RecensionsBook Reviews

Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History, By Kurt Andersen (2020) New York: Random House, 464 pages. ISBN: 978-1984-801-340.

  • Jeffrey Muldoon

…more information

  • Jeffrey Muldoon
    Professor, School of Business, Emporia State University, United States

Access to this article is restricted to subscribers. Only the first 600 words of this article will be displayed.

Access options:

  • Institutional access. If you are a member of one of Érudit's 1,200 library subscribers or partners (university and college libraries, public libraries, research centers, etc.), you can log in through your library's digital resource portal. If your institution is not a subscriber, you can let them know that you are interested in Érudit and this journal by clicking on the "Access options" button.

  • Individual access. Some journals offer individual digital subscriptions. Log in if you already have a subscription or click on the “Access options” button for details about individual subscriptions.

As part of Érudit's commitment to open access, only the most recent issues of this journal are restricted. All of its archives can be freely consulted on the platform.

Access options
Cover of Volume 76, Number 1, Winter 2021, pp. 3-176, Relations industrielles / Industrial Relations

Kurt Andersen’s book Evil Geniuses is a flawed, highly partisan and ideological book. Andersen is a gifted, talented writer, with the skills to make difficult topics understandable for the average person. Befitting Andersen’s skills as a novelist, the book is an easy read. Furthermore, the book has several strengths. One, it is evocative of a larger intellectual trend: the radicalization of moderates. Two, the book is so well done that those people who support Andersen’s thesis will enjoy reading it. However, the book suffers from several defects. The thesis of the book is that the American economic picture has declined noticeably since the 1970s given the increase in economic inequality. While this is a sustainable thesis, as free market economics is a popular target, the book, nevertheless falls flat. Andersen has written a book on economics that does not mention stagflation in the index and receives only a passing mention. Accordingly, the book is difficult to take seriously because it is so one sided in its argumentation. Andersen’s thesis is that the American economy was doing great after 1945: alas, John Maynard Keynes and Franklin Roosevelt solved the issue of the economy. Now everyone was middle class. Big Business looked out for the little guy, and everyone was happy. Then the Vietnam War happened, and an evil man named Milton Friedman wrote an article in the New York Times attacking corporate social responsibility and, then, a cabal of evil men changed the culture, dooming the New Deal and unmaking the American dream. The 1970s were a bad decade. There is no arguing this point. Andersen’s argument that America’s peak of economic equality occurred during this time is ridiculous; he concedes that inflation was out of control. This occurred because the mainstream economic policy tools at the time were not able to deal with the issues that arose in the 1970s. When my parents purchased their home in 1977, the interest rate was 13 percent. The collapse of the New Order could not have occurred without stagflation. This is like writing a play without the villain appearing on stage. This book contains several logical, factual and conceptual errors. So much so that there are too many to list here. The book contains little sense of the existing literature in business, economics, history, or politics. Some illustrative examples are warranted. Andersen compares Reagan’s two presidential victories and notes they pale in comparison with the success of the Democratic Party in the 1930s. However, Andersen fails to note that the Congresses elected during Reagan’s time were conservative in nature, not Republican—part of the reason is incumbency. Given the structure of modern politics, it is rare for incumbents to lose. When older Democrats retired, especially in the South, they were replaced by Republicans. In addition, an ideology like conservatism is not attached to any one party. For example, the New Deal ended around 1938 as a vibrant political force due to a bipartisan conservative coalition. One can argue that the New Deal’s destructive economic policies ended with the Keynesian Synthesis. Additionally, the argument is that Milton Friedman’s work on corporate social responsibility (CSR) led to great change is elegant but flawed. He gets Friedman’s work wrong on multiple issues. CSR was always debatable—even today, when scholars still find issues with it: particularly agency problems. Friedman would not have supported Mr. Potter of It’s a Wonderful Life. Rather than interpreting it as a liberal movie, Capra’s masterpiece could equally be read as a conservative celebration of a small business fighting against the combination of big business and big government. Likewise, Friedman would have …