The Conscience of a Liberal

The Conscience of a Liberal

by Paul Krugman


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This wholly original new work by the best-selling author of The Great Unraveling challenges America to reclaim the values that made it great.

With this major new volume, Paul Krugman, "the heir apparent to Galbraith" (Alan Blinder) and, today’s most widely read economist, studies the past eighty years of American history, from the reforms that tamed the harsh inequality of the Gilded Age to the unraveling of that achievement and the reemergence of immense economic and political inequality since the 1970s.

Seeking to understand both what happened to middle-class America and what it will take to achieve a "new New Deal," Krugman has created his finest book to date, a work that weaves together a nuanced account of three generations of history with sharp political, social, and economic analysis.

This book, written with Krugman’s trademark ability to explain complex issues simply, will transform the debate about American social policy in much the same way as did John Kenneth Galbraith’s deeply influential book The Affluent Society.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393060690
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 10/15/2007
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 580,154
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Paul Krugman writes a twice-weekly column for the op-ed page of the New York Times. A winner of the John Bates Clark Medal who was also named Columnist of the Year by Editor and Publisher magazine, he teaches economics at Princeton University.

Table of Contents

Introduction to the Paperback Edition ix

1 The Way We Were 3

2 The Long Gilded Age 15

3 The Great Compression 37

4 The Politics of the Welfare State 57

5 The Sixties: A Troubled Prosperity 79

6 Movement Conservatism 101

7 The Great Divergence 124

8 The Politics of Inequality 153

9 Weapons of Mass Distraction 173

10 The New Politics of Equality 198

11 The Health Care Imperative 214

12 Confronting Inequality 244

13 The Conscience of a Liberal 265

Notes 275

Acknowledgments 285

Index 287

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The Conscience of a Liberal 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The review above and the NY Times review state it very clearly. Any 'conservative' who is intellectually honest enough to listen to the other side should read this. By returning to a new Gilded Age we are slowly destroying what made our country become great from the 1930's on. We are weakening our middle class.
cdogzilla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed this much more than "The Great Unravelling."
dougwood57 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Krugman takes the reader on a succinct and readable journey through of US economic history beginning from about 1900 up to the present. His focus is how the average (or more precisely median) worker has fared. Krugman recounts the great economic inequality in the pre-Great Depression era and demonstrates that nearly identical levels of inequality have returned. Krugman¿s primary argument is that US government policies and actions can be used to reduce economic inequality and that it did so in response to the Great Depression, through World War Two and beyond. He calls this era the Great Compression when the average CEO of a large company made about 30 times the income of an average worker rather than today¿s multiplier of 300. He further argues that conservative political forces used Nixon¿s Southern strategy to divide workers and attain power. Once there, these forces applied Friedman economics (and some made-up economics like the `supply-side¿ craze) to government policies, declared war on unions, and deregulated across the board. Krugman presciently argued that the Republicans¿ politics of racial division were nearing the end of the road as the demographics of the US changed. Krugman expected the recent victory by a progressive Democrat in 2008. He sets forth several fairly specific policy recommendations for progressives (liberals who do things): universal health insurance, a more progressive tax structure, increase the minimum wage, and make union organizing easier. Part of his argument for giving priority to universal health insurance is that it will demonstrate that the government can indeed institute policies that make a person¿s life better. After several decades of anti-government rhetoric, such a demonstration is necessary.Krugman¿s prescriptions are not a complete progressive agenda ¿ he barely touches on the environment ¿ but if President Obama and Congress institute Krugman¿s ideas in the economic realm we will have a fairer society where the benefits of economic activity are more equitably shared. My personal feeling is they should act aggressively and swiftly on multiple fronts before the GOP has recovered its footing and to occupy the inevitable political counterattack busy with many challenges at once.
reannon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Silly me, as much as I've liked Paul Krugman's commentary in the _New York Times_ I didn't know until right before reading his book that hs is an economist. Economics has always been a subject I've been too timid to tackle, but Krugman writes so clearly that I can understand what he has to saylIn this wonderful book, he explains the political economy of the US since what he calles the "Long Gilded Age" which extends to the Great Depression. He makes some fascinating points, all of which he backs up with research.1) Income inequality is as high now as it was in the Long Gilded Age.2) The middle class America that he and many of us grew up in did not come about naturally by the maturation of the economy, but was created by the New Deal policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.3) During the time of the strength of the middle class, bipartisanship was much more in evidence.4) Movement conservatives have polarized the country by moving away from bipartisanship... the shift has not come from the Democrats moving farther left, but almost entireily by the GOP moving sharply to the right.5) Movement conservatives have tried to roll back the New Deal, and have succeeded in many ways, leading to new high levels of income inequality.6) Income inequality leads inevitably to a lessening of democracy.7) Issues of race played a key part in the success of movement conservatism.8) Movement conservatism has taken over the Republican Party so that there are few non-movement conservatives left. They have been so