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The Next Economy and America's Future

A-AftershockThe Secretary of Labor during the Clinton Administration, Robert B. Reich is currently the professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has written twelve previous books on politics, economics, and social issues.

The Topic: It's no secret that lower- and middle-income Americans have seen their paychecks and bank accounts steadily shrinking while the rich grow progressively richer. Many, however, may not be aware that this gap has reached a record high: the wealthiest 1% of the population pockets 23% of the nation's collective earnings--the highest concentration since the stock market crashed in 1929. This disparity, argues Reich, is the root of the recent recession as well as the economy's sluggish recovery. To level the playing field and stimulate the market, serious reforms are needed, including a more progressive income tax, "reverse tax" subsidies for lower-income workers, and heavy investments in healthcare and education. In his view, to ignore the writing on the wall is to risk another Great Depression--and possibly a revolution.
Knopf. 192 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780307592811

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This isn't the type of book you take to the beach or set by your nightstand, eagerly awaiting the hour when all of the children are in bed. It's academic. And yet Reich's historical look at the economic crisis is a good read." Michelle Singletary

Providence Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"It is a moral scandal that while the real incomes of low- and middle-income Americans have declined, incomes of the very rich have continued to soar. ... To Robert Reich, it's even worse than that. The increasing disparity of incomes, he says, is slowing down the U.S. economy to the point that it will never recover unless there are serious reforms." Donald D. Breed

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Instead [of an argument grounded in morality or American values] Reich reaches for an economic claim--that redistribution is a prerequisite for growth. He fumbles it. This is a pity, since much of Reich's book is important and well executed." Sebastian Mallaby

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"With verve, he offers some traditional liberal nostrums on how to revive a wobbly economy. ... Alas, Reich is less than persuasive on this crucial point. ... The liberal remedies he assembles are long on platitudes." G. Pascal Zachary

Business Week 2 of 5 Stars
"Reich fails to ... articulate a vision for how America can create more high-value jobs. Consumer spending alone does not an economy make." James Pressley

Boston Globe 1 of 5 Stars
"If you're a middle-class American seeking absolution for living beyond your means, or an MSNBC fan who can't get enough eat-the-rich populism, this book is for you. But if you're looking for an original, evenhanded treatment of what went so wrong for the US economy, prepare to be disappointed." Robert Gavin

Critical Summary

Reich's ideas galvanized the critics, whose opinions of the book ranged from "important and well-executed" (NY Times Book Review) to "class-war blather" (Boston Globe). Reich's admirers considered Aftershock an insightful analysis of the economy's structural problems and a clear-cut strategy for improvement. Detractors found fault with specific arguments and conclusions--for example, his claim that American consumers are not spending enough, which doesn't add up given the current trade deficit--but gave him points for opening a dialogue on an important issue. Even the Boston Globe, which denounced Reich's reasoning as "absurd," begrudgingly admitted that Reich had drawn needed attention to a troublesome issue. Reich's ideas may be worth exploring, suggests the Washington Post, since "the economy we have isn't working--not for all of us, anyway."