A vivid character-driven narrative, fused with important new economic and political reporting and research, that busts the myths about middle class decline and points the way to its revival.
For over a decade, Jim Tankersley has been on a journey to understand what the hell happened to the world's greatest middle-class success story -- the post-World-War-II boom that faded into decades of stagnation and frustration for American workers. In The Riches of This Land, Tankersley fuses the story of forgotten Americans-- struggling women and men who he met on his journey into the travails of the middle class-- with important new economic and political research, providing fresh understanding how to create a more widespread prosperity. He begins by unraveling the real mystery of the American economy since the 1970s - not where did the jobs go, but why haven't new and better ones been created to replace them. His analysis begins with the revelation that women and minorities played a far more crucial role in building the post-war middle class than today's politicians typically acknowledge, and policies that have done nothing to address the structural shifts of the American economy have enabled a privileged few to capture nearly all the benefits of America's growing prosperity. Meanwhile, the "angry white men of Ohio" have been sold by Trump and his ilk a theory of the economy that is dangerously backward, one that pits them against immigrants, minorities, and women who should be their allies. At the culmination of his journey, Tankersley lays out specific policy prescriptions and social undertakings that can begin moving the needle in the effort to make new and better jobs appear. By fostering an economy that opens new pathways for all workers to reach their full potential -- men and women, immigrant or native-born, regardless of race -- America can once again restore the upward flow of talent that can power growth and prosperity.
Jim Tankersley is the author of "The Riches of This Land" and an economics reporter for the New York Times. He covers the economic policies of the Trump administration and their effects on working people, the long-running and persistent inequities in the American economy, and, most recently, the nation's spiral into recession amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A son of small-town Oregon, he has written for newspapers across the country about the struggles of the middle class and the failure of politicians to address them. Tankersley won the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists for stories tracing the roots of Ohio's economic decline. With colleagues at The Blade newspaper in Toledo, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
He lives outside Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.
As I was reading this book I couldn’t help but think I was reading an excellent narrative journalistic account of the paper Hsieh et al published in Econometrica in 2019 finding that 20 to 40 percent of productivity growth in the half century following 1960 was due to “improved allocation of talent” as barriers to women, people of color and others were reduced—although not eliminated. Then halfway through the book Jim Tankersley takes a brief hiatus from narrative journalism to do an economics literature review—and begins it with this Hsieh et al paper. Which is to say, there his a lot of cutting edge economics and research underlying the moving and powerful stories Tankersley tells in the book.
Tankersley argues provocatively but persuasively that journalists have not neglected the white men that voted for Trump but in fact lavished attention on them, including the workers that Tankersley himself had quoted in his news stories. Instead it is women, minorities and immigrants who Tankersley argues have not been heard from enough—and who played a critical role in building the middle class and fueling American economic growth. Tankersley tells the story largely by drawing on his own reporting over the last fifteen years which takes places all across the country: New York, Chicago, Ohio, Winston-Salem, and Western Massachusetts among other places. He is interested in the jobs that have disappeared, the hollowing out of manufacturing and the middle class, and way obstacles were reduced in the 1950s and 1960s but then inequality emerged and grew as a major obstacle in recent decades.
I mostly agree with Tankersley’s arguments. I appreciated that for a book that focuses on inclusion and distribution, he appreciates and clearly shows the importance of aggregate productivity growth and the sources of that growth—both the obvious ones and the less obvious ones. At times Tankersley takes all of the most negative perspectives on his data without qualification/nuance (e.g., he’ll use statistics about record low job growth without pointing out how different today’s demographics are and does not mention that the negative growth of median income in various periods he cites was not true if you adjust for household size). I also think the book emphasized institutional explanations for inequality more but did not take the race between education and technology nearly as seriously—reducing it more to skill-biased technological change without the educational component. Finally, and this is more tone than anything, I didn’t love the identification of every economist by their race/gender, even on multi-authored papers and often Tankersley refers to the “economy” as if it had agency and its own villainy as opposed to be composed of all of us. Finally, I would have loved to hear more about the relationship between “economic” and “cultural” explanations of populism and Tankersley’s views, in particular, on the cultural debates around immigration.
All in all, however, the book demonstrates what happens when an intelligent, sympathetic journalist goes out and talks to both human beings and economists and does an excellent combination of the two in forging a powerful and important narrative about what went right and now wrong with the American economy and the real human consequences of these aggregates.
This book was pretty good and I enjoyed the stories. I was annoyed though how much he kept saying that "you're probably wrong about this" and then saying something that I actually was not wrong about. The whole premise of the book is that he's going to bust all the myths you believe, which is fine when it comes to common tropes--the main one being that when pundits talk about the struggling middle class, they leave out the huge Black and brown and female workers. That is a press problem, but it's not a problem that some of us have. So this book is a good corrective to the Times and other pundits. I don't want to sound overly harsh though because the book is well-written and the stories are sometimes heartbreaking and I generally agree with 100% of what he says in here.
Editor's Note: I am totally biased in my review. Author Jim Tankersley, who isn't all that much younger than me, will always be a "kid" as I first met him when he was a high school student intern at the News-Register newspaper in McMinnville. I was the sports editor at the N-R. I won't hold it against Jim for not mentioning me in the acknowledgements. He does acknowledge the impact interning during high school had on his future, crediting newspaper owner/publisher Jeb Bladine. I think his education at Stanford University may have something to do with his successful career as a journalist and author. This book is a point of pride. Jim is from small-town Oregon, had the privileges of being a white, middle-class male with an elite education. And he gets it. He knows it. He understands his privilege. He reports from that perspective. He advocates for those who are not as privileged. He lifts up all - for the benefit of all. I'm immensely impressed with Jim's insights, intelligence, advocacy, and overall good-guy perspective on the elitist field of economics. We can all win. Thank you for sharing that perspective so informatively and eloquently.
So it is about 70 days until the election. This is one of the first policy/trade books addressing economic issues of importance for the election. The author is an economics and tax reporter for the New York Times. The focus of the book is on the “hollowing out” of the American middle class, in particular the sharp decline in the manufacturing sector for such reasons as globalization, offshoring, automation, and creative destruction/innovation that renders some sectors obsolete. These topics have been around for quite a while, at least since the 1980s and more fully into the 2000s.
What is unusual and interesting about the book is not this set of issues, but the particular take that Mr. Tankersley has on these issues and the suggestions he maps out for remediation. The key to Mr. Tankersley’s perspective is that he sees the “middle class” inclusively to include not only while males without a college education but also women and members of minority groups who have also held these types of jobs and who have suffered grievously from the current recession and the 2007-2008 economic crisis. He makes use of important econometric research to illustrate that during the golden age of the American middle class, the removal of workplace restrictions on women and minorities, imperfect as they may have been - contributed significantly to the economic growth that benefitted the entire economy, including white males. Tankersley argues that journalists - himself included - by failing to note the inclusive nature of the middle class - contributed to the alienation of white non-college educated workers and thus helped fuel the frustration that got Trump elected. The implication of his analysis is that the preferred job creation needed going forward in one that invests in diverse human capital, in conjunction with entrepreneurial ventures to bring new jobs to the middle class.
What do I like about the book?
1) The interview streams/cases are well done and believable. The background on American deindustrialization is not new but seems accurate and interesting.
2) Tankersley reads and understands some of the best econometric research around these issues and is skilled at interpreting it in the context of real people. ...and he does not need to use terms like “nonseparabilities” to do it. This is a smart book that does not requires a stat background to read.
3) Tankersley provides a detailed presentation of the economic program of the Trump administration and then examines in detail how it all worked out. His position on all of this is clear but his presentation also seems fair and reasonable.
4) Put all this together - the is one of the first, if not the first, book on political economy to also tie in both the BLM issues and the COVID pandemic. The key is the growing of the middle class into new areas of job and industry creation through investments in diverse human capital. It is a nice package and the timing before the election could not be better.
What do I like less about the book?
1) I applaud the use of econometric studies but not how the interpretation of various interaction effects are far from clear. Models will have their explained variance metrics, but how the models relate to real situations and lived lives may not be as clear as it seems at first. The methodology can be a bit wooly.
2) The details on the diverse approach towards restructuring the middle class/working class are a bit thin and more would be appreciated. Given the current mess, how does one proceed with a human capital strategy to invest in the economy?
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the book and highly recommend it.
