I enjoyed the book. Frankly, I've long known for a long time that big business (corporations) use gov't to get favorable legislation and rules to make...moreI enjoyed the book. Frankly, I've long known for a long time that big business (corporations) use gov't to get favorable legislation and rules to make it easier for them to do business and make money. After all, those lobbyist aren't getting paid just to create some kind of nebulous "better business climate." Those campaign contributions come with the expectation of specific favors in mind. So, I appreciate the specifics since most, but not all, of what was in the book, I was previously unaware.
With that said, I had a few problems with the book. The first thing is that the beginning of the book was all lover the map. The author kept changing the focus of the narrative so often that it was difficult to follow where he was trying to go. It's as if he was trying to impart too much information all at once and kept changing the subject.
Secondly, it seems as if sometimes Johnston left out information that would have helped better flesh out his points. For example, I would have liked to have had more information about the 19th century case (Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific RR) which established corporations as legal persons by applying Constitutional protects to corporations as well as natural person through the use of the 14th Amendment.
Additionally, sometimes the author made statements of belief (as opposed to fact) that weren't adequately supported by what was included in the text of the book. For example, on page 85, Johnston states in the second paragraph that an article in the Times-Picayune referring to Entergy Corporation as New Orleans' only Fortune 500 company made it clear that there was a journalistic tilt toward the rich and powerful rather than to their readers. Really? Based on what was written in the book, I don't see that at all. If Entergy was NO's only Fortune 500 company, that's a statement of fact. And unless something else was included in their article which was not mentioned in the book, I don't see any slant or favoritism at all in that statement. Unfortunately, this and other claims (like the one on page 97 where Johnston claims that a PUC commission "put off the vote" rather than hear citizens' concerns or complaints) were not supported by the evidence presented within the book. Alas, this tendency tends to make Johnston himself appear to be slanted or engaged in favoritism against the corporations which are the focus of his book. I would only suggest that Johnston offer better supporting evidence for his claims within the book or at least openly state that at certain points he's offering an opinion as opposed to implying that he's reached factual conclusion.
But all things considered, the facts presented in the book make it clear that average people are unknowingly and unwittingly paying higher fees to corporations because corporations are using the gov't to codify higher fees than market competition would otherwise allow. (less)
I suppose that anyone who knows of Paul Krugman knows he's a columnist for economic and political matters (they're often interrelated) at the NYT, an...moreI suppose that anyone who knows of Paul Krugman knows he's a columnist for economic and political matters (they're often interrelated) at the NYT, an unabashed Keynesian economist, an author of several books, and a recent recipient of a Nobel Prize in economics in 2008, as well as an occasional TV pundit. He's also routinely denounced by conservatives for many, if not most, of his positions, which is a shame considering that, regarding economic policy, he's routinely taken on Democrats as well as Republicans for years.
While I've read the occasional column by Krugman, I had never read any of his books. This particular book was just published, and it seemed timely considering the current ongoing debate on how to revive the economy. I was also struck by the title (which I don't particular like) because I perceived it as essentially a plea for attention, or at least for serious consideration.
The book is Krugman's explanation of our current economic crisis, how we got here, and how best to get out of it. In fact, he states several times that we really don't have to be going through this extended economic downturn at all. He offers historical perspective going back to before the great depression, and an analysis of differing approaches and offers his ideas for how best to solve our current economic problems.
The book is intentionally written for the layperson. While there are a few graphs and charts (I would have preferred more, frankly), there's no math or complicated economic theorems to make the eyes glaze over. It's basically written in a very straightforward style.
Of course Krugman discusses the concept of austerity and the notion of cutting back on national debt immediately as a way of addressing our current problems. And needless to say, Krugman is highly critical of that approach. He offers several example of how and why those policies would have the exact opposite of the intended consequences. Said plainly, Krugman states that such policies will only serve to dig us into a deeper hole. (But that doesn't mean our country won't try it anyway, does it?).
Krugman also tackles a number of economic myths, both American and European, which he says are getting in the way of solving the economic problems simply because the decision makers don't have an accurate understanding of what the problem is. And as everyone knows, if you don't identify the core problem and how and why it developed in the first place, you're probably not going to make any progress in solving the problem unless blind luck or providence lend a hand.
One of the European myths Krugman tackles is that all the European countries are in trouble because of profligate spending. Untrue, he says. While some countries like Greece have caused many of their own problems, other countries like Spain had actually been paying down their debt for years when the economic crisis struck. In other words, it was the economic crisis which led to the debt crisis, not the other way around.
The one part of the book that I found particular surprising (don't ask me why) was Krugman's chapter on Austerians (Ch 11) where he gives a number of reasons why people embrace austerity. Of course ignorance of economics and history both play a role. Krugman also makes a good case that there's an emotional desire to 'punish bad nations' by making them suffer for their perceived economic sins despite the fact that they're often not at fault for the problem and that it's a counterproductive approach. But more disturbing still is Krugman's belief that powerful people have an economic interest in preventing a recovery even though a recovery would also help them as well as everyone else. If true, I guess we should never underestimate the possibility that powerful people may have suspect motives when their self-interest conflicts with the common good.
Despite all the other reasons to read this book, it's worth reading if for no other reason than to better understand the nature of the liquidity trap in which we currently find ourselves, and that's tackled very early in the book.
It's only 238 pp, and it's a great primer in understanding our current economic doldrums.(less)
The title is a little bit misleading because although Sandel does give some examples of what money has yet been able to buy in our capitalist system,...moreThe title is a little bit misleading because although Sandel does give some examples of what money has yet been able to buy in our capitalist system, it's not for a lack of trying. The book is more often an examination of how the influence of money (as in advertising, for example) is steadily and increasingly encroaching into areas of our society that were previously untouched (at least not directly) by its reach.
The author offers a number of compelling examples of how, once the concept of market capitalism enters a particular domain, its new toe hold spreads rather quickly until the previous norm is transformed by the new paradigm (my word).
In the arena (no pun intended) of professional sports, advertising (and naming rights) have actually encroached into the on-the-field play-by-play calling of the announcers. How does this happen? Teams have actually sold the rights to mention a particular company under certain circumstances. As a specific example, New York Life Insurance Company has a deal with ten major league baseball teams which triggers a promotional plug every time a player slides safely into a base. So, you're sitting watching a game, and this is what you might very well hear:
"Safe at home. Safe and secure. New York Life."
If you're a baseball purest who still likes to argue about the DH, how can you not be offended by this practice?
While the book is not meant to be an all inclusive and exhaustive recitation of how big money, market advertising, and capitalism in general is spreading into areas of public and private life which had previously been considered off limits, or unacceptable (or uncharted territory, anyway), the book does a good job of showing the mindset of people who promote the idea that market capitalism should play an even bigger role in our society than it currently does. Unfortunately, the recession only seems to make local and state governments even more open to the idea of selling advertising and naming rights in public areas like transportation hubs, public parks, and even on police cars.
One thing I can say I was shocked to learn about, although the practice apparently isn't new, is what's commonly known as janitor insurance. Corporations actually have the right to insure employees (even without their knowledge or consent), and collect on the policy at the time of death even IF it's been years since that employee worked at the company. That's true regardless of whether the former employee retired, quit, or was fired. Let me ask you this: How would you like to find out that your former employer has a $300,000 life insurance policy on you?
This was a very enlightening book as it shows how the concept of market capitalism is 'invading' areas of all our lives that were once free from it. And it doesn't appear that the trend shows any signs of abating. That's something to think about. (less)