PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS £19.99 (379pp) £17.95 (free p&p per order) from 0870 079 8897

More Equal Than Others by Godfrey Hodgson

How the rich stole the dream




This book is "an attempt to understand what has happened in the United States over the last quarter of the 20th century". It is a most successful attempt: the most thoughtful, thorough and sorrowful book imaginable on what has happened in these years. Godfrey Hodgson has been in the US as a British journalist for most of his career. He loves the older America and knows its history. He quotes Jefferson in 1812 - "And so we have gone on, and so we will go on, puzzled and prospering beyond example in the history of man" - but gives us cause to dread those who are not puzzled.

He paints a clear picture of the triumphalism of recent years. Yes, a lot to be triumphant about: technological innovation or, even when imported, rapid implementation, and unprecedented national wealth. But within that wealth, the gap increased not just between rich and poor - in the Clinton period (despite the rhetoric) as much as in that of Bush senior - but also between the middle classes and the millionaires. From 1981 to 1993, the median US wage-earner's income fell by 5 per cent in real terms. The income of the top 5 per cent of taxpayers rose by 30 per cent. Clinton only slightly slowed the increasing disparity.

Myths abound. Has not the old ideal of the America of the common man been replaced by the reality of a share-holding capitalist democracy, Reagan-Thatcherism? Not so, or rather, that's almost exactly a half-truth: 48.2 per cent of Americans own stocks, but only 36.3 per cent own stock worth more than $5,000, even including pension schemes. In 1999, "average wages were actually 10 per cent lower than in 1973", and if the median family income was a princely $285 a year higher, that was only because more family members were working, and working longer hours.

Hodgson sees the whole period as a reaction to the days of Kennedy and Johnson's "Great Society". Now capitalism and democracy are synonymous to too many. Memories of the New Deal were once strong both in the Democratic Party and the public mind. Of course, the New Deal was there to save capitalism, from itself; but Hodgson shows in grim detail the gerrymandering of the tax system to benefit the rich and the dramatic bonfire of the controls needed to make free markets tolerable.

The older American beliefs may still have enough power, depending on election results, to turn the US back from what he sees as something very like the oppressive European class system of the 1920s. "This country", he quotes Theodore Roosevelt in a previous era of capitalist triumphalism, "will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for us all to live in."

It is a long time since Tocqueville could say in the 1830s that "nothing struck me more forcibly than the general equality of condition among people". But Hodgson remembers from his long years in the US, as I do from a decade earlier, that this leavening myth was still current among both the plain people and the well-educated. He is both philosophically sceptical and statis- tically damning about the reality of "equality of opportunity". And he shrewdly ob- serves that one big restraint on liberal rhetoric aimed at the disadvantaged majority of Americans is the need to raise huge campaign funds.

Hodgson's sombre and profound book relates all this to the old unstable American oscillations of "final interventions" in the unwanted outside world, followed by isolationism. Our leaders should read More Equal Than Others if they still need convincing of the dangers of tying ourselves closely to the volatility of American politics, rather than to the long-term needs of our European economy, heritage and future.

Sir Bernard Crick's political essays, 'Crossing Borders', are published by Continuum

Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments