In This Review

Myths of Rich and Poor: Why We're Better Off Than We Think
Myths of Rich and Poor: Why We're Better Off Than We Think
By W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm
Basic Books, 1999, 256 pp.

Feeling glum about the American economy? This exercise in triumphalism will cheer you up -- not with respect to other countries, but with respect to America's own past. The basic theme, written in lay terms but with economic sophistication, is that the "good old days" are now. The U.S. economy delivers to the typical household an abundance of goods, services, and (yes) leisure never seen before -- and with less pollution and greater safety in the workplace. Americans below the poverty line in the mid-1990s had a material standard of living similar to that of middle-class Americans 25 years earlier. True, many layoffs occur, and some jobs are destroyed forever. Despite the resulting hardship and anxiety, however, the destruction of existing jobs is a necessary consequence of technological progress in the presence of economic competition. It is precisely this process that has provided ever-increasing standards of living for the average person. Prosperity in other countries, the authors argue, far from being fearsome, contributes to American prosperity. This fact-filled paean to the productive powers of American capitalism serves up a substantial challenge to economic doomsayers.