Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets

Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets

by Robert Kuttner
     
 

Robert Kuttner's quarrel, in this provocative and illuminating book, is not with capitalism per se or with a broad role for market forces: "Consumption is doubtless pleasurable," he writes, "and no one minds a high material standard of living." His dispute is rather with the current libertarian or laissez-faire direction of both economic practice and economic theory…  See more details below

Overview

Robert Kuttner's quarrel, in this provocative and illuminating book, is not with capitalism per se or with a broad role for market forces: "Consumption is doubtless pleasurable," he writes, "and no one minds a high material standard of living." His dispute is rather with the current libertarian or laissez-faire direction of both economic practice and economic theory that has been gradually gaining in prominence since the mid-197Os. Champions of this approach extol the unfettered marketplace and trust in its ability to increase wealth, promote innovation, and "optimize outcomes" - and to regulate itself flawlessly all the while. In Everything for Sale, Kuttner makes a powerful case for the mixed economy, in which government steps in to override markets for a variety of reasons: to stabilize monetary forces, to promote growth, to temper inequalities, to cultivate civic virtues. It is the system that, Kuttner contends, holds the greatest hope for a flourishing twenty-first century. His concrete observations and clear analyses, purged of jargon, address themselves to every layperson, businessperson, policy-maker, and open-minded economist in America.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Challenging the prevailing conservative doctrine that an unregulated, self-correcting, free-market economy is the ideal, Kuttner (The End of Laissez-Faire) argues that in a humane society, whole realms of activity necessarily depart from pure market principles because market norms drive out nonmarket norms-civility, commitment to the public good, personal economic security and liberty. In the workplace, a growing tendency to treat human labor purely as a commodity has led to an increasing polarization of wages, erosion of standards of fairness and greater worker insecurity, he maintains. Overreliance on market mechanisms is ruining the health care system, contends Kuttner, a contributing columnist to Business Week, because of enormous hidden costs engendered by opportunism, fragmentation, underinvestment in public health and prevention, and inefficient use of home care and nursing care. Arguing that deregulation of financial markets leads to offsetting inefficiencies, he casts a skeptical eye on hostile takeovers, junk bonds and derivatives and advocates "stakeholder capitalism" to make shareholders more accountable to employees. In a benchmark for future debate, Kuttner brings, clear, pragmatic thinking to complex, thorny issues, reclaiming a middle ground between champions of laissez-faire capitalism and statism. (Jan.)
Library Journal
In this thorough, scholarly approach to current economics relative to the political scene, journalist Kuttner (End of Laissez-Faire, LJ 2/15/91), who writes columns for BusinessWeek and the Washington Post, examines in great detail the free-market economy. The free market he intends is that envisioned by libertarian thought, with less government intervention and deregulation. Kuttner offers comparisons with the mixed economy of previous decades back to the Roosevelt era. He demonstrates how government regulation, intervention, and other actions have affected the economy in the past and how they still do. The serious student of economic history and policy will glean from his work many thought-provoking and controversial ideas that reveal how the free market has changed in the areas of labor, healthcare, sports, and business practices, to name a few. Kuttner's research has produced a well-written tome that certainly has a place on the shelves of academic and large public libraries.-Steven J. Mayover, Free Lib. of Philadelphia
Jeff Madrick
The best survey of the limits of free markets that we have....A much-needed plea for pragmatism: Take from free markets what is good and do not hesitate to recognize what is bad.
Los Angeles Times
Michael Hirsh
A powerful empirical broadside. One by one, he lays on cases where governments have outdone markets, or at least performed well.
Newsweek
Kirkus Reviews
An exhaustive but tendentious critique of market economics from the liberal commentator who first addressed this issue in The End of Laissez-Faire (1991).

In his three-part audit, Business Week columnist Kuttner first provides an overview that effectively damns markets with faint praise. For instance, while commending their role in facilitating commerce, setting prices for goods and services, and allocating resources, he cites a lengthy list of instances in which markets fail to measure up. By way of example, the author notes that there is no good market reason for free public libraries, which most polities rightly value. Sniping away at utopian ideologues who view the market as a panacea for whatever ails society, Kuttner reviews the putative shortcomings of labor, health-care, and capital markets, arguing that intervention is required to avert the sometimes calamitous or undesirable results of overly free enterprise. He does not face up to such unpleasant matters as the fact that the burden of government-mandated benefits has stalled job growth in the European Union, whose mixed economy he much admires. In like vein, the author offers kind words for Japan's bureaucratically guided approach to capitalism without dwelling on that nation's consumers, who are obliged to pay artificially high prices at retail as a result of the system. By contrast, Kuttner includes a wealth of scenarios spelling out ways in which prosperity might be advanced by riding closer herd on competition in any number of private-sector industries (airlines, electric utilities, telecommunications, et al.), giving federal regulatory agencies appreciably greater powers, and implementing economic/trade policies that could enhance the common weal.

A "yes . . . but" analysis that accentuates the negative aspects of laissez-faire and promotes a decidedly progressive political/socioeconomic agenda. The text has a notably belligerent foreword by Richard C . Leone, president of the Twentieth Century Fund

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780394583921
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/01/1997
Edition description:
1 ED
Pages:
410
Product dimensions:
6.61(w) x 9.61(h) x 1.39(d)

What People are saying about this

Robert Heilbroner
The most readable and important book about the economy I have read in a long time....I have never seen the market system better described, more intelligently appreciated, and more trenchantly criticized than in Everything for Sale.

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