Review of People, Power and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent, by Joseph E. Stiglitz (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.), 2019, 366 pages, ISBN-10: 1324004215 ISBN-13: 978-132400421-9; $16.32 on Amazon
The new book by Nobel-Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, People, Power and Profits, provides an updated manifesto for the progressive-socialist agenda.
His book is a call to solve our nation’s problems by relying more on government and, therefore, less on individual economic freedom.
Specifically, this agenda calls for higher tax rates on the rich and businesses, rapid increases in federal spending, even-greater government control over markets, and a massive increase in government regulations.
What Stiglitz fails to do is provide his readers with any historical context of how this agenda has worked. Progressive-socialist policies are not new. Over the past century, the United States experimented with these policies on five separate occasions: 1913-1920, 1929-1940, 1965-1981, 1988-1995 and 2004-2015. These years were among the worst in our economic history.
There was no increase in the value of the average worker’s take-home pay over this entire 52-year period. Since 1900, all of our economic progress has occurred when policymakers avoided Stiglitz’s recommendations.
Not only have Stiglitz’s policies failed in the United States, they have failed whenever and wherever they have been implemented. To one extent or another, progressive socialist policies are the norm throughout much of the world.
The United States is the only major country that has rejected such an agenda and embraced individual economic freedom for most of its history. That is why Americans enjoy living standards higher than 99.9 percent of those in the rest of the world.
Like other so-called progressive economists, Stiglitz is preoccupied with income equality. This concern leads him to praise policies enacted during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Stiglitz isn’t the only progressive economist to extol the supposed merits of the Great Depression. Thomas Piketty, who wrote Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), famously does so as well. Their admiration for the worst economic debacle in U.S. history results from what has become their prime economic objective: income equality. They apparently believe America is better off when incomes are more equal, even if it takes an economic collapse to achieve their objective.
Research from the Fraser Institute shows income inequality is fairly consistent among nations regardless of whether the countries are rich or poor. The main difference is the poor are much better off in rich countries than in poor ones. This is why so many people in poor countries want to come to the United States.
Wrong ‘Existential Threat’
The main weakness of Stiglitz’s book is its dearth of meaningful data. By omitting such information, the author is able to make outlandish general statements about U.S. history without acknowledging the facts that contradict his claims. Had Stiglitz seriously examined the history of U.S. economic policies and their consequences, he would have been forced to conclude the only time the United States lost its way was whenever the country followed his agenda.
In addition to dealing with economics, Stiglitz touches on climate science by repeating the progressive mantra, “excessive emissions of greenhouse gases present an existential threat to the planet.”
As with his economic statements, he fails to provide any evidence for such an existential threat. As for economics, the historical evidence is clear: The real existential threat to prosperity is the progressive-socialist agenda.
Robert Genetski ([email protected]) is the author most recently of Rich Nation, Poor Nation: Why Some Nations Prosper While Others Fail (2017).