I was given this book as a gift and didn't pick it up until after the 2020 election when I wanted to learn more about working class voters who are especially critical in the rust belt states. This book is written by Jim Tankersley, a New York Times economics reporter and discusses what led to the post WWII middle class expansion, why it contracted, the current state of middle class work and wages in the United States, why Trump appealed to some middle class voters, and whether any of his policies actually helped them.
The book's main argument is that expanding opportunities for women and workers of color in the 60s and 70s allowed more workers to do jobs that they were the best suited to, expanded the middle class, and improved the economy for all middle class workers. Tankersley analyzes several economic datasources to show that beginning in the 80s, discrimination increased and hindered opportunities especially to workers of color. He argues that reinvigorating the middle class will again require expanding opportunities to all workers and not just white, male middle class workers. And that policies that pit groups of middle class workers against each other don't actually help any of the problems facing the middle class.
He also includes several anecdotes about middle class workers from various stages of the 20th century and today. The ones that were the most heartbreaking/compelling were the ones about Ed and his family, middle class workers in North Carolina that highlight the fact that middle class workers now have limited opportunities and work really hard for less wages.
His analysis of some of the factors that led to the downfall of the middle class and also the limited impact of Trump economic/trade policies on middle class workers were parts of the book that I also found really interesting. I was surprised to learn the degree that normalizing trade relations with China/admitting China to the World Trade Organization seemed to be one of the biggest drivers of the loss of middle class jobs. And he explains Trump's policies had only a limited impact early on for job creation and didn't create manufacturing jobs in states like Ohio. He also analyzes the impact of Trump's trade war with China.
I've only taken entry-level economics courses, and I thought the book did a good job explaining complicated concepts and data. My only criticism is that the book comes up a little short on specific policies that will help these workers. That said, it seems like no one really has answers. Tankersley has interviewed economists and politicians from both parties, and it seemed like, for example, Hillary Clinton didn't have great answers either. His main recommendations appear to be invest in workers and eliminate discrimination, but those ideas are a little vague. He also favors expanding immigration and particularly for immigrant workers to move to rural areas of the country. One thing that I wonder if he will address in articles after the election is Trump's success in gaining some black and latino voters in the 2020 election.
Overall, an interesting approach to the question of what happened to America’s middle class. It’s was interesting to me to hear a journalist call upon research from economists so much in making the argument instead of only letting the stories of individuals do all of the talking. However, while the argument was compelling, and one that I agree with, it does highlight how easily one can pick and choose their chosen set of stats to make whatever point that they wish. That said however, I appreciated the author’s hedge in the last chapter in which he mentions that the issues at hand are complicated and it’s not his job to present a bunch of solutions. Instead, he focuses more on laying out an argument and then letting the reader make up their own mind.
Overall, it was well put together, if not overly compelling.
As an audiobook listener though, I hated this reader, but he didn’t make me turn the book off early. But getting through the book was like having Kiefer Sutherland read you a lullaby. The narrator’s voice had way too much drama on it for the subject, and continually pulled me out of the stories, because I was waiting for someone to jump out of the shadows any second.
Overall hot and cold on this book – as a self-described piece of narrative journalism Tankersley appears most interested in conveying a personal sense of the economic malaise in the US through a close reading of a few different regular folks while also introducing the reader to first person interviews with various talking heads and experts on the economy. In talking about the big issues and having the personal touch it often succeeds, but there’s a bit of over promising and under delivering on pinpointing the causes and solutions to this weighty issue. Also not sure how spending time with the likes of Kevin Hassett, Peter Navarro, and Wilbur f-ing Ross adds to the conversation, other than being Trump’s economic brain trust (gawd help us!). Perhaps this was to show a fair and balanced approach to the issues, or because he had the access from his position? The later chapters could have focused more on class and income groups rather than pointing out in a long winded way that inclusion benefits everyone. And again, the solution space is somewhat thin, but with that said it would be worthwhile for the personal perspectives and the decent writing.
Thank you netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This was a very informative and compelling book. The author brings up several good points on how diversity and gender equality enriches and uplifts the economy, how the incentives to big companies have not produced profitable jobs for the middle class and that the rise of Donald Trump in part was due to the middle class' frustration with broken promises, more work for less pay and a general sense of being unable to obtain even the most basic ideals of the middle class: buy a home, a car, access to higher education and the occasional vacations.
