Thu, Feb 08, 2018 - Page 14 News List

Ten things to read to gain an understanding of America

By Noah Smith  /  Bloomberg

By Barbara Ehrenreich

Beginning in the 1980s, American politics was increasingly dominated by leaders who believed in the fundamental efficacy of markets. But in many ways, people were not fully prepared to cope with the new free-market world. The transaction costs, uncertainties and unfairness of daily life in the new, do-it-yourself America overwhelmed many poor and working-class people, and even some in the middle class. Few document the exhaustion of modern capitalism better than Ehrenreich. Her book should be paired with the more recent Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond.

No. 6. The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart

By Bill Bishop

There are many divides in American society — racial, economic, gender and religious. But perhaps no divide is as powerful or as pernicious as the partisan political polarization that has emerged in the last few decades. Bishop chronicles how the populace has been geographically separating itself into clusters of like-minded individuals, producing the feeling of two separate countries co-existing in the same space.

No. 7. The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War

By Robert Gordon

Americans, traditionally, are a people accustomed to growth. The spread of the populace from East to West, the Industrial Revolution, the technology booms of the 20th century and the financial bull markets of 1980 to 2008 all presented the feeling of boundless, limitless frontiers to be explored and conquered. But just as the frontiers of the West closed a century ago, economic frontiers may be closing now. In this book, economist Robert Gordon presents the reality of slowing productivity growth, and makes the case that technological progress will be slow for the foreseeable future. For a contrary, more optimistic case, try The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

No. 8. Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century

By Anne Case and Angus Deaton

The US has become substantially less healthy than other developed nations. Though mortality rates among black Americans have plunged dramatically, they are still high. More ominously, mortality rates among white Americans — particularly those without a college education — have risen slightly, driven in part by the opiate epidemic, alcoholism and suicide. Economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton document this ominous trend, which seems to confirm the existence of a social malaise among working class white Americans.

No. 9. Income and Wealth Inequality: Evidence and Policy Implications

By Emmanuel Saez

Inequality has risen in most countries around the world, but in the US it has reached levels usually only seen in developing nations. While books such as economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century have presented grand, sweeping theories of inequality, I prefer to start with the blunt facts of the matter. Saez, Piketty’s frequent co-author, lays out the numbers in this paper.

No. 10. Concrete Economics: The Hamilton Approach to Economic Growth and Policy

By Stephen Cohen and Bradford DeLong

With the US beset by economic problems ranging from inequality to slow growth to the decline of whole regions, why hasn’t the government done more to help? In this short, readable volume, historian Stephen Cohen and economist Brad DeLong opine that in the last few decades, American policy makers have shunned the idea of deliberate and industrial policy and chosen instead to step back and let the market go where it will. This, they argue, has led to a financialized economy where capital sloshes around (yielding big fees for financiers) but rarely makes the big, bold bets necessary to get the economy moving again.

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