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Plenty of Nothing: The Downsizing of the American Dream and the Case for Structural Keynesianism [Hardcover]

Thomas I. Palley
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 9 1998

Business papers today are in a triumphant mood, buoyed by a conviction that the economic stagnation of the last quarter century has vanished in favor of a new age of robust growth. But if we are doing so well, many ask, why does it feel like we are working harder for less? Why, despite economic growth, does inequality between rich and poor keep rising? In this wide-ranging and provocative book, Thomas Palley pulls together many threads of "new liberal" economic thought to offer detailed answers to these pressing questions. And he proposes a new economic model--structural Keynesianism--that he argues would return America to sustainable, fairly shared prosperity. The key, he writes, is to abandon the myth of a natural competitive economy, which has justified unleashing capital and attacking unions. This has resulted in an economy dominated by business.

Palley's book, which began as a cover article for The Atlantic Monthly in 1996, challenges the economic orthodoxies of the political right and center, popularized by such economists as Milton Friedman and Paul Krugman. He marshals a powerful array of economic facts and arguments to show that the interests of working families have gradually been sacrificed to those of corporations. Expanding on traditional Keynesian economics, he argues that, although capitalism is the most productive system ever devised, it also tends to generate deep economic inequalities and encourage the pursuit of profit at the expense of all else. He challenges fatalists who say we can do nothing about this--that economic insecurity and stagnant wages are the inevitable results of irresistible globalization. Palley argues that capitalism comes in a range of forms and that government can and should shape it from a "mean street" system into a "main street" system through monetary, fiscal, trade, and regulatory policies that promote widespread prosperity.

Plenty of Nothing offers a compelling alternative to conventional economic wisdom. The book is clearly and powerfully written and will provoke debate among economists and the general public about the most stubborn problems in the American economy.

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From Library Journal

Palley (Post-Keynesian Economics: Debt, Distribution, and the Macro Economy, St. Martin's, 1996) presents this remarkable text that attempts to dispel many of the myths associated with economic naturalism. He investigates why the rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer, and the middle class has shrunk, introducing an economic evaluation of the U.S. economy from the "main street capitalism" of the past and the "mean streets capitalism" of the present. The argument for structural Keynesianism compels a reassessment of current policies and attitudes toward labor and stresses that increasing employment must take precedence over decreasing inflation when formulating fiscal policies. According to Palley, a prosperous and equitable economy can be sustained by increasing real income for workers and allowing everyone to share the wealth. This well-organized work is extensively supported by statistics, charts, and graphs. With its timely appeal, it warrants a place on the shelves beside other master works of economic theory. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.?Robert L. Balliot Jr., East Greenwich Free Lib., RI
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.


One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1998

"This is a good and useful book. At a time when mediocre economic performance is celebrated as though it were excellent . . . Plenty of Nothing is for people who are tired of being treated like fools. . . . The revolutionary thought that policy does matter, for good or evil, is a prime contribution of this book, though it is a mark of the degraded state of economic discourse that it is needed at all."--James K. Galbraith, Dissent

"Thomas Palley has presented us with a timely book . . . a necessary book. . . . It reminds us that we do not have to accept Wall Street's version of the choices we face."--Robert E. Prasch, Review of Political Economy

"A useful and often insightful treatise on policy debates and recent economic debates in the United States. He ably documents and explains 'the downsizing of the American dream.'"--James Devine, Science & Society

"Thomas I. Palley has written an important book in a clear and persuasive style. He understands the economic plight of working American families. He explains what caused that plight and what can be done about it. . . . His analysis is rigorous. His conclusions are correct. His policies are the right stiff. He discusses the kind of family policy we need for the next millennium."--William M. Dugger, Review of Social Economy

