Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich

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Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich

Author: Kevin Phillips
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Copyright: 2002
Pages: 496
Cover Price: $ 18.99

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Most American conservatives take it as an article of faith that the less governmental involvement in affairs of the market and pocketbook the better. The rich do not, whatever they might say--for much of their wealth comes from the "power and preferment of government." So writes Kevin Phillips, the accomplished historian and one-time Washington insider, in this extraordinary survey of plutocracy, excess, and reform. "Laissez-faire is a pretense," he argues; as the wealth of the rich has grown, so has its control over government, making politics a hostage of money.

Examining cycles of economic growth and decline from the founding days of the republic to the recent collapse of technology stocks, Phillips dispels notions of trickle-down wealth creation, pricks holes in speculative bubbles, and decries the ever-increasing "financialization" of the economy--all of which, he argues, have served to reduce the well-being of ordinary Americans and government alike.

Highly readable for all its charts and graphs, Phillips's book offers a refreshing--and, of course, controversial--blend of economic history and social criticism. His conclusions won't please all readers, but just about everyone who comes to his pages will feel hackles rising. --Gregory McNamee

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Background Information

Laissez Faire, from a French expression meaning "to allow to make," invovles the premise that the best government involvement in the economy is none. While none of the business leaders of the Gilded Age led unblemished lives, names like Rockefeller and Carnegie are removed for philanthropy while others are recalled as robber barons.