War on want

<strong>The Conscience of a Liberal</strong>

Paul Krugman <em>Allen Lane, the Penguin Press, 304p

“Can the political environment really be that decisive in determining economic inequality?” Princeton’s Paul Krugman suggests it can, and he cites Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal as a case in point. Charting the rise and fall of the American welfare state, he shows how “accidents of history” facilitated a daring leftward turn that, for a short time, eliminated the super-rich and significantly closed the wage gap.

Krugman is prolific by anyone’s standards, having produced over 20 books in as many years. A neo-Keynesian at heart, he produces analyses that take the reader on a dogged hunt for the many causes of our modern inequalities, explaining the shady workings of the money business with a rare clarity. The Conscience of a Liberal is an economist’s eye-view of the alarming rise of the American right: radical “movement conservatives” intent on rolling back the achievements of FDR’s policies, social services and all.

“Those who call themselves conservative,” he warns, “want to take us back to the Gilded Age, undoing a century of history.” But unlike other leftist polemics, it ends optimistically. For Krugman, it is still “possible to reduce inequality and make America a middle-class nation”. “Now,” he writes, “is the time to get started.”