“Economy, n. Purchasing the barrel of whiskey that you do not need for the price of the cow that you cannot afford.”
“That was the summer of seventy-three,” writes Forrest McDonald. “Remember it well, and cherish the memory, for things will never be that good again.” This is from his little book The Phaeton Ride: The Crisis of American Success, which should be studied by everybody who wants to understand the American system of political economy that we sometimes call democratic capitalism. It is supposed to produce freedom, prosperity, and happiness—and to be exportable by example, persuasion, and force, all of which we have used with great enthusiasm, not very often with intended results.
Yet the harder we have tried to make the system uniform and efficient at home (primarily through public and private “partnership”), and the harder we have tried to export it, the less Americans seem to like it. What we might call the Ben Wattenberg School of Optimism has touched off a cottage industry of pep-talk literature that has consumed millions of trees but seems to have persuaded few Americans that things are any better than they were in ’73.
One of the more interesting contributions to Wattenbergianism...