Peddling Prosperity: Economic Sense and Nonsense in the Age of Diminished Expectations

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The past twenty years have been an era of economic disappointment in the United States. They have also been a time of intense economic debate, as rival ideologies contend for policy influence. Above all, they have been the age of the policy entrepreneur - the economic snake-oil salesman, right or left, who offers easy answers to hard problems. It started with the conservative economists - Milton Friedman at their head - who made powerful arguments against activist government that had liberals on the defensive for...
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Overview

The past twenty years have been an era of economic disappointment in the United States. They have also been a time of intense economic debate, as rival ideologies contend for policy influence. Above all, they have been the age of the policy entrepreneur - the economic snake-oil salesman, right or left, who offers easy answers to hard problems. It started with the conservative economists - Milton Friedman at their head - who made powerful arguments against activist government that had liberals on the defensive for many years. Yet when Ronald Reagan brought conservatism to power, it was in the name not of serious thinkers but of the supply-siders, whose ideas were cartoon-like in their simplicity. And when the dust settled, it was clear that the supply-side treatment not only had cured nothing, but had left behind a $3 trillion bill. Meanwhile, the intellectual pendulum had swung. In the 1980s, even while conservatives ruled in Washington, economic ideas that justified government activism were experiencing a strong revival. But the liberals, it turns out, have their own supply-siders: the strategic traders, whose simplistic vision of a U.S. economy locked in win-lose competition with other countries proved far more appealing to politicians than less-dramatic truth. And it seems all too likely that the new patent medicine will do as much harm as the previous one. In this provocative book, Paul Krugman traces the swing of the ideological pendulum, from left to right and back again, and the strange things that happen to economic ideas on their way to power.

The past twenty years have been an era of economic disappointment in the U.S. They have also been a time of intense economic debate, as rival ideologies contend for policy influence. But strange things have happened to economic ideas on their way to power--they've been hijacked by policy entrepreneurs who offer easy answers to hard problems.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this intellectual history of recent American economic thought, Krugman ( The Age of Diminished Expectations ) maintains that there is ``a constant market for doctrines that play to popular prejudices, whether they make sense or not. In times of economic distress, the search for politically useful ideas . . . takes on a special intensity.'' He deftly analyzes liberal and conservative academic economists, Keynes and ``new Keynesians,'' as well as ``policy entrepreneurs'' who, he contends, often offer stylish answers unencumbered by logic or data. Krugman caustically denigrates supply-siders as ``ideologues whose economic concepts were cartoonlike in their simplicity.'' Yet the author, a professor of economics at MIT, is also apprehensive about the pervasive influence of conservative academic economists and of ``strategic traders'' who have ``sold the American public . . . on the idea that our most crucial economic problem is our struggle with other advanced nations for global markets.'' This benchmark study will stimulate much needed discussion in both academia and Washington, D.C. (Mar.)
Library Journal
The major problem addressed in this book is that, when choosing between good economics and good politics, policy makers usually choose good politics. Krugman ( The Age of Diminished Expectations , MIT Pr., 1992) asserts that, just as Reagan became enamored of the dubious ideas of supply-siders, Clinton is in danger of being captured by another economic nostrum, strategic trading. The book also contains a most worthwhile exploration of the last 20 years of macroeconomic theory, policy, and performance. Krugman tells a coherent story rooted in economic commonsense accessible to all readers. His thesis of the good politics of bad economics is challenging and often convincing. Highly recommended for all libraries.-- Richard C. Schiming, Mankato State Univ., Minn.
Gilbert Taylor
An expert on foreign trade, Krugman here charts the fall and rise of the Keynesian explanation for American stagnation since 1973. His main compass is an intellectual feature of our times: the division between academic intellectuals and policy entrepreneurs. This he orients toward the conservative critique ascendent in the 1970s, when a real economist, Milton Friedman, paved the way for supply-side propagandists such as Robert Bartley ("Seven Fat Years" [1993]). Krugman argues that the same split between theorists and snake-oil purveyors exists among the liberals now in power, exemplified by Labor Secretary Robert Reich ("The Work of Nations" [1991]), who is a lawyer and talking head--but not an economist who has ever impressed the dons. Beneath the cacophony of popularizers, the solid work of historians and economists goes on, and central to such work is the fact that John Maynard Keynes just won't go away. Krugman's intriguing essay supplies a double-edged dose of clarity that partisans--on the left or right--won't find congenial, but ads and radio interviews may widen interest beyond that of the policy wonks.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393036022
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/28/1994
  • Pages: 303
  • Product dimensions: 5.73 (w) x 8.47 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman is the recipient of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics. He is a best-selling author, columnist, and blogger for the New York Times, and is a professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: Looking for Magicians 3
Pt. I The Rise of Conservative Economics
1 The Attack on Keynes 23
2 Taxes, Regulation, and Growth 55
3 The Supply-Siders 82
Pt. II Conservatives in Power
4 Growth 107
5 Income Distribution 130
6 The Budget Deficit 151
7 Conservatives Abroad 170
Pt. III The Pendulum Swings
8 In the Long Run Keynes Is Still Alive 197
9 The Economics of QWERTY 221
10 The Strategic Traders 245
Appendix to Chapter 10: Productivity and Competitiveness 268
Epilogue 281
Index 293
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