Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

John Miller

Prof. Miller talks about his new book, “Economic Collapse; Economic Change: Getting to the Roots of the Crisis.

The diagnosis. As we see it, the United States had become a very unequal society, with a small group at the top getting most of the benefits of economic growth.  For others, wages were stagnant and the number of people in poverty kept growing.  The rising inequality of recent decades has been tied up with a greater and greater concentration of economic and political power in the hands of the wealthy and with the ascendance of a pernicious leave-it-to-the-market ideology, which has been an instrument of that power.

Assessing the evidence. The tremendous increase in the concentration of income and wealth among the richest one percent over the last forty years is clear in Federal Reserve Board data, Internal Revenue Service data, Census data, and was most recently confirmed by the “non-partisan” Congressional Budget Office.

Fiscal fitness. What is needed today is more public spending not less. The economic stimulus package that was enacted at the outset of the Obama administration was too small and far too reliant on tax reductions – which are often saved instead of spent.

Prescribing health. Universal social programs, best exemplified by a universal health care program, are good things in themselves.  In the context of economic crisis, those programs can also play a positive role in altering the structures of inequality, power and ideology. Providing everyone with healthcare through a public program would have a profound impact on the distribution of income, directly in assuring people of this real benefit and indirectly in protecting people against the huge income losses that can accompany serious illness.

The lesson. George Bernard Shaw, the late nineteenth Irish playwright, once observed that social problems have economic origins. I hope my students come to see that social problems in fact have economic roots and that policies intended to better their lives and lives of most people, both in the United States and around the globe, must address those economic roots.