American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper
a book by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson
(our site's book review)
Jacob S. Hacker is the Stanley B. Resor Professor of Political Science at Yale University. Paul Pierson is the John Gross Professor of Political Science at the University of California at Berkeley.
Following on their last book, Winner Take All Politics, the authors show how the Right has turned the nation against their government and, in the process, dismantled the mixed economy which has been the engine of the nation’s prosperity. They argue passionately that Americans need more government, not less. Government is not the problem—the lack of government is. America once invented universal public education and sharply progressive taxation of income and inherited wealth, and has shown to the world that strong government and efficient markets are complementary—not substitutes.
However, the current conventional pseudo-wisdom is that government is a drag on our economy—a message echoed in every discourse. The Democratic party moved more toward the conservative views and the conservatives moved further right. This was all pushed by rich neocons and/or oligarchs who received no benefit personally when U.S. tax money was spent on social programs or middle class interests and issues, so they used their immense power to keep the cupboard bare for the 99% while stuffing the cupboard to bursting for the 1%, a category in which they themselves dwelled. Oligarchy replaced democracy. (Can aristocracy and feudalism be far behind?)
Rich neocons and/or oligarchs used their immense power to keep the cupboard bare for the 99% while stuffing the cupboard to bursting for the 1%
Hacker and Pierson detail the many ways in which government, through the creation of a mixed public-private economy in our past, has improved American lives. But they also identify the many ways in which Americans have also fallen behind due to policy makers drinking the anti-government Kool-Aid—not only in height, but health (including mental health), income equality, education, basic research and public infrastructure.
American infrastructure is crumbling and needs repair—we need to stop blowing money on useless wars and invest in America like we used to
If you are curious about why our infrastructure—such as our roads and bridges and water systems—are falling apart—then read American Amnesia. Curious about why the U.S. spends almost 18 percent of our GDP on medical care, but has health outcomes that are at levels of many developing countries—then read American Amnesia."—Inside Higher Ed (Could it be that Big Insurance and Big Pharma are exploiting the public mercilessly and laughing all the way to the bank, proving the incredible value of their campaign contributions and their lobbyists? Hmmmmmm . . . we wonder!)
Big Pharma spreading "good health via medicine" across the land
American Amnesia provides chapter and verse on why the public has good reason to be angry..."—The New York Times
The mixed public-private economy was the most important social innovation of the 20th century. It helped create a previously unimaginable level of broad prosperity. It enabled steep increases in education, health, longevity, and economic security. And yet, extraordinarily, it is disparaged by many current economic and political elites. As the advocates of anti-government free market fundamentalism have gained power, they are working hard to dump the instrument of nearly a century of unprecedented economic and social progress. As usual, these extremists are once more indulging in the scorched-earth, win-lose, black and white thinking that extremists are so famous for—especially neocon warmongers. In this book, Hacker and Pierson explain how and why they must be blocked since political elites have enabled and propelled plutocracy as a replacement for democracy. The book is a poignant reminder to those in the government of their responsibilities toward the masses which they seem to have forgotten.
"Even Adam Smith, write the authors, recognized that so-called rational actors can act to the detriment of the whole when they pursue their self-interests. Yet the current and dominant political mode, courtesy of such agents as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the brothers Koch, is the demand to remove the government from the mix or, better, to use government as a piggy bank to loot without government being able to influence the direction of the market or curb the self-interests of those rational actors. Hacker and Pierson offer a depressing series of case studies . . . " (Source: AMERICAN AMNESIA, KIRKUS REVIEW)
Currently the elites use government as a piggy bank to loot which puts the U.S. in deep debt, but the past-due bills are nonchalantly sent to future generations
Unless American citizens start defecating money, the debt has put us all in deep doo-doo
" . . . today’s young are the clearest vision of the future we have. If they are falling behind [and they are] —unhealthier than young people in other rich countries, less well educated, more likely to be economically marginalized—we face grim prospects. As two health researchers conclude after reviewing the international evidence on the well-being of American children, 'The US stacks up relatively poorly on critical measures of child health. Similarly, the US compares unfavorably to other nations on indicators of governmental investment in children and their families. The picture that emerges is one of a powerful and immensely wealthy nation that, compared with other nations, has made a startlingly modest investment in its children.'" (Source: How Healthy Are Our Children?, Sara Rosenbaum and Robert Blum) See also The Index Of Leading Cultural Indicators and Children First: What Society Must Do—and is Not Doing—for Children Today.
