Capitalism in America: A History

Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge. Penguin, $35 (496p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2244-1

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. [em](Oct.) [/em]