Book Review: Freefall

Joseph Stiglitz is one of the great economists of our time, a reputation that was secured even before he accurately predicted the financial collapse and its magnitude. He is a professor at Columbia University and a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. But perhaps more importantly, he is a visionary who has provided us with a roadmap to a more prosperous America. I have just completed his recent book Freefall and can say without reservation that it is one of the two or three most important books I have ever read.

Stiglitz himself highlights what I think is a major asymmetry in our society. In the spectrum of economics, he is a centrist, falling between the socialists on the left and the equally radical neoclassicists on the right who have dominated our country for the past few decades. In the political spectrum of our country, he would fall in the center, if not center-left, of the Democratic Party. His very existence, never mind the content of his book, highlights how radicalized our society has become.

The book has four parts. The first is an explanation of where the Great Recession came from. The second is an explanation of what happened during the collapse. The third is a catalogue of the failures of both the Bush and Obama administrations (especially the later) in dealing with the crisis. And the fourth, and easily most important part, is his roadmap for fixing the long-term structural problems with our society.

Now, before anyone even reads the book, I’m sure the charges of socialism will be flying. I must draw on Stiglitz’s own description of Keynes to describe this book: he is trying to save capitalism from itself.

If you wish to understand this crisis, you must read this book. If you wish to understand the long-term structural problems with both our economy and the way it interacts with our political process, you must read this book. If you wish to understand how we can build a better society, you must read this book.

I must admit that one of the main reasons this book appeals to me so much is that it reads like a science text. I can give no higher compliment. Stiglitz has based his arguments on data and evidence, rather than the wishful thinking and childish assumptions that have dominated American economics for so long.

I have only one last point to add. Stiglitz provides, in the last four chapters, what Michael Sandel has pleaded with liberals to do, to provide a vision for a better society, a stronger, more sustainable America that will benefit all of its citizens. I defy any individual, no matter where they sit on the political spectrum, to read Stiglitz’s vision and think that it is the wrong path for our country to take.