From the legendary former Fed Chairman and the acclaimed Economist writer and historian, the full, epic story of America's evolution from a small patchwork of threadbare colonies to the most powerful engine of wealth and innovation the world has ever seen.
Shortlisted for the 2018 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award
From even the start of his fabled career, Alan Greenspan was duly famous for his deep understanding of even the most arcane corners of the American economy, and his restless curiosity to know even more. To the extent possible, he has made a science of understanding how the US economy works almost as a living organism--how it grows and changes, surges and stalls. He has made a particular study of the question of productivity growth, at the heart of which is the riddle of innovation. Where does innovation come from, and how does it spread through a society? And why do some eras see the fruits of innovation spread more democratically, and others, including our own, see the opposite?
In Capitalism in America, Greenspan distills a lifetime of grappling with these questions into a thrilling and profound master reckoning with the decisive drivers of the US economy over the course of its history. In partnership with the celebrated Economist journalist and historian Adrian Wooldridge, he unfolds a tale involving vast landscapes, titanic figures, triumphant breakthroughs, enlightenment ideals as well as terrible moral failings. Every crucial debate is here--from the role of slavery in the antebellum Southern economy to the real impact of FDR's New Deal to America's violent mood swings in its openness to global trade and its impact. But to read Capitalism in America is above all to be stirred deeply by the extraordinary productive energies unleashed by millions of ordinary Americans that have driven this country to unprecedented heights of power and prosperity.
At heart, the authors argue, America's genius has been its unique tolerance for the effects of creative destruction, the ceaseless churn of the old giving way to the new, driven by new people and new ideas. Often messy and painful, creative destruction has also lifted almost all Americans to standards of living unimaginable to even the wealthiest citizens of the world a few generations past. A sense of justice and human decency demands that those who bear the brunt of the pain of change be protected, but America has always accepted more pain for more gain, and its vaunted rise cannot otherwise be understood, or its challenges faced, without recognizing this legacy. For now, in our time, productivity growth has stalled again, stirring up the populist furies. There's no better moment to apply the lessons of history to the most pressing question we face, that of whether the United States will preserve its preeminence, or see its leadership pass to other, inevitably less democratic powers.
Former Federal Reserve chairman Greenspan and Economist political editor Wooldridge set out to recount how the United States rose to become "the mightiest economy the world has ever seen" and explain the puzzling economic slowdown that has reared its head in the past decade. Unlike its Old World rivals, they write, America didn't just grow rich; it churned out innovation, embracing the Schumpeterian process of "creative destruction" and allowing entrepreneurial individuals to fulfill their potential in a society where hard work was prized, newcomers encouraged, and property rights safeguarded. The authors provide a predictably triumphalist reading of the growth of American capitalism, with progressive reformers described as in thrall to the "cult of government" and late-19th-century steel barons lauded as serving the public good. In conclusion, they recommend two fixes for our current economic woes: entitlements reform and more prudent reserves ratios at big banks in order to prevent another financial collapse. Consistently engaging and packed with fun facts (an 1870s guide to barbed wire listed 749 varieties of the fencing that won the West), the book speeds along at high velocity, pausing only to extol the virtues of American democracy and capitalism which, for the authors, are essentially the same thing. This book will hold no surprises for those familiar with Greenspan's career.