I agree with the author that most folks do not want to be rich just want economic security to live a simple, comfortable life without crazy work hours.
Jim is a gifted story teller and has deep knowledge about the economic trends and challenges about which he writes. As an academic economist, I prefer the nuance and data of the economics papers he draws on, but I suspect most readers will prefer and appreciate the simple (sometimes too simplistic, I think) people driven approach of this “narrative journalism” piece. The book takes us through towns across America, meeting struggling middle class Americans; it also takes us to the office of Wilbur Ross, billionaire adviser to President Trump, to give us insight into what this administration was thinking about the causes of economic challenges and ways to address them. Jim emphatically rejects any notion that immigrants or non-whites have taken jobs from white middle class Americans, he celebrates the contributions of non-whites and women, in particular, to the economic prosperity of earlier decades, and he offers a mea culpa for being part of a cadre of journalists who perhaps wrote too many stories about struggling white middle class workers, potentially feeding the white populist anger that brought us the 2016 election result.
I'm a self-described Econ/labor nerd. In this book, Jim Tankersley presents the challenges facing workers in the 21st Century as only an economic journalist could: with rigor, clarity, and memorable storytelling.
The post-WWII middle class, as it was understood to exist, has largely vanished. Gone are the middle-class manufacturing jobs for workers without a high school degree. Technological innovations have either replaced workers (mostly less-educated) or made them more productive (better educated), exacerbating wage inequality. The opening of trade with China and financial deregulation only further screwed the every day Joes.
But middle class gains and economic growth, as Tankersley shows, were largely unleashed by putting underemployed and previously excluded workers in productive opportunities. Destroying barriers to employment for black workers and women increased GDP per capita by 20-40% (!!). More people working productively means more incomes. More incomes means more spending. More spending more dollars circulating, creating new jobs, and a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle.
Getting back to middle-class growth will require empowering immigrants, workers of color, the non-college educated, and women to reach their potential. It means destroying barriers to their employment, and destroying good ol' boys clubs. Leah Boustan finds that when the US restricted immigration, wages actually FELL for American workers. Research from the IMF shows that long spells of economic growth are associated with low levels of inequality.
All your (my) favorite researchers and institutions are in here (Raj Chetty, David Autor, Piketty, Heather Boushey, Brookings, the Economic Innovation Group, Leah Boustan)! You'll find new favorite researchers (Chang-Tai Hsieh)! If you don't know who any of these people are, it's okay! I'm just a nerd!
My favorite part is the focus on values and morality. The second to last chapter is personally poignant (as is the collect to start). Do you love your neighbor? If so, you ought to fight for their right to meaningfully share in the riches of our land.
Long on narrative, short on analysis. A handful of Sunday column character profiles padded out into a book. The late-middle where the author interviews Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro, then does a post-mortem on Trump's economic campaign policy promises, is useful.
I try not to insist that every political or economic writer believe all the same things I believe, really I don't. But the author spends an entire chapter lamenting how hard it is to truly define what the "middle class" is. It is hard! He's not wrong! It's hard because the term was invented to create an artificial division among wage earners. As anyone who lived through 2008 learned, the difference between a service worker holding down two jobs to pay rent and a white-collar "knowledge worker" with an adjustable-rate mortgage can vanish as soon as banks get nervous.
I don't necessarily think Tankersley would've been better served by calling this book "A Search for the Vanishing Petty Bourgeoisie". For one, I think jargon can alienate an unfamiliar audience. But, more importantly, if he'd looked into the true fate of "people who think like the propertied class but work like wage earners", he would've had to tell a different story than the one he did. He would have written a different book and come to different conclusions. So since we can't have that, we get this muddle of the middle.
Grounded in real life accounts where the middle class has shrunk, opportunities lost, and jobs disappeared, this book checks all angles with the context of historical reality, and the perspectives of both conservative and progressive economists. It lays out the inconvenient facts of America’s economic founding, growth, and exceptionalism, and just how our current disparities are dragging down the economy for everyone.
