Excerpt from The Great Unraveling by Paul Krugman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Great Unraveling

Losing Our Way in the New Century

by Paul Krugman

The Great Unraveling by Paul Krugman
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2003, 426 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2004, 480 pages

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Popular culture reflected a deep sense of disillusionment. Among the big movies of the early 90s were Falling Apart, about a laid-off worker who erupts in rage, Grand Canyon, about the menace of crime, and Rising Sun, about American decline and the rise of Japan.

What about the promise of new technology? In the early 1990s, this seemed like a promise broken. For sure, new technology was all around us—but it didn't seem to be delivering much in the way of results. More and more workers were equipped with computers, every office had a fax machine, cell phones and e-mail were starting to become widespread, but none of it seemed to pay off in employment or higher living standards. One prominent economist—he would later be a notable American triumphalist—told me privately that he regarded high tech as "high bull——."

Above all, the American people were disillusioned with their leaders, private and public. Every airport bookstore featured rows of volumes with samurai warriors on their covers, promising to teach readers the secrets of Japanese management; the point was not just that the Japanese seemingly knew how to run modern corporations, but that the people running American companies seemingly didn't. All the latest gadgets seemed to come from Japan; not only had "made in the U.S.A." ceased to be a guarantee of quality, many consumers had come to distrust domestic products. CEOs of major corporations were mocked as bumbling, overpaid incompetents—when President George Bush took auto company executives to Japan to demand economic concessions, the affair turned into a public relations disaster.

The loss of respect extended to our politicians. The most remarkable thing about the 1992 election wasn't that Bush lost. It was that H. Ross Perot, a candidate completely out of the mainstream, took 19 percent of the vote. In a nation where third parties have never flourished, that was a huge vote of no confidence in conventional political leaders.

In short, it wasn't the best of times—and many observers expected things to keep getting worse. Yet over the next eight years the nation would experience an amazing economic and social turnaround.



The good years

It took quite a while before people realized that things had really turned for the better. You might say that pessimism had become a national habit. As late as the winter of 1995-96, despite a steadily falling unemployment rate, the newspapers were full of alarmist headlines about job loss and downsizing. In the 1996 presidential campaign, Bob Dole's economists attacked the Clinton administration for what they claimed was a sluggish, below-par economic recovery. Less partisan economists knew better, but they remained cautious, having seen too many false dawns. Yet eventually the evidence became too strong to deny: the U.S. economy really was on the mend. And so, it began to seem, was our society.

Given our current state of renewed disillusionment, it's tempting to dismiss everything that went right in the Clinton years as a mirage. Indeed, the manic optimism of the late 90s got ahead of the reality. But the nation's real achievements were spectacular.

First and foremost for the lives of most people, by the end of the 90s jobs were plentiful—more plentiful than they had been for decades. Between 1992 and 2000, U.S. companies added 32 million workers to their payrolls, driving the unemployment rate to a 30-year low. Full employment meant jobs, and a chance of escape, for families that had been caught in the poverty trap: poverty rates fell sharply, for the first time since the 1960s. Partly as a consequence, social indicators like crime rates showed spectacular improvement: by the end of the 90s, New York City was as safe as it had been in the mid-1960s.

If job growth was impressive, the increase in productivity— the amount produced per worker—was even more impressive. In the 1970s and 1980s, low productivity growth—barely 1 per-cent per year—was the greatest failing of the U.S. economy. Poor productivity performance was the most important reason why living standards stagnated for typical American families: an economy without productivity growth can't deliver a sustained rise in wages. But during the 1990s productivity took off; by decade's end it was rising faster than ever before in American history, and wages had ended their long stagnation.

From The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century by Paul Krugman. Copyright Paul Krugman. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: New People
    New People
    by Danzy Senna
    Danzy Senna has spent virtually her entire writing career exploring the complicated intersections of...
  • Book Jacket: Hunger
    Hunger
    by Roxane Gay
    In this penetrating and fearless memoir, author Roxane Gay discusses her battle with body acceptance...
  • Book Jacket: The Black Witch
    The Black Witch
    by Laurie Forest
    In The Black Witch, Laurie Forest introduces her readers to an immersive fantasy world where ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt

Cruel Beautiful World examines the intricate, infinitesimal distance between seduction and love, loyalty and duty.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Heart's Invisible Furies
    by John Boyne

    A sweeping, heartfelt saga set in Ireland from the author of The Boy In the Striped Pajamas.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Hame

Hame by Annalena McAfee

A rich, sultry novel about a young American fleeing a crumbling marriage for a remote Scottish island.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A F Out O W

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.