Monday, March 27, 2023

The Professional Utopians

Andrew Koppelman

During the past 150 years, the human race grew fabulously rich. This was an accident. The notion that ordinary people could be made prosperous—let alone that this could become a conscious project—would have, for most of history, seemed daffy. Yet it happened, and today a guild of specialists argues over how to keep the process going. They are called “economists,” but that term is overbroad. The subset I’m describing are the ones advising, and in some cases deploying, government power.
J. Bradford DeLong’s new book, Slouching Towards Utopia, is subtitled An Economic History of the Twentieth Century. But it is not really a history of the economy so much as a history of economic policymaking, what worked and what didn’t—where “work” means not only further enriching the already rich but also making the lives of average people better. Its heroes are the professional utopians, the policymakers who have figured out how to deliver on that project. DeLong’s polemical aim is to show that the process has recently stalled, and to review what we’ve learned so we can get back on track. The book is comprehensive, beautifully written, and fun to read. DeLong has a gift for filling out abstract concepts with memorable stories. One only wishes that his history had a happier ending.

I review the book in the current Los Angeles Review of Books. 

Older Posts
Newer Posts