Top critical review
Academic justification of neoliberal economic policy
Reviewed in the United States on November 20, 2019
I've studied economics quite a bit as a policy professional and picked this up basically because I liked the title and its a "best seller" , whatever that means. This book is an easy read for being written by economists. It makes considerable effort to refute the populist rhetoric espoused by Trump, Steve Bannon, and the people that voted for Trump.
I really wanted to enjoy the book, and it makes several good points. It is a good introduction to the application of economic theory in the real world, using plenty of easy to follow studies as examples. Perhaps I expected more from Nobel Prize winners? Because, to me, just another example of how out of touch the "coastal liberal elites" actually are. For example, the authors take hundreds of pages to explain all the ways how great immigration is for low-skilled workers, using plenty of convincing real world examples, but then comes to the tepid conclusion that, over the span of ten years, wages for low-skilled workers actually increase slightly as a result of immigration. As if that is somehow going to make up for the immediate problem of unemployment and housing shortages two or three years into a large immigration event. Yes they make the point that the economy is "sticky" but that's just applying an academic label to real people's lives, and it doesn't solve the stickiness problem.
Being an immigrant to the US myself, I can identify with all the qualities the authors describe immigrants possessing, but I still can understand how an American with my skill set would resent my arrival to compete with him or her for a good paying job. Furthermore, given that immigrants are less apt to be demanding of their employers for better working conditions, and less likely to engage in collective action, a greater supply of workers reduces the quality and conditions of employment in the USA, especially among the professional class. Put another way, the authors completely ignore the very real fact that immigration to the USA benefits employers and Wall Street moreso than any other demographic. I wish the authors would have addressed the fact that American workers have no right to paid vacation, paid parental leave, and work longer hours than their counterparts in other countries.
Here's the problem I have with the first half of this book: it attempts to provide distant, abstract, academic solutions to issues that often negatively affect people's lives on a personal level in the here and now. Try telling a low-skilled worker that he's better off losing his job because in ten years he'll have a better job when, two years into it, he and his friends are unemployed, addicted to opioids, and alternately ignored and scorned by their government.
This book is, at best, out of touch and, at worst, condescending to the working class struggling with the impacts of neoliberal economics. I really wish they would have addressed what is, to me, the biggest economic issue in the USA today: the absolute failure of the for-profit health care industry.
edit: I see my review has attracted some... criticism? Of my subjective opinion? OK. First of all, I have the kindle version of the book. I don't know how this can become a "verified" purchase. Also, I don't disagree with everything in the book. I support higher taxes on the wealthy and believe scapegoating immigrants is ignoring a much bigger, structural issue. It is encouraging that they at least look outside the US for policy fixes.
I am, in theory, a supporter of Schumpeterian creative destruction that inevitably causes job loss and/or displacement, if the outcome is more just, equal/less polluting. But the policy shifts described in this book are not resulting in a more just, equitable and less polluted world; it's the opposite. The concentration of wealth into the hands of the very wealthy is accelerating, increased global trade has most definitely accelerated carbon emissions, all because of the policies this book supports (or at least doesn't do a good job of critiquing). I agree with the chapter addressing the very real impending tsunami of low skill job loss caused by automation (Andrew Yang's major issue). Telling people to "learn to code" is both insufficient and condescending (another sign of a deeply polarized union). It seems to strawman every stereotype of the ignorant Trump supporter without addressing the actual underlying problems that people in the heartland are seeing. We need more policy and less politics. These economic issues were not caused by Trump; rather, Trump is a symptom of the underlying issues.
People need to turn off the TV and pick up a book, and if you're not an economist and not looking for concrete answers but some entertaining vignettes, this might be the book for you. Nevertheless, seeing as this is MY subjective opinion, and not a directive of what other folks should think, I, personally, will look elsewhere for answers.