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American Amnesia: Business, Government, and the Forgotten Roots of Our Prosperity

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  472 ratings  ·  92 reviews
From the groundbreaking author team behind the bestselling Winner-Take-All Politics, a timely and topical work that examines what’s good for American business and what’s good for Americans—and why those interests are misaligned.

In Winner-Take-All Politics, Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson explained how political elites have enabled and propelled plutocracy. They trace the
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published March 15th 2016 by Simon & Schuster
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Jun 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led US to Forget What Made America Prosper by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson

“American Amnesia” is a much-needed refresher of what truly made America great and what we can do to restore a well-functioning government that promotes shared prosperity. Political Science professors Hacker and Pierson join forces once again to provide the public with the virtues of the greatest invention in history, the mixed economy. This insightful 464-page book includes
Peter Mcloughlin
To run a large capitalist economy and make sure that democracy is protected and some of the prosperity is shared beyond CEOs you need big government. We have been told the opposite by business and the right for nearly 40 years now and we have forgotten when this was true and the system (aka American Democracy) actually worked for a huge part of the population in mid-twentieth century although not for everyone (people of color were left out and women among others) but it wasn't an oligarchy like ...more
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really useful catalogue and counterpoint to the libertarian/conservative/small government movement. Government actually works sometimes. And it has produced many economic gains. The book is a bit dry at times and sometimes repetitive, but good.
Rita Welty Bourke
The thesis of "American Amnesia" is that no nation achieves prosperity, and remains prosperous, unless they have a strong, central government with the power to rein in capitalistic excesses. Capitalism, if left to its own devices, will never make the necessary investments in education, infrastructure, and R&D for a country and a people to thrive and to prosper. Only government can and will do that.

"Look inside (the IPhone), and you'll find that nearly all its major components (GPS,
Mack Hayden
Jul 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics, history, america
It's not that this book is uninformative, it's just that it's kind of bland. It's basically an apologetic for the idea of a liberal mixed economy; clearly, that's something that needs all the defending it can get, especially in today's extremely right wing political climate. The authors mount a pretty good defense of why America's golden years were the result of government interventionism and economic liberalism. It just came across as a bit disjointed and dull to me. They try to cover so many ...more
Brad B
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
There is some vital content in American Amnesia and I recommend it for that reason alone. I'm not a fan of the authors' writing style, it feels a little too academic, perhaps making it less accessible to the people who need it the most. At the same time, the organization of the book could use a little help, the authors jump from topic to topic a little too quickly.

One thing I wish the authors had expressed more directly: There is a widespread assumption that Ryan, McConnell, et al, actually
C. Scott
Mar 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Solid and well put-together. I also really liked Winner Take All Politics, another book by this duo.
Hacker and Pierson do great work.

I kind of feel like this book was preaching to the choir - I read a lot of material like this so it was right in my wheelhouse - I don't need to be convinced that a mixed economy is a great idea. However, the authors marshal a lot of great facts in an easily-digestible format. The book is dense and satisfying, but also a bit of a grind to get through.
Jim McCoy
Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
pretty good read. started to drag on towards the end of the book. could be that I've read some of the source material already so it was a re-hash.
John Kaufmann
May 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
An opus to the mixed economy. The authors challenge the reigning orthodoxy that the main role for government is defense and the redistribution of wealth from the makers to the takers, and that government is inefficient and inept. Instead, they argue that government is a necessary complement to private enterprise, and that governmental policies, regulations, and programs help lay the groundwork for societal (including private sector) prosperity.

