By James Livingston
Basic Books, $27.95, 242 pages
Livingston, an academic with a bent for sharp argumentation, diagnoses the current economic crisis as a product of “superfluous profit”. A massive shift of wealth away from labor and into corporate returns has fueled a cascading loss of consumption, leading to ever tighter margins on wages and again more intensive removal of profit from the real economy. As with the Great Depression, he argues, the way out of stagnation is through the pocketbooks of labor. Consumption as economic patriotism.
The writing is swift, but in service to an overconfident point of view. Livingston sacrifices complexity of analysis for ingenuity of idea, zipping the reader along with an efficiency common to polemicists. The reader is treated to a full-bore progressivism presented as common sense. This style gets tiresome, as the professor opts for preaching over teaching but fans of his prescriptions will eagerly plunge on. Those in need of more nuance will start leafing ahead. The more novel and counter-intuitive part of his thinking, that social ends rather than profit motives should guide public policy, get washed out by the zeal to argue the morality of his vision.