Measuring Inequality

The Big Con
The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics
Jonathan Chait
Houghton Mifflin Company, $25, 304 pp.

Jonathan Chait is a senior editor of the New Republic and a widely published political columnist. His first book, The Big Con, is a highly readable denunciation of the Bush administration’s economic programs. Reading it, in fact, puts one in a rather good mood, for with the president’s current approval rating lower than that of any president tracked, and with local Republican candidates anxiously distancing themselves from the administration, it feels like a chronicle of lamentable events from some recent past—depressing to dwell on, perhaps, but very much over.

One can excoriate George W. Bush for incompetence, but never for inconsistency. Just as his foreign policy was almost wholly subordinate to the goal of subduing Iraq, his economic policies seem to have had only two objectives—cutting taxes as much as possible, and putting business interests in control of the federal regulatory apparatus.

While Chait offers some brisk pages on the lobbyists’ takeover of official Washington, his main focus is on taxes, and especially on the singlemindedness with which the administration “sharply cut the proportion of taxes paid by those at the top and therefore raised the proportion paid by those elsewhere.” All of this is consistent “with Republican thought over the last few decades, which has agitated fiercely against the most progressive taxes and left alone the most regressive...

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About the Author

Charles R. Morris, a Commonweal columnist, is the author of The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown (Public Affairs), among other books, and is a fellow at the Century Foundation.