successful because they have proved able to win elections.Krugman sees reason to hope. Movement conservatism has become less attractive because it is rife with croneyism,, which leads to incompetence. Race is becoming less a factor as the country becomes more tolerant.So Krugman asks what progressives should do now to increase democracy and lessen the effects of income inequality. He suggests the first step is to complete the New Deal by providing guaranteed universal health care. He then does a masterful job of explaining why the US health care system is no better than most others but costs so much more, and what it would take to fix it.Despite all the belief that in America anyone can climb high, he shows that there is strong inequality of opportunity in the US, and he talks about ways of improving that.Overall, the book is an excellent history of the US political economy since the 1920s, and a call to action by liberals to pursue policies to increase democracy and equality for all Americans.
markleon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Paul Krugman has quickly become my favorite economist. Of course, I really don't know that many economists, so that isn't such a high bar to clear. However, it was so refreshing to read an unapologetic defense of liberal (yes...liberal, not "progressive") economics. I fully believe that among the many items that will place the Bush presidency near the top of the historical list of failed administrations is the economic disaster in the form of a new Gilded Age that his policies have brought forward. The complete submission to the "market" without any concern for the fact that markets display no morals have brought our nation to the point were there is a new super-rich class that are not beholden to anyone in any way. Krugman details how this came to be, how well the US economy did from the perspective of the median income earner prior to now and suggests how to resolve and return to some sensible economic policy.
jcbrunner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Paul Krugman has been for a long time a lone beacon of sanity in the current US descent into darkness. I had high hopes for this book (which had generally good reviews) but am overall disappointed by the disjointed pieces that make up this book: a history of US income inequality in the 20th century (Gilded Age inequality, New Deal compression, rapid divergence by a growing class of ultra-rich since the Eighties), a paean to taxes and unions, an analysis of the rise of movement "conservatives", the Southern strategy and race in US politics, a plea and plan for government-funded health care and a surprisingly rosy outlook. The title "Conscience of a Liberal" is also a misnomer, as the book does neither discuss morale nor liberal values per se. The book dwells (apart from a few words on FDR's New Deal) mostly on conservative initiatives and Krugman's ideas for pushback (a health care plan, taxes and unions).I have three issues with this book: nostalgia, picking the wrong fight and the easy way out.Nostalgia. Krugman combines his description of US 20th century inequality with a nostalgic look at the Fifties and Sixties. I might not have personal recollections about that time, what I have read about (and increasingly looked at) that time period, it was everything but harmonious. The Krugmanian harmony was restricted to the white suburbs, the playground of organization man. The other America had to fight the battles of anti-communism (McCarthy anyone?) and civil rights. Krugman does not need to indulge in nostalgia to present his powerful arguments against income inequality. It would even help him to see some of the pernicious effects the unions inflicted on US competitiveness in the Sixties and Seventies. Better collective bargaining would help the poor in America. It is a fine line, however, between empowering unions and shackling management, protecting outdated work processes and jobs. A look at heavily unionized sectors (such as airlines and teaching) should give Krugman pause to think.The wrong fight. Universal health care is yesterday's fight. The conservatives have intellectually lost this battle, all that remains is mopping up. Krugman was influential in winning this battle but this book is merely a coda. After the next presidential election, universal healthcare will come to all Americans, at last, in one form or another. Conservatives will guarantee that the system will be less efficient than in most other countries so that conservatives can preserve their mantra that government doesn't work.The easy way out. Racism and the Southern strategy are the source of all evil in Krugman's view. The book's villain is Ronald Reagan who in Krugman's dictum led, as a race-baiting pied piper, the white Southerners from the Democratic to the Republican party. That shattered the alliance of Northern liberals and Southern transfer receivers. Krugman postulates declining racism and an increase of minority voters and concludes that the Republican strategy will fail. While race is a good predictor in the South, it cannot help why liberal Minnesota has become a swing state. Krugman neglects to mention the remarkable emergence of Southern economic power (Southwest Airlines, Walmart, Coca-Cola, even Enron) as well as the huge demographic shift to the South (Texas, Florida).What I would have liked Krugman to discuss is the preponderant influence of the ultra-rich and corporations. He mentions trust-funded conservative think-tanks but does not dwell on media concentration nor on the demographics of US politicians themselves. A requirement for US politicians is a multi-million campaign fund, which restricts the possible candidates to rich people and dependents of certain institutions. Granted, the US has always been a rich man's country (starting with the Constitution which assigned the votes of those too poor to own even their own bodies to their owners). Most of the founding fathers were filthy rich. Those that were not (Tom Paine, Samuel Adams)
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Krugman is one of my favorite authors, and he does not let me down with this book. It is a quick and informative read. I would recommend it to anyone interested in saving the American middle class.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent book. It is easy to read and easy to understand. Dr. Krugman does an excellent job of comparing and contrasting the U.S. economy over the last 100 years as well as drawing comparisions between the U.S. and other industrialized nations. I learned so very much from this book. Dr. Krugman has outdone himself.