Meet Thomas Frank

THOMAS FRANKThomas_frank_2012wrecking-ball

Book Recommendation: THE WRECKING CREW By Thomas Frank, Henry Holt publishers, 2009

Occasionally we will be posting book recommendations that are designed to provoke debate, that are related to the political future(s) of the USA, and that may show why progressives are angry at the dysfunction in Washington as—to be sure—conservatives are as well. We welcome enlightened conservative readers’ recommendations of books that have insights.

Frank, author of WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?, a book which asked by so many Americans in Heartland rural states voted against their own economic self interest (so we recommend that book too) gets tough in this book, with a no prisoners approach to Reagan/Bush policies that led to the economic collapse of 2008 and the weakening of federal regulatory agencies. We are furnishing an excerpt from the final chapter, “Gotterdammerung,” without comment in this post, to be followed by a post after we get some reader reactions or at least people have time to read this. It essentially lays the blame for the 2008 economic collapse on conservative Reagan Bush policies, but perhaps is too optimistic that such policies are completely off the radar, even in the Age of Obama:

What the wrecking crew ultimately wrecked was the economy itself. In 2008 the wealth of the world collapsed in a cloud of bad debt— debt that had been issued by unregulated institutions, sold on exchanges that lobbyists had made sure were unsupervised and held by banks overseen by an economy that was so hapless and so industry friendly that it dozed through every alarm.


Now it is probably unfair to lay the blame the financial disaster at the feet of any single federal policy or even one of the two national parties. It is entirely fitting, however, to describe it as a sort of judgment day for the conservative philosophy, shared as it was by leaders in both political parties and by players all across the economy.


Before the fall of 2008, the most acute consequences of rule by an elite dedicated to “inefficiency in government” had mainly befallen limited and distinct groups of people: citizens of New Orleans, union members, Iraqis, people who happened to eat tainted food. moreover, the conservative state’s screw-up’s could each be crowded with an inky squirt of culture war populism or dismissed with the usual rhetoric: See? Government can’t do anything right.


The economic collapse of 2008 was different. It was an effect of the same strategies of misgovernment that had wrecked the EPA and labor department, yes but the consequences now were so vast that virtually no one escaped. Nor could then ruination be brushed off although thousands of conservatives tried. This time the public’s fury would not be diverted: Americans pinned the blame squarely on those who had deserved it and on the individuals who had pushed those ideas along. And so the final casualty of conservatism’s Samson like effort to know down the pillars of the state was the movement itself. By the end of 2008 the economic theories had been and its political fortunes lay in ruins.


The policies that [in 2008] eventually flattened the nation’s banks, insurance companies and investment houses had originally been out in place of course at those very institutions’ request. These industries got what they wanted from Washington, and what they wanted ended up killing them.

2 thoughts on “Meet Thomas Frank

  1. While I don’t agree with everything on this site, the tone of the site is very impressive to me. This site is trending towards enlightened public discourse — people debate various positions. The positions are justified based on facts, data, and philosophy, rather than name calling.

    I do disagree with some of the statements made on this site by some of the authors.
    For instance, some of the authors talk about the widening gap between the rich and the poor. I don’t think I agree with this. The founders of the country were all pretty rich. A wide gap existed between rich and poor at that time. However, the poor could become rich based on their own efforts, not aid by government.

    That condition still exists today. Lots of people go from poor to rich by their own efforts and not through transfer payments from governments. Don’t believe me — look at all the very wealthy hip hop artists. Many of them started our dirt poor in ghettos. They focused their anger into non-destructive forms of income generation. They are among those extreme wealthy rich.

    A person can help himself up from the ranks of the poor to the ranks of the rich. He may need help in the form of financial aid for education, but the rising out of the ghetto is accomplished by his OWN EFFORTS of obtaining an education in a useful subject, then getting a job, not by continuous and unending transfer payments of private wealth.

    Not only is this how I feel, but this is an example of rational public discourse. I am not calling anyone names, I am not taking a party line. I am using specific examples to show that the barriers to wealth really do not exist, as claimed by posters to this blog.

    Just so you know, I have a PhD in Applied Math. I have a rigorous traditional economics background. I have worked in my own small businesses, and medium and large businesses in positions of control. I am self made and independent. In order to get my degrees and whatever wealth I have accumulated. I STARTED WITH NOTHING, I took some scholarships, some loans, but mostly worked. I paid back ALL of the loans with interest. Everyone who has hired me over the years has made far more off my efforts that I made. I focus on issues and their solutions, not rhetoric.


  2. Welcome aboard, Bruce. Now if I could just get more of my other friends and colleagues, and eventually other “higher level of discourse” folks to join the party, I’d be satisfied. I get what you say here about a lot of traditional and even current evidence of class mobility being part of the American way of doing things. What I think Frank, Reich, Krugman, and I (impressive company!) are worried about is the trending toward actual numbers showing movement toward dramatically increased shares of the wealth moving into the top 1% or 10% and emptying out of the bottom 50 rpt 50%.

    My favorite numbers that underscore this are often cited– I’m not going to document them here, but it’s not hard to do– that the top 1% of the population have about 20% of the wealth and the top 10% between 40 and 45% of the US wealth (not just income). The bottom 50% have about 13% of the wealth. These disparities have not been witnessed in this century nor the one preceding. You have to go back to the late 19th C.

    And by this standard, incidentally, the NINE % of the TEN% wealthiest not in the ONE% might be a little irritated (only theoretically) that THEIR share of the income is about 50-50 even though they are 90% of the top TEN%!!!… That said, there are certainly still a lot of individual success stories– more here than most places, of people making not only the rags to riches move, but the more modest “several rungs on the economic ladder” move.


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