I try diligently to keep up with business news, doing it out of a weird sense of duty, because it has significance, because the economic health of any region — to say nothing of the country as a whole — has a deep impact on everyday American lives. Some of the time, I get a glimmer of insight I didn't expect, and for which I'm grateful. But mostly, business stories don't penetrate deeply into my gray matter, like many of the pieces I persist in reading in the "Science Times" section of The New York Times. Still, I continue to plow ahead, though it's like stumbling in the dark, waiting to be hit by lightening once in a while.
That's never been the case when I read a writer like Amity Shlaes, who was once a fixture at The Wall Street Journal and continues to write occasionally for a number of other publications. The clarity of her approach has always been like a way station in the thicket of tangled prose that usually populates most business stories. Even when her topic's been fairly complex, she's managed to break things down into easily digestible tidbits for us bumbling laymen.
Such was the case with a piece in the March Commentary called "The Politics of Middle-Class Anxiety." It was in actuality a review-essay of three new books on the subject announced in her title: The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Health Care and Retirement — and How You Can Fight Back by Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker; A Country That Works: Getting America Back on Track by Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union; and War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back by Lou Dobbs of CNN.
Though Shlaes admitted that the mood these three authors picked up on is authentic — Americans are worried about their finances, and the uncertainties we all face are "daunting" — she finds their prescriptions for economic health to be wanting.
"Taken as a whole," she wrote, "the wish list of Hacker, Stern and Dobbs represents a plan to turn America inward. They would like to see higher taxes and mandated wages, stronger unions with international reach, and a range of new state-run entitlements. If this recipe for economic security looks familiar, it should: it is reminiscent of the platforms of, say, the old British Labor party or Germany's Christian Democrats in the 1950s. What the[se] economic populists seek is management and redistribution from above. … "
"The ideal held out by Hacker, Stern and Dobbs is more dangerous than the galloping capitalism that they lament. Moving toward a social-democratic model would likely bring about the very sort of dire economic circumstances conjured up by their books. Raising the scale and scope of American government to a European level would deal a permanent blow to our competitiveness. It would, among other things, make the U.S. a far less interesting and dynamic place in which to work."