The GenX author is Pulitzer finalist in journalism, and though his strength is in reporting, he’s a keen observer who been on the economics beat for most of his career and knows his stuff— including where the respected resources are, and how to get at the truth, regardless of their politics.
Having laid out his case, he gives not a blueprint of oversimplified solutions, but a set of principles for creating shared prosperity.
Spoiler alert: It includes raising a consciousness that lets everyone be of value. One that let the American middle class grow up in the first place. One that doesn’t fall for the tricks of the 20% to make the other 80% of the country vilify one another . A house divided and all that.
A little dry, and since I follow some of this already, the conclusions were familiar. But those conclusions are well-supported, and the storytelling is like comfort food served in Tankersley’s rich baritone. Americana.
The author is one of the many journalists who sweated over Trump and the white middle class during 2016, and his fetishism continues in this book. The book has some interesting thoughts, but generally is not written that well.
The first third gives anecdotes about the middle class and tries to find broadening definitions to become more inclusive by race and gender. However the author decides to tell this story in a few anecdotes rather than spend time gathering data and presenting graphs. Are these stories connected to larger issues? It's never made that clear.
The next third seems to be some sort of apology for their Trump coverage and an attempt to tell white blue collar workers that they are very special and already matter. This section really could've been shortened a lot as it didn't say much.
The last third discusses ways to fix the middle class, which focus mainly on growing small towns with immigrants and "retraining programs" which haven't worked.
The author begins this book with a question: how do you make the economy work for people like his high school buddies? The end of the book doesn't really give an answer. His friends in the lumber industry are stuck there forever.
I agree with most of what Mr. Tankersley has to say, but in the end this is just another popular book by a journalist. It is broadly written for emotional appeal without a lot of substance to back it up. It's largely anecdotal. I do think that the post WWII economic boom that drove the creation of much middle class propsperity was driven in significant part by the contributions of women and minorities. And I agree that further steps to create more oppotunity for women, minorities and immigrants are a good way to create more wealth for all of us and to protect the values on which our society purports to be based. But I don't have much more in the way of evidence and argumments to support these beliefs than I had before I read this book. Nor does Mr. Tankersley propose a concrete program that I could get behind to implement his ideas. So it was neither educational nor a call to action. As much as I was nodding in agreement as I read, I came away in the end not feeling enriched by the experience.
[audiobook] I like Jim Tankersley's reporting a lot and try to read most of his articles, which is why I ignored my general feeling that 'current events books' are a waste of time. Unfortunately, most of this book is talking about what he will talk about, rather than actually laying things out. His strength, of course, is the personal stories and micro histories he highlights through his reporting. But the thought framework is extremely repetitive and very vague, and I don't think it adds a ton of new ideas. The book argues for investment in human capital, and explicitly chooses to not endorse specific bills/proposals, arguing instead in favor of principles and general concepts. Maybe its main value is as a comparative tool to track the tenor of journalistic coverage of the American economy - this book is the information we should've gotten in 2015-2017, rather than the endless pre- and post-election parade of "vaguely racist white man tells story in an Ohio diner" thinkpieces.
South Korea Leads World in Innovation as U.S. Exits Top Ten ...https://www.bloomberg.com › news › articles › south-k... 1 day ago — The U.S., which topped the first Bloomberg Innovation Index in 2013, dropped two places to 11th. In a report last year, the National Science ...
and if you read the book he says that the financial services industry is way to big (duh!) but not a word about what to do about that, either.
This journalistic take on the economic realities for Americans since the Great Recession gives some well-supported opinions and (eventually) some recommendations on how to rebuild economic success for more Americans. There are lots of humanistic stories, and some descriptions of economic policies. The writing is easy to read and connect to, though the pacing is a little slow. There's a lot of hinting that the recommendations will be coming, and then once they're finally revealed, they are pretty broad in scope and weak in specifics. (It seems that a lot of the recommendations are pointed at policymakers, which I am not, and I have little confidence that policymakers have any appetite to implement the recommendations.) I enjoyed reading this, and it was a good break from my more typical fantastical entertaining reads.
