Review of “Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century” by J. Bradford DeLong

I looked forward to reading this book because the reviews I read said that the author had a unique perspective on the topic. That is certainly true, but the subject of this book is not Economic History; this rather long book (~550 pages) instead discusses societal and political factors influencing the economic history of (mostly) the United States. I believe the title is misleading.

A good part of the text discusses equal rights and pays lip service to their impact on the economics of the U.S. while failing to close the loop on the macroeconomic relationship between the Civil Rights movement and changes in national productivity. In that respect it added nothing to, and even said less, than a previous book I reviewed here. This pattern–focusing on social issues and not showing a cause-and-effect relationship to the economy–was a recurring theme.

The story picked up towards the end, when Neoliberalism was contrasted with the New Deal era. I had always called this socioeconomic program Reaganism. The origin of the Washington Consensus is discussed and I admit that this is a subject that fascinates me; the U.S. imposed the current world order on everyone else (outside the Communist sphere) because it was the only existing superpower in the 1950s. The causes of American isolationism in the interwar era (1920-1940) are discussed in a global context, but it had to be trimmed because of too much social history.

I found the book a teaser and bought a title on Neoliberalism that appears to be more economics and less sociology. I’ll write a review of it when I finish reading it.

This book was made difficult to read by the ridiculously long sentences; strings of phrases are connected with commas when they are better treated as separate ideas. I had to reread large portions of it because I forgot the topic of the sentence. I think the author did too a couple of times. I guess that for some people, the point is to impress the reader with your eruditeness rather than communicate clearly.

I can’t recommend this book even though it contains some good analyses and a different (I wouldn’t go so far as to say unique) perspective on the numerous fundamental changes that occurred. I didn’t feel that I’d learned anything new about the subject when I finished.

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