D. St. Germain's Reviews > The Economists' Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society

The Economists' Hour by Binyamin Appelbaum
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bookshelves: capitalism, economics, inequality

Binyamin Appelbaum’s new book opens with a tone-setting quote from John Kenneth Gailbraith: “what is called sound economics is very often what mirrors the needs of the respectably affluent,” and from there moves to tracing the recent history of some of the most pernicious and influential economic ideas that have created the world we now inhabit, a world where a turn towards unfettered free markets has not delivered promised prosperity but instead resulted in slowing growth for each decade that followed, as he notes, from 3.13 percent a year in the 60s to .94 percent per year in the 2000s, adjusted for population and inflation.

Though Appelbaum takes pains to note that “economists are a diverse group. Any reasonable roster includes both Milton Friedman and Karl Marx, which is to say that membership cannot be defined in terms of support for any particular set of policies…. (and) some economists vigorously opposed each of the changes described in this book,” you will not find that diversity of perspectives represented here. Appelbaum instead focuses on those whose “narrow portion of the ideological spectrum” came to define some of our most impactful, and many cases, noxious policies.

Binyamin Appelbaum made his career reporting on the economic meltdown of the late aughties for the Charlotte Observer (the hometown paper on the front lines of Bank of America, Wachovia, Countrywide Financial, and the Beazers Homes scandal), and his long-time reporting on the economy moved from there to the Boston Globe and in this decade, to the New York Times, where he covers economic policy in Washington. His clear-eyed reporting on how policies make impact is long established, and his study here shows how ideological obsessions can become mainstream policies. Why did the fed come to see its job only as maintaining inflation targets of 2-3% a year? How was this a woefully inadequate objective in the face of the financial crisis and its aftermath? Appelbaum traces this, and other ideas, from inception to conclusion.

The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society is a standard-ish work of economic history, but a sweeping one, covering some 70 years of the big players from Friedman to Volker to Greenspan, their ideas, and the outcomes of the rise to power of the wonks with a deep dive into archives for juicy quotes and tidbits. It is important work for the historical record, bridging the gap between Robert Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers and now.
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Reading Progress

September 6, 2019 – Started Reading
September 6, 2019 – Shelved
September 10, 2019 – Shelved as: capitalism
September 10, 2019 – Shelved as: economics
September 10, 2019 – Shelved as: inequality
September 10, 2019 – Finished Reading

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