Cover image for Illusions of prosperity : America's working families in an age of economic insecurity
Illusions of prosperity : America's working families in an age of economic insecurity
Blau, Joel.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xv, 272 pages ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1430 Lexile.
Format :


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HD5710.75.U6 B58 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Faith in the free market--the idea that, for instance, profit-seeking managed care companies will improve the health care delivery system--has become a basic tenet of public policy debate. But as Joel Blau demonstrates in this eye-opening book, so-called "free market" programs have been adismal failure, heightening inequality, lowering the median standard of living, and steadily eroding the quality of our social and political life. In Illusions of Prosperity, Blau launches a far-reaching assault on idea that "the market" knows best. Blau writes that while the share of the national income held by the bottom four fifths of the population (the poor and broad middle class combined) has continued to decline, the top fifthgained 97 percent of the increase in total household income between 1979 and 1994. "Few experiments," Blau comments, "yield such clear outcomes. Although many had hoped to benefit from the new market economy, this affluent fifth is the only segment of the population that truly has." Blau looks atrecent reforms in NAFTA, education, job training, welfare, and much more, showing that the new social policies have made matters worse, because reforms that rely on the market can't compensate for the market's deficiencies. Instead, he calls for a stronger, more caring government to counter thedebilitating effects of the market, and he urges the development of the broadest possible political alliances to ensure economic security. Sure to raise controversy, Illusions of Prosperity turns today's conventional wisdom inside out, making a profound case for the importance of a strong government in a world where markets do not have all the answers.

Author Notes

Joel Blau is an Associate Professor, and Director of the Ph.D. Program, at the School of Social Welfare, State University of New York, Stony Brook. He is the author of The Visible Poor: Homelessness in the United States. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

For the last quarter century, Americans (and much of the Western world) have had a passionate love affair with an old flame: the market. Blau, a professor at the State University of New York at Stonybrook, examines the consequences of this indulgence for the four-fifths of the population who gained little from this boom; explores the potential of market approaches in areas such as education, job training, and poverty and welfare; and suggests that, when we begin to see the market's flaws at some future date, we should recognize democratic accountability and economic security as the touchstones of a progressive response. The problem with reforms that rely on the market, Blau urges, is they can't compensate for market deficiencies (indeed, the most vociferous market advocates deny the market has any deficiencies!). Blau calls for thorough accountability in the workplace as well as government, recognizing that employees are stakeholders--in fact, vital partners--in producing the "value added" that is the corporation's ultimate product. --Mary Carroll

Library Journal Review

Blau's uneven polemic asserts that the current "market" approach to social ills helps only the top 20 percent of society while the rest suffer. He proposes increased federal government intervention as the solution, championing national healthcare, vastly expanded day care, stronger unions, and worker participation. Blau (social work, SUNY at Stony Brook), who looks at America through a Western European Socialist lens, feels that as long as business controls hiring and investments, education will not help most Americans. He acknowledges that his views are not in the majority but notes correctly that the pendulum could swing. Liberals may like his ideas; conservatives will cringe. Both will find this a tedious, occasionally condescending readÄa lonely call for a return to big-government liberalism that most libraries will find more effectively argued in periodicals like the New Republic or the Nation. Neither lively enough to be called a screed nor convincing enough to be recommended.ÄPatrick J. Brunet, Western Wisconsin Technical Coll. Lib., La Crosse (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In an era of sustained economic growth, low unemployment, and stable prices in the macroeconomy, it is difficult to make a case that America is worse off or that the federal government could improve things. Yet Blau (School of Social Welfare, SUNY, Stony Brook) focuses on families that have not benefited from the general prosperity and have been hurt by welfare spending reductions. His principal hypothesis is that the growing reliance on the market mechanism to determine production and income distribution has led to inequality, economic insecurity, the "deskilling" of many workers, and a loss of freedom. Globalization, downsizing, and outsourcing combined with less government regulation and declining public education are destructive of the American democratic system. Blau proposes a fundamental shift in the way society perceives the government's role in providing education and ensuring freedom. Written from a sociological perspective, this work may not find much support among other social scientists. Readers interested in this topic should also consult Robert Pollin and Stephanie Luce, The Living Wage: Building a Fair Economy (CH, Jan'99), Michael L. Murray, "... And Economic Justice for All" (CH, Jul'97), and Rebecca M. Blank, It Takes a Nation (CH, Apr'98). Undergraduate and professional collections. J. F. O'Connell; College of the Holy Cross

Table of Contents

Acknowledgementsp. ix
Introductionp. xi
Part 1 The Turn. to the Marketp. 1
1 The Triumph of the Marketp. 3
2 Business Moves: Markets, Nations, and Inequalityp. 22
3 Disposable Workersp. 43
4 The Low-Wage, Low-Skill Strategyp. 63
Part 2 The Path Upward?p. 79
5 Education: Choice, Profit, and Democracyp. 81
6 Jobs and Job Training: The Field of Dreamsp. 113
7 Poverty and Welfare: Market as Cure or Market as Cause?p. 135
Part 3 Both Workers and Citizensp. 161
8 Democracy in the Workplace?p. 163
9 The Government: from Client to Customer to Citizenp. 179
10 The Next Dealp. 200
Notesp. 223
Indexp. 263