to drive sudden revolutionary events, with specific examples was eye opening, and actually quite riveting.
I recommend the book to anyone who is interested in taking a close look at the economic events of the past 30 years and considering a very different outcome than what we have generally considered.
The rest of the book is a fun-to-read introduction to inequality issues that are now prominent in political campaigns and economic writings. I had problems with some of the basic, underlying contentions, as above: I don't think any government cares much about protecting the people -- it cares about staying in power, and war is frequently a good way to distract everyone from growing poverty. Also to reduce unemployment, since so many men are drafted to be soldiers and many killed. The author says that America is in danger of revolution because of gross inequality of wealth. I don't believe this --- that is, I believe we are in danger of revolution, sure, and wildly overdue for it: what other country can you think of where the political boundaries have remained stable for 150 years? I can't think of any.
But I don't think inequality per se is what drives revolution. In America, the poor and middle class are getting more and more all the time: wealth has increased, not decreased. True, there is gross inequality at the top to the point that most of us can't even imagine how rich the richest are -- the numbers are too large. But who cares? If I am doing better, and my neighbors, who cares if someone invisible behind iron gates somewhere in Connecticut is doing much, much better? Several things can cause revolutions, and one of them is absolute inequality -- that is, real starvation and/or increasing serious poverty combined with an obvious preening aristocracy and an incompetent government that no one can hope will improve the situation. Those circumstances certainly started the French Revolution and the recent collapse of the Soviet Union. But there are violent revolutions going on right now, 2015, in many Mideast countries, and inequality has nothing to do with any of them. Judson cites disappointed rising expectations as a cause for revolutions, and that is frequently asserted as a factor. Losing wars, as America continues to do in barren wastelands after wastelands, is certainly a cause for revolution and was behind the original 1917 Russian Revolution into communism. Serious polarity of opinion, widening until the two sides cannot agree and must split is considered likely to lead to revolution by many people watching the European populists and the right/left conflict in America. Certainly that wide split of opinion was behind the American Civil War, our last revolution. I don't think polarity of opinion is WHY revolutions start but HOW they start -- people are pulling back into opposing teams, sides, getting ready to fight.
I like this book, and the fact that I find a lot to disagree with shows how thought-provoking it is. Assuming you agree with the author's premise that the United States is on the cusp of revolution, consider what comes after every revolution: a strongman always takes over, and goes to war. Napoleon took over after the French Revolution and killed two to three million Frenchmen in his obsessive wars with all Europe, which did nothing but weaken France to this day. Putin took over after the Soviet Union fell apart, and now is distracting his people from increasing poverty with his various military adventures. Germany had revolution one after the other after they lost World War I, and then Hitler took over. Revolution may not be as much fun as some people expect: and after revolution always comes the dictator. Probably we are better off as we are, inequality or no.
Bruce Judson is a Fellow at the Yale School of Management, a lawyer and an entrepreneur. He predicted the market crash in 2008. Inequality in America has reached historical highs and this can result in political upheaval. Another revolution is a real possibility. [There is no mention of a lost war as in 1917 Russia or 1918 Germany.] This 2009 book has 238 pages for its seven chapters, no ‘Index’ or ‘Bibliography’ (except for footnotes). The ‘Prologue’ lists a number of newspaper headlines about missing nuclear materials, the rise of the super-rich, the widening inequality gap, and military plans to handle “civil unrest”. Chapter 1 “Freedom From Want” is fiction designed to illustrate his argument, like “1984”. “Brian Jenkins” describes the problem (p.32). [Was America really “conceived on an ideal” or an “accident of geography and language”?] “Paul Krug” describes the economic chaos that followed (p.37). Is a system of government created for the 18th century workable in the 21st century? [Yes, if it has the same level of economic equality.] Would this chapter make a great horror movie?
Chapter 2 asks if a revolution in the US is possible. [Yes, but the real question is it probable?] Does economic inequality predict revolution? [Did this cause the fall of Rome or explain the fall of dynasties?] Rising inequality directly contributed to the crashes of 1929 and 2008 (p.53). [Note how the Corporate Media calls it the “Great Recession” instead of the “Bush Recession”!] Judson draws six conclusions from the collapse of the Soviet Union (pp.68-77). Chapter 3 says there is no consensus as to why revolutions occur. There are five risk factors: inequality of wealth; economic or political shocks; dissatisfaction; perception of unfairness; the history of institutions. Economic inequality is the most important of these (p.83). The “American Dream” has five basic components: job security (steady work), owning a home, a pension or adequate retirement, the ability to send children to college (a good future), and upward mobility (p.86). A severe economic shock undermines the stability of a government (p.87).
The rise in inequality is measured by wealth (Chapter 4). While wages stagnated the debt level went up and savings went down (p.125). Will this trend lead to disaster (p.131)? [Probably, given past history.] Chapter 5 analyzes why inequality escalated. The quote about an “invisible hand” is misquoted (p.138). “Trickle-down” economics is a fraud (p.140). The lack of regulations was one cause of today’s economic crisis (p.141). Asset bubbles transferred wealth from the many to the few (p.145). Globalization, anti-regulation and anti-labor policies created economic inequality (p.147). [One weapon against economic inequality is to raise the Federal deduction to $50,000 the exemption to $6,000, and the top tax rate to 70%. This is comparable to the original amounts in earlier times and restores the progressivity of the Income Tax.] Page 163 explains why most people pay more - so the very rich pay less. The purpose of the estate tax is to prevent a permanent aristocracy of wealth (p.165). [The early republic banned the Law of Primogeniture and replaced it with the Law of Division.] Another sign of inequality is fewer workers in unions.
What if a large number of homeowners lose their homes (p.177)? The current depression was caused by economic inequality (p.183). The poorest neighborhoods have the most crime and violence (p.195). The failure to meet expectations can lead to regime change (Chapter 7). If we are a “nation of consumers” isn’t that because of advertising and poor schooling? Should people trust the Upper Class whose policies have created the current “great recession” (p.214)? The ‘Epilogue’ presents his cure for the problem (p.219). He suggests a higher capital gains tax (p.236). Judson warns that economic inequality (the declining wages for most people) can create a revolution. Is he wrong? What was the effects of droughts and famine in earlier times?
These page numbers refer to the softcover edition.
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