The authors point to historical evidence supporting
Oct 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Another timely book. The authors suggest that the key to American postwar prosperity was the mixed-economy model enjoyed through the mid-sixties, which promoted infrastructure investment and scientific research through public and private partnerships. The Eisenhower administration was a particularly good example of this. Today, because of less public investment, Americans are slumping in global rankings such as education, infant mortality, transportation, and overall health. Americans are even ...more
Conor Ahern
Dec 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was an excellent companion to Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People, insofar as it carefully explains the cynical obstructionism of the Republican Party throughout the Obama era, but with an update for the second term of his presidency. This book also wins points for having such a muscular "What to do about it" section, whereas most of these books seem to shoehorn in some bien pensant bullshit toward the end.
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This one. Everyone needs to read this one and then we all need to remember how great an efficient (not big and not small) government makes our lives - everything from the United States Postal Service to our national highway system to the CDC to NASA.
Apr 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kathryn by: Angela Evans
Great overview of the mixed economy and why it is important for the success of the nation. Book was an interesting dive, but was shallow in some ares and deep in others, leading to a few sections that dragged a bit. Overall, very happy with the read.
May 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A Review of
Jacob Hacker’s and Paul Pierson’s
American Amnesia
Greg Cusack
May 17, 2016

Over the past forty years a new class of extreme economic individualists has labored to vilify “government” in the eyes of Americans in order to return the country to the rule of billionaire privateers and their political allies in the Republican Party.
The title of this book reflects the authors’ conviction that Americans in recent years seem to have forgotten how much they had once benefited from the
Oct 11, 2018 rated it liked it
I loved some parts of this, some not so much. I accepted that America has begun stagnating, and that we're doing terribly in comparison with rich capitalist democracies, and even that a mixed economy played a central role in our previous prosperity... but I wasn't sold on their solution. Why give power to a government that is failing us in hopes that it will return to its former glory? Something bigger needs to change, methinks.
Feb 26, 2017 rated it liked it
The successful narrative of the right in recent decades that "government is the problem" has led to a collective amnesia about the positive role that has historically been played by government as the foundation to our prosperity. Consensus surrounding the value of a mixed economy has been shaken by this narrative and the ascendance of a laissez-faire ideology has fundamentally undermined the idea that a vigorous governmental presence is necessary to that prosperity.
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
Among a handful of the very best works of contemporary political-economy that I have read - & I've been reading a great deal of contemporary political-economy! Champions the principle that & healthy balance between business of government - both dealing from strength - is responsible for shared prosperity. Details the largely successful long-term & carefully orchestrated attack on government by elite business interests - soft-Randians & hard-Randians - & the increasingly ...more
Apr 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book. We are about to begin a general election campaign that promises to be almost completely devoid of meaningful content, full of media reports on nonsensical issues and celebrity gossip. How did we get here? Read this book.
Apr 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Interesting take on subject matter.
D.L. Morrese
Jun 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What has government ever done for us?

Quite a lot, actually, but we seem to have forgotten that. In American Amnesia, two political science professors, Jacob Hacker from Yale and Paul Pierson from UC Berkeley, argue that there has been a concerted effort to cause us to forget and, more insidiously, to get us to regard our government not as the facilitator of our prosperity, but as a hindrance.

It seems obvious to me that the benefits of government don't stop with things like roads and bridges.
Nov 04, 2018 rated it liked it
That Americans increasingly question the value of collective action is well documented. This manifests itself in a fear that big government acts as constraint on their freedom.

This book turns around that equation and says big government is and has for decades worked to make America a prosperous nation. It goes on to say that Congress has moved in the opposite direction and is starving government of much needed resources.

Who is to be believed?

