Reviewed in the United States on December 26, 2007
Take a look around at the economic and political landscape in this country as we enter 2008 and it is really quite difficult to be optimistic about the prospects for the average American worker. You see most of us are not real estate developers, financial speculators or political insiders. Furthermore, while entrepreneurial opportunities still do exist in this nation not everyone is cut out to own their own business. Sadly, as more and more good paying jobs move overseas increasing numbers of Americans find little alternative but to work in offices, retail stores and in various other service industries for lower wages and fewer benefits than were available to workers just a generation ago. Yes, the sad truth is that despite impressive gains in productivity over the past quarter century the standard of living for most average workers has been steadily declining. At the same time the cost of the essentials such as housing, health insurance and sending your child off to college has skyrocketed. But be comforted by the fact that the cost of consumer electronics continues to come down! Looks an awful lot like bread and circus to me! So just what is going on here? In "The Squandering of America" author Robert Kuttner surveys the current political and economic landscape and serves up a pretty frank portrait of just what has been happening to workers in America. And frankly, unless changes are forthcoming in the near term all of us are probably in for a very rough ride.
In "The Squandering of America" Robert Kuttner points out time and again that many of the prerequisites for financial disaster are already in place. First and foremost there is too much money in the hands of too few people. Secondly, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in the early 1990's paved the way for the rampant and irresponsible financial speculation that we have witnessed over the past 10 or 15 years. Kuttner also points to hedge funds and private-equity firms as major culprits in this deepening crisis. The author also accuses the leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties of selling out the American worker for the benefit of Wall Street. The American government simply looks the other way as unfair trade practices shift more and more good jobs overseas to the delight of the speculators. It seems that our trade policy lacks the necessary focus and consistency that would protect Americanjobs and the interests of most of the American people in general. Although Kuttner fails to mention his name in the book, Pat Buchanan was absolutely right when he warned us all of the folly of entering into NAFTA and GATT. Throughout the book Kuttner drives home his major point that a managed form of capitalism that reigns in some of these excesses is far preferable to the lassez-faire variety that has emerged in this country over the past 20 years. I found a good many of his arguments to be quite compelling.
Just in case you are still not convinced that there is a serious problem mushrooming among working class Americans I thought I would quote a portion of a paragraph from page 284 of "The Squandering of America". This passage seems to sum up the situation quite succinctly. "The middle class today has many of the same economic vulnerabilities as the working poor: the risks of losing jobs, pensions, incomes and health insurance; rising costs of college tuition and home ownership relative to income. With the middle class increasingly subject to economic vulnerabilities that used to be limited to the working poor, a class politics championing the bottom 80 or 90 percent is just what is needed." Now the elites in this country would have us all believe that these declining living standards are all our fault. I think most of us instinctively know better. The fact of the matter is that the deck has been stacked against most working Americans by unfair trade agreements as well as egregious financial speculation. The decline of living standards for most working Americans has been a slow but painful process that shows no signs of abating any time soon. If we are to reverse this situation it is up to the American people to educate themselves about these issues and demand change. Reading "The Squandering of America" would be a great way to quickly get up to speed on many of these important issues. While I certainly do not buy all that Robert Kuttner proposes in this book I think that the issues addressed here need to be part of a great national discussion about where this nation is heading. An important book! Highly recommended!