The Great Risk Shift: The New Economic Insecurity and the Decline of the American Dream / Edition 1

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America's leaders say the economy is strong and getting stronger. But the safety net that once protected us is fast unraveling. With retirement plans in growing jeopardy while health coverage erodes, more and more economic risk is shifting from government and business onto the fragile shoulders of the American family.

In The Great Risk Shift, Jacob S. Hacker lays bare this unsettling new economic climate, showing how it has come about, what it is doing to our families, and how we can fight back. Behind this shift, he contends, is the Personal Responsibility Crusade, eagerly embraced by corporate leaders and Republican politicians who speak of a nirvana of economic empowerment, an "ownership society" in which Americans are free to choose. But as Hacker reveals, the result has been quite different: a harsh new world of economic insecurity, in which far too many Americans are free to lose.

The book documents how two great pillars of economic security—the family and the workplace—guarantee far less financial stability than they once did. The final leg of economic support—the public and private benefits that workers and families get when economic disaster strikes—has dangerously eroded as political leaders and corporations increasingly cut back protections of our health care, our income security, and our retirement pensions.

Blending powerful human stories, big-picture analysis, and compelling ideas for reform, this remarkable volume will hit a nerve, serving as a rallying point in the vital struggle for economic security in an increasingly uncertain world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Jacob Hacker, a Yale University political scientist, has emerged as an incisive voice on issues relating to retirement security and income volatility."—AARP Bulletin

"Jacob Hacker's research on the uneven state of the American safety net has made the young Yale University political scientist a top idea merchant to Democratic think tanks."—Business Week

"Thoughtful Democrats like Clinton aide Gene Sperling and Yale professor Jacob Hacker have argued that Americans, even amid prosperity, are increasingly insecure in our globalized economy and wary of downside risks if they have to change jobs or learn new skills."—Michael Barone, Washington Times

"Hacker's biggest idea to combat volatility: Smooth out the financial ups and downs through 'universal insurance' that would temporarily make up income shortfalls from job losses. Don't be surprised to see a variation on this and other Hacker ideas batted around during the 2008 presidential race."—U.S. News & World Report

"As Jacob Hacker argues persuasively in The Great Risk Shift, America's middle class finds itself living with far more risk and income volatility than it did a generation ago." —Christopher Hayes, The Nation

"Hacker's important and illuminating book—with its call for creating an insurance and opportunity society—should inform every discussion of progressive political strategy in the coming decade."—David Moberg, In These Times

"Jacob S. Hacker, a 35-year-old political science professor at Yale, has become something of an intellectual 'It boy' in the Democratic Party over the last decade...The patchwork safety net created in the decades after World War II truly is shriveling, and there will be rewards for the party that comes up with a convincing solution. Hacker has done the Democrats a favor by developing a story and a catchphrase—the great risk shift—to describe the problem."—David Leonhardt, New York Times

"In cutting-edge polemics like Jacob Hacker's The Great Risk Shift, the smartest liberal voices are focusing on voter anxiety about health care and income volatility—anxiety that the GOP hasn't even begun to find a way to address."—Ross Douthat & Reihan Salam, The Weekly Standard

"Democrats don't really have an answer to the economic anxieties of the middle class. They don't quite know how to deal with the complicated mix of optimism and anxiety that characterizes even the upper-middle class in today's economy. They know that the old language of economic security from risk doesn't stand up against the slogans of opportunity and ownership that the right offers, even though those you're-on-your-own policies make matters worse. There is a healthy debate going on in liberal intellectual circles about this. The best answer so far can be found in Jacob Hacker's new book, The Great Risk Shift, in which he proposes that we think of security as the basis for economic opportunity. However, this idea doesn't yet seem to have entered the consciousness of the political class."—Washington Monthly

"The essential policy book of the year."—E.J. Dionne, Washington Post

"An intellectual handbook for many on the left."—The Economist

"One of the two most important books on American politics to appear this year, maybe in many a year.... Hacker's is one of those prescient books that names and anatomizes a potent, ubiquitous trend that has been hidden in plain view.... His book deserves the widest possible audience, for having nailed the most powerful and underappreciated economic trend of our era, thereby inviting a discussion of the political opportunities."—Robert Kuttner, American Prospect