This book was very enlightening. I cheated, and listened to the audiobook version on my way to work in the mornings. The narrator, quite good, reminded me of Rod Serling of the original Twilight Zone. The author did an outstanding job of clarifying many commonly misunderstood aspects of economics in a fairly entertaining way, making learning about the current workings of economics enjoyable. I must admit, I am a little sad to think that most of his information will only be valued by "members of the choir", and not likely to get much meaningful attention or action from our "elected officials" that could pass legislation that would truly benefit the majority of society. Instead, our elected officials will likely continue to kowtow to the 1% and the 0.1% as they almost always have. It pains me to realize and admit I have no answer to this characteristic of our species.
I feel like his perspectives are accurate and well thought out. His interviews are extremely interesting and tell a compelling story. His conclusions are very thought provoking, and paint a picture of hope.
I too have tuned in AM radio late at night and contemplated this vast land of ours. It offers a special perspective of aloneness, and also into connectedness. That is the perfect story in which to conclude this book.
Will we find our way to a better society or are we a failing one? I won't live long enough to know. I am old enough to remember the glory days of America for the men of the white majority.
My wish is that we can create a society that every citizen lives that success story. A society where every child feels that kind of happiness and fulfillment. It was Awesome!
Author Jim Tankersley provides a solid glimpse into the real world of what happened to the middle class with a look at possible ways of fixing it. An award-winning economist reporter, now with the New York Times, he speaks with compassion in The Riches of the Land as he recounts the lives of people caught on the edges. Years of his journalism savvy on the pluses and minuses of how different administrations have tried to handle the country's economy, show most ending poorly. Through his real life storytelling and thorough research, he punches holes in the idea that white-male men are the only ones who can set the economy and middle-class aspirations right again.
Most books about the economy or the state of affairs of people's economics generally turn out to be dull, weedsy and boring. This book manages to get into the weeds without being either dull or boring. The author brilliantly depicts through stories and real life examples the current and historical challenges that the middle class, non college educated class, women and minorities have had in the workforce post-1969. This book also does a good job avoiding being too prescriptive and coming across as preachy. I was concerned that when the author offered a perspective that it would could across as slightly patronizing. However, generally speaking, they avoided all the cringey content.
Author Jim Tankersley paints a vivid portrait of this country's middle class and how it has changed, especially since the end of world War II. Whether it was the decline of industrial America, the dot-com bubble, the Great Recession, or changes in the occupants of the White House, portions of the middle class, and how it has been defined, are gone forever. Family dynamics have changed as has what is important in American life. The shift to a two earner family or having to hold multiple jobs just to stay above water, have all contributed to the tarnishing of the American Dream. This is an important read for today.
Am I thoroughly convinced that this is a must-read or one of the most important books about history and economics? No. But is it helpful to round out an understanding? Yes
The book points out how "working class" is often used to incorrectly exclude people of color and women despite them making up a huge portion of working people, and even responsible for a lot of their successes. This is the main takeaway, and I would reccommend this book to help keep that in mind whenever hearing about "middle" or "working"class and how often such labels conveniently push a narrative that puts a focus on straight white men, despite them being overwhelmingly a minority.
I found this an excellent read written by one who is obviously intelligent and educated. His premise felt researched and lived in those traits. Obviously we live the life we have inherited and learned. And really, how could we do otherwise irregardless of what sect of the country we fall in. Unless we have walked a hundred miles in those shoes, we don’t understand or even hear it. We take care of ourselves based on our experiences and don’t understand the others. I felt Tankersley expressed that without a doubt - maybe without knowing it.
For the first half, this is beautifully written book with sympathetic characters and a strong point of view. The idea is that right-wing politicians have it all wrong. In fact, the best economy has been when immigrants, low-income workers, and underrepresented minorities have gotten the most gains. I thought the policy history was one-sided--there must have been some policymakers that understood the truth and were drowned out by corporate-backed voices, but that's not acknowledged.
The main takeaway from the book is that the economy does better when people are given the chance to fulfill their potential, and that discrimination and government failures are making people economically suffer. I liked the stories about individuals a lot more than the broader overviews about government and people who like Trump. I was also excited to see Turners Falls make an appearance, which was unexpected.
A very well-written, readable book. The cover says "what went wrong and how to get it back"....but he doesn't have any specifics, other than major changes in social thought. Granted, these changes would work, but how do you get greedy rich people to change? Its a good description of how we got to where we , and the lies we have to put up with from our "leaders"