In an eloquent, wonderfully pleasant, soft, disarmingly convincing voice Robert Reich takes us through the looking glass into a world where fantasy is fact, black is white and white is black. As if it is not enough to fall through the looking glass, Reich delivers us into a world filled with mirrors where there is no way to tell what is real and what is an illusion. In Orwellian double speak, Reich repeatedly drives home the concept that if we can only focus closely on the wheels of the cart we will see that every time they turn, the horse moves.
As the patient gets sicker he gleefully announces the patient is responding to the medicine. He extolls the engine of consumption as the thing that builds wealth and is quick to measure assets but totally ignores liabilities and fails to acknowledge the obvious; that consumption is by definition wealth destruction. In a disturbingly perverted view, Reich asserts that the mess we are in is because we have failed to adequately “share the wealth” while conveniently ignoring the fact that for more than 20 years every effort was made to push money at people in the form of low interest loans that bore no relevance to the associated risk.
His enamor of Eccles, the privateer who helped FDR revitalize the economy, is so gushing that perhaps he can be excused for allowing it to cloud his mind when he manages the great leap of connecting two dots and establishing a trend, forgetting about the small sample size. There may be many reasons for the disproportion of wealth in our country in 1928 and 2007, but Reich uses it to erect a tower of defense of the great failure of 50 years of Keynesian economics better known as the great ice cream effect. Those who promise the most free ice cream to the most people will get elected. Had Reich written his book in 2007, no doubt we would have had a book of gushing acclaim that Keynes was right and the vast wealth spread across the middle class is proof of that. Instead, with the financial collapse, the tower began to crack in 2008 and Reich could not bring himself to accept his share of the blame for what ice cream givers had wrought even though he was one of the givers himself.
Reich effortlessly holds up the wondrous recovery (ending in the 1950’s) from the great depression as proof that the Keynesian approach magically works, cleverly ignoring that given 30 years and just about any approach would have led to recovery. This book is a defense of the indefensible. It is a “someone else did it” defense and he points a finger squarely at the 1% of wealthy Americans for hoarding money, as if we are in a poker game and there are a fixed number of chips, ignoring the croupier behind him printing more chips every second and pouring them into the game by the truckload. Thanks to the ice cream givers we are now all about the “share the poverty” and now with his book in print, Reich can smugly say “I didn’t do it.” Read Peter Schiff’s book on “How and Economy Grows” to clear your head of Reich’s psychobabble. It is a bit corny but you will not end every chapter with your mouth agape thinking “What the hell did he say?”
Although the cast of characters is large, the care for detail taken by Caro paints an extraordinarily vivid picture of their behavior and their motivations. One senses that Caro carefully weighed each bit of historical information to see what political prism was used in its writing and thereby divines a balanced truth about the events. Since much has been written about those times, and since we are talking about politics, it would have been very easy for Caro to buy into the writings of respected historians and the spin with which they were written. Instead, he takes pains to document a true picture in a way that makes him stand a cut above other historians. It is a big book and is indeed filled with detail but it he still manages to make it exciting.
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