Faith in the free market - the idea that, for instance, profit-seeking managed care companies will improve the health care delivery system - has become a basic tenet of public policy debate. But as Joel Blau demonstrates in this eye-opening book, so-called "free market" programmes have been a dismal failure, heightening inequality, lowering the median standard of living, and steadily eroding the quality of our social and political life. In Illusions of Prosperity, Blau launches a far-reaching assault on the idea that "the market" knows best. Blau writes that while the share of the national income held by the bottom four fifths of the population (the poor and broad middle class combined) has continued to decline, the top fifth gained 97 percent of the increase in total household income between 1979 and 1994. "Few experiments," Blau comments, "yield such clear outcomes. Although many had hoped to benefit from the new market economy, this affluent fifth is the only segment of the population that truly has."
Blau looks at recent reforms in NAFTA, education, job training, welfare, and much more, showing that the new social policies have made matters worse, because reforms that rely on the market can't compensate for the market's deficiencies. Instead, he calls for a stronger, more caring government to counter the debilitating effects of the market, and he urges the development of the broadest possible political alliances to ensure economic security. Sure to raise controversy, Illusions of Prosperity turns today's conventional wisdom inside out, making a profound case for the importance of a strong government in a world where markets do not have all the answers.