This isn’t a normal book review, because I’m not going to plug this book. More the opposite, actually.
Concrete Economics is in most respects a traditional work in that field. For openers it is literally a cure for insomnia. I read at night before bed – in bed – a practice most sleep experts say is likely to ruin your nocturnal regimen, and I have had more than a few nights “ruined” by the likes of Michael Lewis and Oliver Sachs. After a few pages of Cohen and DeLong I was usually more than ready to turn out the light. At 170 pages, this tome that should have been a one-sitting read for me took nearly a month to finish. Even by the standards of the Drear Science, this book was a slog.
The authors’ style is heavy with one paragraph sentences, multi-syllable words and overly formal vernacular. For example: “The East Asian Economies were eager to build up their manufacturing capacity and capability, and our ideologically motivated redesign of the American economy told us that we didn’t really care, because we didn’t really want those sectors.” Did I mention the mixed metaphors? “Alexander Hamilton: the only individual who may have been more than the tip of the spearhead of the heavy shaft of an already-thrown, near-consensus view on pragmatic economic policy.” I nearly fell asleep typing that.
The book came highly touted by Paul Krugman, Nobel laureate and oracle of Progressive economics, so I expected to disagree with much if not all of the content. I was (mostly) wrong.
Lost style points aside, the authors make a fair case that some economic planning by the Federal government is essential to the success of the Republic (italics mine, certainly not Krugman’s). Early on they discuss the formative post-Revolutionary policies of Hamilton, who pushed the fledgling US government to assume the colonies’ war debt, establish a central bank and, most crucially, pass a series of tariffs designed to protect America’s emerging manufacturing sector. The only way the country could gain real economic independence, argued Hamilton, was to industrialize. The plan worked well. US makers were soon thriving and the tariffs protecting them were the government’s main source of revenue until the advent of the income tax.
Hamilton’s protective tariff model was adopted by Japan and, later, China as those countries struggled to join the Industrial Revolution. Contemporary fans include our current president, who would also appreciate the authors’ use of words like “huger.” I think they meant, “more bigly.” Continue reading