Say the authors, there's no excuse for "America’s halting effort to tackle the mounting threat of global warming. Every year, the estimated future costs of inaction increase, as the risks of extreme drought, intense storms, lost coastal land, heat-induced pandemics and wildfires, and damaged agriculture loom larger." But too many extremists, fundamentalists, and right-wing sellouts [who get most of their campaign funding from Big Oil] are pushing malarkey that the science is unproven (like Big Tobacco used to say in the middle of last century) and they block needed curative actions on every front. It's a perfect example of politicians selling their souls for campaign money when their job is to represent the people and instead they do anti-people, anti-nation, anti-world things to please greedy oligarchs and corporatocry bigwigs. Such people—mostly Republicans—do not seem to care about the harm their actions are causing or that they are selling out their constituents. But if they would simply read and understand what it says in one short article—The Real Climate Change Hoax—there's a chance they'd wise up before Earth is renamed Hell.
Is there a chance the climate change deniers will wise up before Earth is renamed Hell?
Say the authors, there's no excuse for America’s halting effort to tackle the mounting threat of global warming
The authors tell us that even when journalists cover important policy debates, they tend to fall into the trap of “he said, she said” reporting on political conflict. Simply recounting the claims of both “sides” in a debate—each debate having exactly two—imparts a potentially misleading message of unresolved controversy and false equivalence. When the weight of the evidence is in fact on one side, the “he said, she said” approach provides journalists with a safe posture of neutrality that, in practice, advances particular agendas and makes it harder for readers to understand events.
There is only one side to global warming—the science is clear, but the oil industry has created the 'other side' of the 'controversy' with made-up science and lying pundits so there'd be no action
A perfect example of this misleading message of unresolved controversy and false equivalence is the global warming issue. There is only one side—the science is clear, but the oil industry has created the "other side" of the "controversy" with made-up science and lying pundits so there'd be no action and everyone would continue wrecking the atmosphere, weather, and climate so we'll all end up roasting and having terrible droughts and it will be too late to act to prevent disaster. It's a sad commentary on our culture that the public is no longer convinced that global warming and excess carbon dioxide are serious problems. No wonder education has such poor results in America. Students are hit with as much misinformation from the rightwing media as they are facts from science classes! See America Skips School, The New Know-Nothings: The Political Foes of the Scientific Study of Human Nature, and Freedom of the Press—an American Delusion.
The authors say that to build a mixed public-private economy for the twenty-first century, a critical mass of citizens—and their leaders—have to believe once again that government can address their most pressing concerns.
We, however, believe they are giving the government in general, and social engineering specifically, too much credit.
The authors put too much stock in Uncle Sam riding in on a white horse to save the day
We need to quit looking to social engineering superheroes and rely instead on local community efforts
As we have discussed in Why Do We Need Communities?, the focus on government-as-solution is misplaced and—especially currently with the neocon warmongers in charge—will lead nowhere, since Congress will not pass the legislation needed to ameliorate any of our problems and the warmongers won't target budgets toward social spending rather than military spending. In that communities-focused article, we answered the question Why Do We Need IRL Communities? like so:
A summary of current sociological knowledge on the subject could be stated thusly: without community, family life suffers, because isolated families cannot and do not bear the burden of filling all the needs of their members. And, without IRL community, democracy cannot last long since healthy civic society is the core of true democratic life, so we need to take to heart that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty since IRL-community-based healthy civic society is the glue that holds all this together. And, optimizing human, social, ecological, and natural capital at the local level is ultimately what the healthy communities movement is all about. And, local grassroots community action is effective while social engineering via politics is not—people are responsible for their lives, not the government. And, without a bottom-up approach in which social problems are addressed by the citizenry of communities, the society will continue a downward slide into Haves and Have-nots, empowered and disempowered, and more sexism, racism, crime, family problems, etc.
Without a bottom-up approach in which social problems are addressed by the citizenry of communities, the society will continue a downward slide into Haves and Have-nots
Government is good at tax collection, Medicare, Social Security, and that's about it. It used to be good at protecting the homeland and making us more secure, but the bungling wars the neocon warmongers have been starting have dramatically increased terrorism and precipitated ISIS, spying on our citizens, reducing our rights and violating our Constitution. The world would have been much better off if they'd just stayed home and war money went instead to crumbling infrastructure.
