cover image The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society

The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society

Binyamin Appelbaum. Little, Brown, $40 (448p) ISBN 978-0-316-51232-9

New York Times correspondent Appelbaum, who won a George Polk Award for his subprime lending reporting, intelligently chronicles the unprecedented influence of economists on public policy during what he dubs “the economists’ hour,” roughly from 1969 to 2008. He recounts how economists in the U.S. rose from laboring in obscurity in Quonset huts on the National Mall to occupying such lofty roles as secretary of the treasury and chair of the Federal Reserve. Appelbaum is sharply skeptical of the reputed alchemical powers of economists to engineer prosperity, particularly those (Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan) whose blind adherence to free market principles, he argues, fostered the Great Recession and significant income inequality. He notes that countries that consulted economic theory, but then accorded management of the economy to engineers (as in Taiwan) or the state (as with China) have performed better economically than the U.S. with its policy of minimal government intervention in markets. He also examines the deleterious effects of the unfettered free market philosophy upon health and safety regulations, regulation of industries, and antitrust litigation, concluding that blind reliance on free markets has led to an ossifying plutocratic minority. This thoroughly researched, comprehensive, and critical account of the economic philosophies that have reigned for the past half century powerfully indicts them. (Sept.)