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5.0 out of 5 stars A criticism of unfettered capitalism:The case for social democracy, 25 Jun 2012
This review is from: Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents (Paperback)
The book emanated from and culminated in the slim volume following a lecture the author gave on social democracy at New York University (NYU) in the fall of 2009.

The writing of Tony Judt is graceful, humane, erudite, and wise;additionally it possesses a gratifying blend of English pragmatism and Continental intellectualism. The book today is even more pertinent than when it was written in 2010 with a full blown financial crisis afflicting the southern rim of the European Union with the most conspicuous victim Greece but also afflicting Spain, Portugal, Italy and even my tiny homeland Cyprus.

The author is highly critical of the policies prevailing in the last thirty years known as the 'Washington consensus' adopting 'Thatcher-ism', 'Reagan-ism'and the policies of the Austrian economist Hayek. These collectively comprise the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all:uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector, the delusion of endless growth.

The greatest extremes of private privilege and public indifference are exemplified by the US and the UK:epicenters of enthusiasm for deregulated market capitalism. None has matched Britain or the United States in their unwavering thirty-year commitment to the unraveling of decades of social legislation and economic oversight. As a result, poverty - whether measured by infant mortality, life expectancy, access to medicine and regular employment or simple inability to purchase basic necessities - has increased steadily in the US , the UK and every country that that has modeled its economy upon their example. The pathologies of inequality and poverty - crime, alcoholism, violence and mental illness -all multiplied commensurately. By contrast Sweden, or Finland, two of the world's wealthiest countries by per ca-pita income or GDP, have a very narrow gap separating their richest from their poorest citizens - and they consistently lead the world in indices of measurable well being.

The events of 2008 was a reminder that unregulated capitalism is its own worse enemy:sooner or later it must fall prey to its own excesses and turn again to the state for rescue. The author pronounces that the social question is back on the agenda.

The author contrasts the last thirty years with the thirty years that preceded them which cover the period from the end of World War II until the 1970s.

This thirty year post - World War II period can be aptly called the 'Keynesian consensus'.

Keynes had taken the view that capitalism would not survive if its workings were reduced to merely furnishing the wealthy with the means to get wealthier. For Keynes it had become self-evident that the best defense against extremism and economic collapse was an increased role of the state, including but not confined to counter cyclical economic intervention.

The era of the 'Keynesian consensus' and the prevailing of social democracy had the characteristics of continually improving life chances, generous medical and educational services, optimistic prospects of upward social mobility - perhaps above all - an indefinable but ubiquitous sense of security.

The author advocates a return to social democracy naturally in the context and adapted to the prevailing circumstances including environmental considerations.

As already mentioned the book was first published in 2010 and I have to add that the author died in the interim period. The recent election in the French Presidency of the social democrat Francois Holland succeeding the conservative Nicolas Sarcozy may herald for Europe a new era of social democracy and might suggest prescience on the part of the author.
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