See Politics and Government to get a deeper understanding about why politics and government and social engineering have not been doing much for the people lately but a great lot for the corporatocracy and the military-industrial complex and the national security state.
Hacker and Pierson warn that: "When conservative business leaders like Charles and David Koch invested in Cato, Heritage, the American Enterprise Institute, and all the other intellectual weapons of the right, they were playing the long game. When Republican political leaders like Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell developed new strategies for tearing down American government to build up GOP power, they were playing the long game. Those who believe we can and must build a mixed economy for the twenty-first century—they need to play the long game, too." But if the anti-government radicals can so callously succeed at knocking U.S. government on its ass without a strong Democratic, patriotic response to shore up defenses against such skullduggery, this means the rot is on BOTH sides of the isle—we have Red rot and Blue rot.
The problem is the authors fail to see who is in charge. But Janine R. Wedel sees: The simple answer to who is in charge: unelected neoconservatives with a radical not-so-democratic agenda. "The rise of a new breed of confidence men and women—think-tank members, government advisers, business consultants and television pundits—upend our democracy. . . . Players are making up the rules as they go along, and said rules are written for their own benefit, sort of like how loopholes are pre-built into disingenuous legislation so those it's meant to regulate slip through the cracks—yet again. The system is built to be a fraud, rigged to benefit the corporatocracy and politicians. We send representatives to Congress to represent us, but they represent corporations, themselves, and their buddies, but us? Not so much. This shadow elite undermines democracy and capitalism. The new rules they make take us beyond traditional corruption and conflict-of-interest to the slippery areas of non-accountability. . . . And lack of accountability is one of the most dire results of all this. The players in this rigged system ultimately answer only to each other. These movers and shakers frequently appear to the public as objective field experts, yet they often have other unmentioned roles and interests tied directly to the topic at hand." (Source: Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market)
The desires of the constituents that politicians represent are often irrelevant and usually secondary to special interests—politics is NOT the answer
Since this legalized corruption is rampant and involves Democrats as well as Republicans, and the shadow elite undermines democracy and capitalism, it obviously undermines government as well. How can one win at cards when we caught the opponent marking the deck prior to the game? The authors want more government, not less. But what government? Since we already know that our current government is corrupted and undermined by self-seeking neocons out for themselves at the expense of the citizens, MORE government can only result in MORE corruption and undermining of democracy and capitalism. We are happy the authors think they can see a way for this to work, but their book gives no map out of the current darkness—merely a prescription for throwing good money after bad. The G.O.P. is playing the long game with neocons directing the plays. To defeat their undermining, we at least need to shine light into the dark, scary corners of the current mess and actually see the big picture.
To defeat the G.O.P.'s undermining, we at least need to shine light into the dark, scary corners of the current mess and actually see the big picture
What do you say, reader, are you tired of being milked yet?
Oligarchy has replaced democracy, so how exactly does one politically function in an oligarchy trying to apply democratic rules to a non-democracy? How does one undermine the undermining? The system is built to be a fraud, rigged to benefit the corporatocracy and politicians. How do we unrig the rigging? And if we cannot deal with the undermining and rigging and fraud, won't our actions be mere flailing in the dark as the neocons snicker evily?
It may be that in theory, in a vacuum, the function of both the market and the state is to serve us, not dominate us. But in 2016 United States of America, the opposite is true. We serve as cash cows for the dominant oligarchy. (See The US is an oligarchy, study concludes.)
As long as corporations are the main deciding force in elections rather than the citizens, democracy will be impossible
Since the authors say that the government that governs best needs to govern quite a bit and that Americans must remember what has made America prosper, doesn't it follow that "quite a bit of governing" in the current neocon-controlled mess will entail adding insult to injury? The huge challenge is to fix government before doing "quite a bit of governing." The authors competently illustrate their point (with poignant examples) that for most of the 20th century, the mixed economy was a pillar of all advanced economies, including ours. But what used to be a mix degenerated into a mess composed mostly of self-interested flunkies working for the corporatocracy while pretending to care about democracy, society, and the public good. So in such a situation "quite a bit of governing" from neocons, corporate flunkies hiding under politicians' clothing, and other pretenders whose hands are deep into the public cookie jar will simply be pouring gasoline on a fire.
