Mark's Reviews > Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future

Aftershock by Robert B. Reich
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Mar 10, 11

bookshelves: non-fiction, economics, sociology
Read from March 06 to 10, 2011


This is more an extended essay than a book per se, but that doesn't make it any less powerful.

As a former labor secretary in the Clinton administration and an unapologetic progressive, Berkeley's Robert Reich makes a strong case that our continued economic vibrancy and our trust in the U.S. democracy are endangered because we have broken the "basic bargain" with the middle class.

The bargain was that if people worked hard and paid their taxes, they would benefit from the expanding wealth of the economy. Using statistics, historical anecdotes and other information, Reich makes the case that this is no longer true because the wealthy and super-wealthy consume such a large part of America's income, and that even though the government bailed out Wall Street to keep the whole house of cards from collapsing, it did not then move to address this basic inequity.

After making his historical case, Reich lays out a sweeping program at the end of the book for fixing the mess. The biggest task, he says, is to restore some balance in the distribution of wealth in the economy (what conservatives would undoubtedly label as creeping socialism). He would raise the tax rates on those making more than $410,000 a year to 50 percent and would no longer treat capital gains differently from other income. In return, he would extend the subsidies now available only to the working poor to middle class families, so that those earning $30,000 a year, for instance, would get $10,000 a year back in tax subsidies, a benefit that would phase out once a family earned $50,000 a year. This would be paid for by the higher tax rates on the rich and by a carbon tax. He includes other major revisionary ideas on health care, public infrastructure investment and so forth, but these tax changes are the heart of his idea.

Will it ever happen in our free market-oriented society today, especially since the wealthy are those who are financing many presidential and Congressional campaigns? Possibly not, but Reich says that if drastic reforms aren't made, there is a real possibility that a new independent political movement, similar to the Tea Party, will gain enough momentum to one day win the presidency and the Congress and impose much more draconian limits on the wealthy, while also stopping immigration and throwing up trade barriers.

A provocative book, with the added benefit that if you are not an economist or policy wonk by training or inclination, you get a very quick, basic education on the large issues and challenges of the present American economy.
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