T.J. Jackson Lears, professor of history at Rutgers, co-editor of The Power of Culture (Chicago, 1993) and author of Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America (Basic, 1994).
"'The market' is the great deus ex machina of late-twentieth-century social thought. Laissez-faire ideologues invoke it as reverentially as medieval theologians invoked Providence; what's left of the Left accepts the Right's faith in the market's persuasiveness and penetrating power. The most interesting recent books are those that pose the possibility of moving beyond a stance of superstitious awe and, while acknowledging the importance of market forces, also explore the ways that human activities escape the received categories of liberal or Marxist tradition. The Rise of Market Culture: The Textile Trade and French Society, 1750-1900, by William Reddy (Cambridge, 1984), does this by posing the thin abstractions of the market model against the dense textures of human motivations. Karel Capek's War With the Newts (Putnam, 1937), a Czech novel from the 1930s, brilliantly exposes the fear of the natural world at the heart of 'market discipline.'"
Richard Epstein, professor of law at the University of Chicago and author of Simple Rules for a Complex World (Harvard, 1995).
Epstein, a leading free-market theorist, takes a different tack. "The long- term superiority of market institutions over central planning," he notes, "was presciently defended" by F.A. Hayek in The Road to Serfdom (Chicago, 1994), just reissued in a fiftieth-anniversary edition, with an introduction by Milton Friedman. "The strength of Hayek's basic message," Epstein says, "has been confirmed by two recent books, Marvin Olasky's The Tragedy of American Compassion (Regnery Gateway, 1992), which shows that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions, such that the more generous our welfare programs, the more people they have to serve; and Philip Howard's The Death of Common Sense (Random House, 1994), which illustrates with endless and frightening anecdotes how the road to safety is often blocked by the mindless application of regulations adopted in the name of safety."
Donald McCloskey, professor of economics and history at the University of Iowa and author of Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics (Cambridge, 1994).
McCloskey claims, meanwhile, that the real breakthrough would be for writers "to stop treating business as a place of moral idiocy. I was saying to the owner of Great Expectations Books in Evanston, Illinois, that Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks was one of only two European novels since 1848 that treated business and the market as something other than The Other. The fellow standing next to me piped up with, 'Yeah, and the other one is David Lodge's Nice Work (Viking, 1988).' It was exactly the book I had in mind. Iassign it in every economics course I give. As you'd expect from Lodge, it's a comedy about British business and academic life. He's got the business world and even part of technical economics spot on. He doesn't treat his businessman-hero as a new Babbitt. He doesn't treat market forces as outrages against the human spirit. More than any new analysis of capitalism we need new stories, poetry, movies-tales of bourgeois virtue. When the economics and English departments wake up, they'll start giving courses on 'literature and the economy.' The Oxford Book of Money, edited by Kevin Jackson (Oxford, 1995) will be the textbook, unless my upcoming Reading the Economy, uh, dislodges it."
Theda Skocpol, professor of sociology at Harvard and author of Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States (Belknap, 1992).
"My favorite recent book shows that markets are not enough to ensure a decent society, especially for those in the lower half of the educational and income hierarchies. Working Under Different Rules (Russell Sage, 1994), edited by Richard B. Freeman, is a remarkable collection of reporting on a project sponsored by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The United States, we learn, has a vibrant market economy that creates many jobs. But compared with the Japanese and European economies, the U.S. economy has recently generated greater income inequality and more insecurity for workers and families. To get the best social effects out of market capitalism, this research suggests, there need to be governmental social protections, workplace rules, and arrangements for training workers."
Lizabeth Cohen, professor of history at NYU and author of Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939 (Cambridge, 1990).
Cohen says that "my own interest in the market revolves around the expansion and elaboration of a mass consumer market in the post-World War II era. Lynn Spigel's Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America (Chicago, 1992) imaginatively explores how the new technology of television brought the mass consumer culture into the intimacy of the home and forever changed the dynamics of family and domestic life. Alan Brinkley's The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (Knopf, 1995) convincingly argues that this consumer ideal dates back to the New Deal, which promoted a new kind of liberal vision of political economy that rested on encouraging mass consumption and protecting consumers, rather than protecting producers and promoting savings."
Paul E. Johnson, associate professor of history at the University of Utah and author of "The Market Revolution" entry in The Encyclopedia of American Social History (Scribner's, 1993).
Johnson is most enthused by Charles Sellers's The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 (Oxford, 1991). "Conservatives tell us that market society and popular democracy emerged in one libertarian moment in postrevolutionary America," says Johnson. "Charles Sellers, who knows more about these things than just about anyone, argues that Jacksonian democracy arose to defend an egalitarian, though slaveholding and patriarchal, republic against the market and its political imperatives. Despite lazy editing and his own rhetorical excesses, Sellers makes a nuanced synthesis of economy, society, religion, and politics-uncovering a widespread popular suspicion that democracy and the market were at odds."
Julie Nelson, associate professor of economics at UC-Davis, co-editor of Beyond Economic Man: Feminist Theory and Economics (Chicago, 1993), and author of Feminism, Objectivity, and Economics (Routledge, 1995).
Nelson stresses work that expands on the founding insight of Karl Polanyi in his 1944 classic, The Great Transformation: that the market is a social institution, and not only an economic system. "Money is often thought of as a merely homogenizing factor in human affairs. But Viviana Zelizer's The Social Meaning of Money: Pin Money, Paychecks, Poor Relief, and Other Currencies (Basic, 1994) focuses on the distinctions we make between different kinds of cash. People might imbue a royalty payment, say, with different meanings than a paycheck, or construe a housekeeping allowance differently from a relief check. Robert M. Solow's The Labor Market as a Social Institution (Blackwell, 1990) argues that lots of other factors besides supply and demand, such as workers' concern for fairness, enter into the wage-setting process. That's not a very surprising thing for sociologists, but coming from an economist who has won a Nobel Prize, it's something of a breath of fresh air."
Earl Shorris, contributing editor of Harper's Magazine and the author of A Nation of Salesmen: The Tyranny of the Market and the Subversion of Culture (Norton, 1994).
The latest academic works all well and good, says Shorris. But real "critique of market culture has been out of favor in the United States for more than a generation. Most books on the subject are in the nature of technical manuals." When it comes to social criticism, Shorris prefers the practitioners over the theorists: "For a savage, relentlessly cruel picture of the marketers themselves, one can do no better than the Autobiography of Lee Iacocca (Bantam, 1984); Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal (Random House, 1987); and Unconventional Wisdom of Michael Milken."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.