William Greider

By Conniff, Ruth | The Progressive, August 2009 | Go to article overview

William Greider


Conniff, Ruth, The Progressive


In his new book, Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country, William Greider distills decades of reporting to explain how the United States reached its current point of crisis and what we have to do to get out of the hole we're in. In his 1989 classic, Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country, Greider warned, presciently, that Wall Street had taken control of the financial regulatory system. The Fed had become so powerful, Greider wrote, that the central bank and Wall Street could direct politics in Washington. "I now think I understated the case," he writes in his new book. "Leave aside Wall Street's greed and reckless overreaching," he writes. "It was mainly the Federal Reserve--sheltered from public scrutiny and protected from political accountability--that engineered America's great shift in fortunes."

In refreshingly readable prose, Greider walks readers through the fundamentals of economics: how "hard money" anti-inflation policies that favor the wealthy hurt ordinary people, how globalization harms workers at home and abroad, and how the Washington Consensus about ruthless capitalism is crumbling.

He has been writing about politics and economics for four decades, for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, The Nation, and in his many books, including The Education of David Stockman, Who Will Tell the People: The Betrayal of American Democracy, and One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism.

In the destruction of conventional economic thinking and the crisis of the U.S. economy, Greider sees an opportunity for a more democratic, equitable system to arise. This optimism seems at odds with the heavy dose of bad news he is doling out.

During two hour-long sessions on the phone from his office in Washington, D.C., he confessed that friends sometimes call him a Pollyanna. "Whenever you are feeling blue and despairing," he said, "call me and I'll pump you up with my loony optimism."

Q: Why this new book?

William Greider: I've been brooding about our economic mess for years. So I finally reached the point, two or three years ago, when I said, "OK, I'm going to try to stand up one more time and try to say to people in clear, simple terms, here's where we are, folks, and let's get real. Even if the government doesn't face it, we need to understand it, just for our own self-protection."

I'm the bag lady on the street corner saying, "Hey, you know what? It doesn't work!"

As I'm writing the book, the financial crisis gets worse and worse and worse, so I no longer have to warn people that bad times are on the way. They are already here. And at the same time, I don't want the gloom and doom to be the central message. I really do believe there's enough consciousness in this country widely scattered, and it's not left or right. It's just people recognizing that things have got to change, people beginning to see the old order is gone, so what do we do now as a country? That's what I wanted really to speak to.

Q: Part of the conventional wisdom you debunk is that inflation is the enemy of most people.

Greider: Inflation is usually associated with dynamic growth. And most people, particularly people who are debtors, will benefit from dynamic growth. If you are a wealth-holder, you may suffer from inflation. That is, your financial assets will lose value. That's why the bondholders are always for hard money and zero inflation if possible. There is this division in the society. A little bit of inflation right now would be really good for the country--especially to relieve the debt pressure on millions of Americans.

Q: You also flout the conventional wisdom that globalization is good for Third World workers.

Greider: I was in China several times when I was reporting One World, Ready or Not, and I was sort of in awe of what the Chinese were doing. And at the same time, I was horrified by the nineteenth-century, brutal confinement of workers to make that go. …

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