According to, Americans will
Dan Downing
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This escaped my notice for a few years, then Ben Fountain called it "indispensable" and referenced it several times in his terrific "Beautiful Country Burn Again". I acquired the book and soon began one of the most difficult on paper journies I have had. It is not that the writing is full of academic slobbering. Quite the contrary, it is written without jargon or obfuscation. It is well annotated. There are a few patches where new ground---for me---was broken. Mostly it covered matter I knew ...more
Feng Ouyang
American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper by Jacob S. Hacker, Paul Pierson
I read the first chapter. This does not seem to be the book I want to read.
The starting part of the book is highly repetitive. It talks around and around about the good things that a government can do or has done. Therefore, it seems the book is arguing against a position that all governments should be abolished. As far as know, no reasonable people have held such a position. It
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book does a terrific job of explaining why America has gone on a totally different path from the rest of the modern world regarding the role of government and the free market. It seems like almost the entire country has been brainwashed regarding government by the conservative movement. Generally in the rest of the modern world, big prosperity goes with big government and in successful countries like Norway the government plays a major role for stimulating business and providing the ...more
Lance Eaton
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Hacker and Pierson present a striking, convincing, and important argument for the American electorate: government has and continues to be an important facet of growth, success, and improvements for individuals, businesses, and society as a whole, but a sustained and broad-sweeping effort by conservatives over the last 80 years has left many Americans blind to this. They structure their argument first by delving into history to show the ways in which a prominent government that played an active ...more
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: laura
I know that a book must be good if I consider buying it to keep. I've rounded up to 5 stars from the 4.5 I would give it if possible. One review chided it for being "too academic" - for me it was not academic enough. The authors' point is well taken that truth and rhetoric are ever-increasingly at odds these days, which is why I am so wary of rhetoric. And whereas this book was incredibly well-researched and referenced, it descended to rhetoric upon occasion.

Perhaps it would be impossible not
Ron Lavery
Mar 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Old, white, middle class males (myself included) pine for "the good old days". For good reasons. In the mid 20th century, we led the world in virtually everything: life expectancy, education, science, economic power and growth, and wealth and opportunities of the middle class. Even to the extent that Americans had a height advantage over the rest of the world. Why? Why were we so successful?
Hacker says it is the results of a healthy mixed economy. A private business sector and a strong
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely outstanding read. There is so much information and detail in this book that I want to go back through and highlight and tab the book for future reference.

My only real criticism is that it felt like the second part of the book took far too long. There is a substantial amount of detail about the ways in which the mixed economy was dismantled, but I'm not sure that it was all truly necessary. There was a point where I really started to despair because it was just so depressing. And
Feb 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you care about the United States of America, then you want to read "American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper" By Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson.

This book gives the most through, accurate and thought provoking analysis of what happened and what will happen to our progress if we don't change the narrative. why are we where we are how did we get here and what do we need to do are all very well described. please read this book.

the first chapter
Dec 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Time and again, I read complaints about government and I wonder: Have people forgotten World War II? Have people forgotten Silent Spring? Have people forgotten the ozone hole? A strong federal government has accomplished amazing things, yet people seem to automatically assume that government equals corruption and ineptitude, and that regulations are inherently bad. I feel like people truly get the government they deserve, and apparently we deserve to destroy our communities and nation. This is ...more
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“Today the message most commentators take from Adam Smith is that government should get out of the way. But that was not Smith’s message. He was enthusiastic about government regulation so long as it wasn’t simply a ruse to advantage one set of commercial interests over another. When “regulation . . . is in favor of the workmen,” he wrote in The Wealth of Nations, “it is always just and equitable.” He was equally enthusiastic about the taxes needed to fund effective governance. “Every tax,” he wrote, “is to the person who pays it a badge, not of slavery but of liberty.”9 Contemporary libertarians who invoke Smith before decrying labor laws or comparing taxation to theft seem to have skipped these passages. Far from a tribune of unregulated markets, Smith was a celebrant of effective governance. His biggest concern about the state wasn’t that it would be overbearing but that it would be overly beholden to narrow private interests. His greatest ire was reserved not for public officials but for powerful merchants who combined to rig public policies and repress private wages. These “tribes of monopoly” he compared with an “overgrown standing army” that had “become formidable to the government, and upon many occasions intimidate the legislature.” Too often, Smith maintained, concentrated economic power skewed the crafting of government policy. “Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen,” he complained, “its counsellors are always the masters. . . . They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”10” 3 likes
“The United States now ranks twentieth out of twenty-seven OECD nations in the share of young people expected to finish high school.50” 3 likes
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