Book in the news: celebrating the American thirst for self-improvement

Capitalism in America by Adrian Wooldridge and Alan GreenspanCapitalism in America: A History
Adrian Wooldridge and Alan Greenspan
Penguin Press (£25)

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It’s fashionable to bash capitalism, blaming it for all our social ills. This book, by former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge, political editor of The Economist, presents a more optimistic story. It “celebrates the American thirst for self-improvement” and argues that the country has long benefited from the “creative destruction” wrought by the market and entrepreneurs”, as Tim Stanley puts it in The Spectator.

The book’s argument “snaps, crackles and pops”, using anecdotes, mini-biographies, and pithy quotes from to make “a unique blend of economic, business, and political history”, says Robert Gordon in the Financial Times. Still, even these optimists have to concede that “the omens are bleak” for capitalism. Productivity growth since 2010 has slowed, business dynamism is fading, labour mobility is ossifying, and business concentration is rising.

The book makes a “strong case” for free enterprise and markets, says Diane Coyle in The Economist. The authors’ proposed solution for our current ills is “to reduce dramatically the scale” of welfare entitlements and social security payments. This may be attractive “from an economist’s point of view”, but is “hardly politically realistic”. It’s a shame the book does not reflect more on how to “restore a political environment conducive to economic dynamism”.