Hacker and Pierson Want You to Help Them Name Their Next Book

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Political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, were the first guests on Moyers & Company when we launched back in January. They reached out to us recently about the follow-up book that they are working on. They told us they have a “really lame working title for it” and thought that smart Moyers fans might help them find a better one.

book with question mark on its coverWorking Title: Paleocapitalism: How Unchecked Business Power is Hurting Our Democracy, Our Society, and Our Economy

Your Ideas: Post your title suggestion in the comments section below before Monday, April 23, 2012 at noon. People should “like” the titles that they think are the best. We’ll winnow down the list and then post a poll on Facebook next Tuesday morning. The person who comes up with the most popular title will receive a signed copy of Winner-Take-All Politics and a mini-profile in our “What Matters Today” blog.

Book Summary:
“Today, our economic engine is running on the last fumes of the nation’s post-WWII commitments to economic opportunity, innovation, and security. The tank is empty. Government has stopped working, business elites have stopped caring, and Americans have stopped trusting either of them. This book is about how and why this has happened and, equally important, what can be done to get American capitalism back on track.

Behind this change, we argue, is a massive shift in the power and purpose of corporate and financial leaders. At one and the same time, they have become more influential and more divorced from the interests of the rest of America. We can see this clearly in the apoplectic response of the business community to the relatively modest reform agenda of President Obama. While few corporate leaders went as far as hedge-fund manager Stephen Schwarzman and compared Obama to Hitler, they have vigorously rejected efforts to update America’s creaky economic model, despite the obvious failure of existing laws to ensure economic prosperity and security.

(l-r) Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson Photo Credit: Dale Robbins

The problem is not primarily that business leaders have become less civic. Rather, it is their incentives that have changed. The “mixed economy” of the generation after World War II — in which government and the private sector were partners as well as rivals — required a political system capable of enforcing restraint. The new American capitalism is crippling that capacity.

In making this transit, the new business elite has had two powerful sets of enablers. The first and most obvious is the Republican Party, which has shifted away from its moderate Eisenhower (and Nixon) stance toward a radical vision that rejects not just the Great Society but the entire edifice of the mixed economy.

The second set of enablers is the nation’s largest business associations. We might expect these groups to temper the self-centered tendencies of individual corporations. Instead, they increasingly embody and encourage a feudalistic approach to policy that leaves the “princes” within key sectors of the economy dictating where business stands on the most important policy issues — the health care industrial complex on health policy, the big energy producers and extractors on energy policy, the lords of finance on financial policy. The Chamber of Commerce, for example, now rents out its formidable political capacities to the highest bidders, becoming, in effect, a lobbying shop for narrow economic interests.

The distorted policies that result are imposing huge costs on our society. These costs represent classic failures of the market, and they will not be addressed by unfettered private commerce. Wise policy will be needed to encourage the private sector to take them into account and invest in new technologies and ways of doing business that reduce them. Other rich nations, we will show, are rapidly moving ahead to tackle these market failures; the United States remains trapped in the past.

This is a failure of the public and private sectors alike, and both will need reform if we are to escape our current impasse. We need a new understanding of what has gone wrong with our economic model and a new agenda for how to fix it, one that is rooted in the reality that a successful economy and society requires a mixed economy involving well-functioning government as well as dynamic markets.”

— Jacob S. Hacker, Ph.D. & Paul Pierson, Ph.D.

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