America Beyond Justice:
Critical Review of Peter Temin, The Vanishing Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, MIT Press, 2017
Peter Temin’s ambitious monograph on the recent political history of the USA combines economic data about inequality, a complementary theory of politics, and a consequent discussion of how those politics have produced, and sustain, various negative social effects. It is no accident that the book opens with the economic data. In Temin’s view it is America’s radical inequality, with its persistent inter-woven strand of racism, that explains much else about America’s oligarchic form of government. [Gilens & Page, 2014; Temin, 2017, pp. 71–85, p. 115] (Temin gives his reasons for preferring the term “plutocracy” to “oligarchy”. [Temin, 2017, p. 94]) He believes that the negative social effects of both inequality and oligarchic governance follow ineluctably from Thomas Ferguson’s “investment theory of politics” that Temin endorses in the second part of this book. [Ferguson, 1995]
I will divide this Critical Review as follows: the first section describes some key economic data to provide a context for Temin’s discussion; the second section describes his characterization of his “bi-sectoral” model of the US economy; the third section turns to the key problem of social mobility. The fourth section discusses Temin’s account of the Investment Theory of Politics. Section five discusses the role of private debt in Temin’s argument while while section six addresses some of the broader issues raised by the book….