Since 2004, UFPPC has held a weekly book discussion group in Tacoma's Mandolin Café.  --  The group is currently reading Kevin Phillips's Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism (Viking, April 2008) along with Charles Morris's The Trillion Dollar Meltdown (PublicAffairs, March 2008).  --  In five initial reviews of Bad Money Kevin Phillips's latest volume is getting a remarkably respectful and favorable reception.[1] ...


By Mark Jensen

United for Peace of Pierce County (WA)
May 6, 2008

UFPPC's Monday evening book discussion group, Digging Deeper, began its exploration of Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism (Viking, April 2008) last night and at 7:00 p.m. on Mon., May 12, will spend another session on that book and a comparable volume -- Charles Morris's The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Credit, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash (PublicAffairs, March 2008).

Phillips, of course, is the better known author. His extraordinary record as a political prognosticator over the past four decades, beginning with The Emerging Republican Majority in 1969, gives added weight to his words. And the harsh criticism of the Republican Party by a man who was once a key strategist for the GOP has given him a broad audience among the American book-reading public. Bad Money is currently on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list (#7 on May 4, #8 on May 11), and Phillips is on a book tour, spreading the news that what may be the "global crisis of American crisis" may have begun in August 2007. Kevin Phillips spoke twice in Seattle on Apr. 30.

The beginning of Digging Deeper XLVII was an occasion to examine the reception of Bad Money. So far, they're remarkable strong. Here's a collection of evaluations culled from five recent reviews.

TIMOTHY RUTTEN: 'A kind of electoral cri de coeur'

Writing on April 16 in the Los Angeles Times, Timothy Rutten said that Bad Money "would be sobering enough if it were the first we'd ever heard from him." But "[w]hen you take into account how often he's been right in the past, this 14th volume in his continuing commentary on the American condition becomes positively alarming. . . . reads as kind of an electoral cri de coeur . . . Phillips doesn't hold out much hope that either party is willing to address the roots of the crisis. . . . The fact that much of Bad Money feels ripped from this morning's headlines adds to its sense of urgent relevance. It also gives stretches of Phillips' argument a rather rushed, uncharacteristically first-draft quality."

BARRY GEWEN: 'Something has gone terribly wrong'

Barry Gewen's review on Apr. 21 in the New York Times was reprinted in the International Herald Tribune the next day. "[T]here is no gloomier prophet than Kevin Phillips," Gewen wrote. "Phillips sees a perfect economic storm coming. . . . Phillips says he is making no predictions, but that's not quite true. Throughout his book, he tends to lean on the darkest analyses, though others might be less grim. And as readers of his earlier books know, he has a penchant for seeing parallels between the current situation in the United States and the declines of 17th-century Spain, the 18th-century Dutch Republic and early-20th-century Britain. . . . It's hard not to feel that Phillips's argument has been shaped not only by his facts but also by his temperament. Still, even if his pessimism doesn't seem wholly warranted, a sense of foreboding surely is, which is why his warnings have to be taken seriously. . . . [S]omething has gone terribly wrong."

GLENN ALTSCHULER: Phillips 'believes the crisis of American capitalism has begun'

The first review out of the block was by Glenn Altschuler on Apr. 6 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Altschuler exaggerated a bit when he said that Phillips "believes that the crisis of American capitalism has begun," calling Bad Money "a primer in economics, detailed but not dull, accessible to the uninitiated, and useful to the already well-informed."

JAMES PRESSLEY: 'Betting the nation's future on finance'

James Pressley reviewed Bad Money for Bloomberg News on Apr. 21, and emphasized the books political dimension: "What sets Bad Money apart from a stack of recent books on these topics is its emphasis on the symbiotic relationship between politicians and big money. . . . In Phillips's view, U.S. politicians have made the fatal error of betting the nation's future on finance. . . . The book repeats ideas that Phillips has written about before. . . . What can be done? Phillips is frustratingly short on solutions, though he suggests that the U.S. could -- like Germany, Japan and Switzerland -- focus on high-value-added manufacturing. He also offers this 'hopeful context': 'Spain, Holland and Britain are far more prosperous today than they were at the heights of their global reach.'"

DAVID NIEWERT: 'In for a long, rough economic ride that will take many, many years to fix'

Finally, a review on the web site Fire Dog Lake on Apr. 16 by David Neiwert called attention to some of Phillips's detractors. "Kevin Phillips has had his share of detractors," Niewert began. "David Brooks once devoted an entire column to attacking his work, calling him a 'conspiracist' who embodies 'a strain of paranoia running through American politics' (you can see Phillips' devastating reply here). His previous book, American Theocracy, was attacked by the Heritage Foundation's Joseph Loconte as being rife with 'irrational, fantastical, near-nativist charges.' . . . The problem for these critics is a simple one: Phillips also has a remarkably long record of being right. . .&nbnsp;. Now, if Bad Money is right, both conservatives and liberals (and everyone in between and around them) are in for a long, rough economic ride that will take many, many years to fix. . . . Bad Money is a thorough and carefully documented -- as well as carefully thought-out -- examination of our current economic position. . . . Some of the contents of Bad Money will be controversial, at least for those who like to accuse Phillips of 'conspiracism' -- the Working Group material particularly, regardless of how thorough and careful Phillips has been. But these are not 'conspiracies' in the least: the activities he describes are fully a matter of public record. . . . [A]s much as there is here for progressives to seize upon, it is not an unadulterated delight for liberals (Phillips' books never are, though American Dynasty was still a pleasure for this longtime Bush watcher). . . . Bad Money is an important warning about our precarious state that we'd all do well to heed."