We disagree that it is fair to conclude that the villains are "a modern GOP dedicated to corporations and the rich," as if the current Democrats are not similarly dedicated. After a promise to raise taxes on the rich, Obama did no such thing his whole first term, and only pumped it from 35% to 39.6% in 2013, after his Congressional flunkies had had ample time to work in enough loopholes and deductions and exceptions and allowed tax shelters so that it didn't matter. Obama gave the huge bailouts after assuming office and he sold us out time and again on national security, spying on our citizens, health care, and worst of all: his total botching of everything related to wars and foreign affairs and his oppression of patriotic whistleblowers. This shows extreme dedication of Democrats to war, weapons sales, military adventures and empire building, and catering to rich elites and to the corporatocracy. The authors need to check the facts!
Edward Snowden—a brave, heroic whistleblower
These 2 academic detectives discovered the Republican Party was using a strategy of attacking and weakening government as a way to win more power for itself and its neoconservative elites
Jacob S. Hacker from Yale and Paul Pierson from Berkeley are the men that Bill Moyers calls the “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson of political science.” "According to these academic detectives, America’s amnesia is no accident. The country has been brainwashed by a powerful alliance of forces hostile to government: big business, especially Wall Street, spending unparalleled lobbying dollars to advance its narrow self-interest; a new wealthy elite propagating wrongheaded Ayn Randian notions that free markets are always good and government always bad; and a Republican Party using a strategy of attacking and weakening government as a way to win more power for itself. You don’t need to Feel the Bern to take this book seriously. The unexpected popularity of both the senator from Vermont (Bernie Sanders) and Donald Trump in this year’s primaries arguably reflects their tapping into widespread anger toward the American establishment. American Amnesia provides chapter and verse on why the public has good reason to be angry." (Source: ‘American Amnesia,’ by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, NY Times book review, Matthew Bishop)
The above reviewer, Matthew Bishop, mentioned that ". . . antigovernment forces have been unable to stop the current Democratic president from introducing a huge expansion of government in health care . . . " but that needs clarification because even though that's true, the ObamaDon'tCare program is a combination of continuing high health care costs for some, continuing to be left out of universal health care for others, but most importantly corporate welfare for Big Pharma. There was no way Big Pharma and Big Insurance were going to let the program pass until they got what they wanted from the deal, which is to be allowed to continue to screw the public with costs that are way higher than in other countries for the same drugs.
The corporate welfare for Big Pharma that is ObamaDon'tCare was a sham. This would have been the time for the Congress to rally for the American public and stop the conspiracy, corruption, and price inflation, but Congress rallied not for the people but for Big Pharma and Big Insurance
This would have been the time for the Congress to rally for the American public and stop the conspiracy, corruption, and price inflation, but Congress rallied not for the people but for Big Pharma and Big Insurance, and Obama, after the obligatory pretentious moaning and wailing, supported Big Pharma and Big Insurance screwing us as well, so he could put his name on some sort of "accomplishment" in an administation characterized by failure, irresponsibility, frustration, and the continuation and expansion of the horrid Bush policies of neocon warmongering and empire building, murder by drone, oppression of patriotic whistleblowers, and spying on citizens while stomping on the Constitution and our rights.
Could it be that Big Insurance and Big Pharma are exploiting the public mercilessly and laughing all the way to the bank, proving the incredible value of their campaign contributions and their lobbyists?
The government is spying on citizens: Fly #353242252 reporting: Citizen #312,756,972 doesn't seem to be hiding a thing—my conclusion is that she's clean; but just to be sure I think I'll hang around a bit longer!
Our government watches your every move
Once they create the technology, can the thought police be far behind NSA's outrage of spying on us decent citizens?
The authors have some decent suggestions such as further limiting filibuster use in the Senate; create actually meaningful campaign finance reform—no more pretenses; make the voting process easier for people; pass regulatory reform to tackle today’s financial robber barons, then do the same in the areas of energy and health care. And start a grassroots movement to restore love for effective government in the USA. However, as mentioned, the fix is in and the game is rigged and the bought and paid for legislators will not be cooperating with such progressive agendas any time soon.