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THIS BOOK is about the American economy and the gradual dismantling of mass prosperity that has been taking place over the last twenty-five years. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars AFL-CIO's View of the World Sept. 24 2002
By A Customer
A staff economist at the AFL-CIO, Palley presents labor's views on current economic issues. His grand thesis is that globalization and the decline of US unions have shifted the balance of economic power in favor of capital and to the detriment of labor. The result has been declining wages, increased economic inequality, and soft aggregate demand -- all of which have led to lower economic growth. Palley writes about specific issues such as monetary policy, trade, and taxation.
On the plus side, Plenty of Nothing is clearly written. Palley is very good at demonstrating how free-market economics often masks a pro-corporation bias. At the same time, he doesn't engage with rival points of view or provide adequate empirical support for his thesis. For example, he claims ad nauseum that national income is being reallocated from labor to capital -- but his statistics don't prove this. Instead, they show that average wages have declined over the last few decades while average profits have increased -- but this doesn't entail that labor's overall share of national income has decreased.
Similarly, he pooh-poohs the argument that growing inequality is caused by a skills/jobs mismatch in the labor market. If the supply of low-skill labor and hig-skill labor is inelastic, and demand shifts from low-skill to high-skill labor, then a wage gap will open up. Palley belittles this analysis as the conventional wisdom -- but he doesn't show that it's wrong.
Palley also contends that the Federal Reserve deliberately keeps interest rates high in order to service the needs of Wall Street and to restrain wage increases. Anybody who knows the latest rates on T-bills can only laugh at this. A lot can change in only four years (Palley's book was published in 1998).
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great rebuttal to consensus economic thinking. Oct. 1 1998
By A Customer
"Plenty of Nothing"
A consensus is stifling America. It stretches across the Republican Party and through to the Clinton Democrats. It is the rallying cry of business and the default perspective of the media. The consensus is over economic policy, and its tenets are free trade, tight credit and a slack labor market. Its conceit is saddled atop the current cyclical economic recovery which consists of low inflation, low unemployment and moderate economic growth. The consensus demands of any critic, "What's possibly wrong with that?" Palley has brought forth a powerful rebuttal. Briefly stated, he argues that economic activity, even self-interested private individually motivated competitive activity, occurs within a structure of laws and rules. Those structures affect the outcomes of the competition. The current structure has produced increased competition between working people and has failed to continue the mass prosperity of the 1945 to 1973 era. He writes, "The failure to recognize that widespread prosperity rests on appropriately designed market rules and regulations is the cancer that is killing the American dream." Palley then takes apart, both theoretically and empirically, the major policy issues that make the U.S. regulatory structure: tight fiscal policy, low inflation, free trade, collective bargaining, and international capital mobility. His theoretical model is what he calls "Structural Keynesianism." That framework focuses on the failures of "natural" capitalism and the policies of tight credit and fiscal austerity to properly manage demand so as to maintain full employment (i.e. very low unemployment).
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By A Customer
This book provides an insightful examination of the problems currently facing the U.S. and world economy. It documents the extent to which most workers and have families have seen deteriorations in their living standards over the last quarter century. It then analyzes the various causes of this decline. Some of the factors that feature prominently in the explanation are lower unionization rates, higher unemployment rates, and increased trade with developing nations. These, and other changes, have had the effect of weakening the bargaining position of workers and have allowed capital and higher income earners to enjoy a disproportionate share of the benefits of productivity growth.
Palley also critically examines some of the core tenets of modern economic debate and shows them to be ill founded. For example, he points out that the concern over a balanced budget has little economic rationale and may actually lead to slower economic growth. He shows that the fixation with low inflation also may be counter-productive, since it can keep unemployment at excessively high levels, and may even have worse consequences. He also shows that not everyone benefits from freer trade.

The book is well written and quite topical. It well be very useful reading for anyone wishing to stay on top of current economic debates.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Economics written clearly and lucidly! Sept. 28 1998
This is a fantastic book. I took economics in college. It was a mix of graphs for laughs combined with a totally pro-business outlook. Unions were bad and workers were described as responsible for unemployment because of greedy wage demands. The idea that bargaining power might matter was completely absent. Thomas Palley has written an antidote to this. This is economics written clearly and lucidly. Best of all, I did not feel that I was being not told what to think, but rather I felt lead through the economy in a way that gave real understanding. For anyone who wants to understand how the economy and how globalization work and what their effects are, this is a must read. This may sound excessive, but this is the best economics book I have ever read. Compensation at last for the money I wasted on Econ 101.
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