Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge – Capitalism in America: A History

Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge – Capitalism in America: A History

Deirdre McCloskey’s review is here. An economic history of the U.S. that is optimistic without being to starry-eyed. Greenspan and Wooldridge say wise things about two of my main policy interests. Early on, they have an excellent 30,000-foot level discussion of regulation. They don’t directly cite my colleague Wayne Crews or his Ten Thousand Commandments, but some of his numbers and many of his arguments appear prominently.

Later in the book, they give a defense of modern prosperity, complementing thinkers such as Julian Simon, Matt Ridley, Hans Rosling, and Deirdre McCloskey. They also draw on Cox and Alm’s ever-useful measure of how many hours an average person must work in order to afford a loaf of bread, a tv, a car, and other things. For the better part of two centuries, Americans have been getting more and better goods in return for steadily decreasing amounts of effort.

In between these two highlights is a fairly comprehensive business history of America, from roughly the founding up until now. Their discussion of the rise of the Carnegie, Rockefellers Vanderbilts, and Morgans of the world would have improved from a deeper discussion of competition theory that includes the Brandeisian view, the Borkian view, as well as the public choice critique of both (see Wayne Crews’ and my recent paper for that). Given Greenspan’s name recognition and Woodridge’s skilled writing and distillations, this is a book that will likely sell far better than the average of its genre, and hopefully will be more read as well. Not perfect, but good—much like the economy it studies.


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