25.5.08

YOU HAVE TO OFFER SOMETHING BETTER. The subtitle of Jonathan Chait's The Big Con serves as its plot summary: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics. This Book Review No. 11 suggests that omission of salient facts is not telling the truth, and a focus on culture war themes seasoned by Bush Derangement Syndrome is not a rebuttal of crackpot economics. Thus we have yet another polemic that might confirm some people's prior beliefs without encouraging others to rethink theirs. What can one expect, however, of a book that reveals the author's nostalgia for the days when "New Deal" had the force of a commandment and Republicans knew their place, which was at the country club when they weren't proposing the most modest of tweaks to the Establishment Consensus. One would not learn about stagflation or rational expectations or the unfunded liabilities of Social Security or the excesses of affirmative action or Leonid Brezhnev's buildup of the Red Army.

That said, Mr Chait offers a potentially useful work for members of the Republican coalition who are not obsessive tax-cutters or lusters after corporate welfare or culture warriors. His analysis suggests that those members have not been well served by the cutters, lusters, and warriors, but it also suggests that what remains of the Establishment Consensus has little to offer. He concludes with yet another lament over rising income inequality, which he ties to cuts in the top marginal tax rates and to corporate welfare. That the government schools failed to develop the habits of highly effective people in individuals who could most benefit by them, and that the welfare state enables people in their lack he does not address, and that the Congressional machinations that fascinate Mr Chait are precisely the machinations developed by the Democratic majority in the New Deal and Great Society era, and that "limited and enumerated powers" ought not be a libertarian cliche are the things unseen in the work.

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