"A valuable new book...he presents data explaining the new sense of economic dread hanging over Americans. We all know that in this globalized, ultracompetitive age, job security has been beggared, but Hacker attaches startling numbers to the national anxiety."—New York Magazine

"His most ambitious work yet."—The New York Times Book Review

"Within a unified thesis, Mr. Hacker tells a coherent story about economic insecurity. And, by and large, the thesis is compelling...his account is provocative and worth reading."—Roger Lowenstein, The New York Times

"Provides a fresh diagnosis of a familiar complex of problems from structural unemployment to the erosion of retirement plans you can retire on."—The Atlantic

"A powerful and timely account of the forces driving the ascendance of economic insecurity in America. But Hacker does more than describe the problem; he offers a thoughtful and ambitious policy agenda and explains how each of us can make our own families more secure. This is an important book for anyone concerned about the continuing vitality of the American dream."—John Edwards, former U.S. Senator and Director, Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at UNC Chapel Hill

"America's largest social class isn't upper-income, middle, or poor. It's our sprawling anxious class. As Jacob Hacker shows in this lucid and riveting account, American families are experiencing more and more uncertainty about their future, and the reigning conservative orthodoxy is exposing them to ever greater risk. Hacker lifts up the floor boards of conservative's much touted 'ownership society' and reveals the extended rot. But he also offers up a new foundation for economic security. This is an important book."—Robert B. Reich, Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor

"What Hacker so effectively documents in The Great Risk Shift is that for too many Americans, Washington's pursuit of a so-called Personal Opportunity Society has instead brought about deepening economic insecurity. From job tenure and health coverage to retirement planning, corporations and governments are offloading longstanding institutional responsibilities onto the fragile psychologies and balance sheets of ordinary families and households. Small wonder the public doesn't trust the national economy and its circumstances."—Kevin Phillips, author of American Theocracy

"Hacker urges shared risk and responsibility. He builds on the best examples of efficient, high-quality coverage today: the employer-provided health insurance received in large (and high-wage) firms, and Medicare. His plan, now called Health Care for America, preserves the ability of private insurers to compete while ensuring a safety net for all Americans...Hacker's is an ambitious plan that has a good chance of making the transition from today's piecemeal approach to universal, rational coverage with the least disruption."—Chronicle of Higher Education

"Hacker shows that the decline in economic security is the major economic issue of our time, far more important than the occasional recessions and blips in the unemployment rate that preoccupy so many economists. This book powerfully illuminates the real scope of the problem."—Robert J. Shiller, author of Irrational Exuberance

"Most Americans today are on an unstable financial footing. Could this become the next hotbutton political issue?...Hacker characterizes economic insecurity as 'the defining feature of the contemporary American economy,' and his book provides a fresh diagnosis of a familiar complex of problems from structural unemployment to the erosion of retirement plans you can retire on."—The Atlantic Online

"Hacker seeks to call attention to another alleged failing of the new, more market-oriented economy: rising levels of risk and insecurity...he advances some interesting proposals... deserving of serious debate."—Wall Street Journal

"Risk aversion is why Americans are so nervous about the economy: As much as we prize stability, we find ourselves up to our necks in risk...income stability has fallen dramatically in the United States in the last 30 years. The likelihood that Americans will see drastic changes in income from one year to the next is three times higher now than it was in the early 1970s."—St. Louis Post Dispatch

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195335347
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 1/17/2008
  • Edition description: Revised
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 789,898
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jacob S. Hacker is Professor of Political Science at Yale University and Fellow at the New America Foundation. He is author of The Divided Welfare State and The Road to Nowhere and, and most recently, co-author of Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. A frequent commentator on NPR, PBS, and CNN, Hacker has written for The New Republic, The Nation, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and other publications.

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Table of Contents

Preface to the Revised and Expanded Edition
Preface to the First Edition
Introduction: On the Edge
1. The New Economic Insecurity
2. Risking it All
3. Risky Jobs
4. Risky Families
5. Risky Retirement
6. Risky Health Care
Conclusion: Securing the Future

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