Review: ‘Third Wave Capitalism’ by John Ehrenreich

Third Wave Capitalism

How Money, Power, and the Pursuit of Self-Interest Have Imperiled the American Dream

by John Ehrenreich



In Third Wave Capitalism, John Ehrenreich documents the emergence of a new stage in the history of American capitalism. Just as the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth century gave way to corporate capitalism in the twentieth, recent decades have witnessed corporate capitalism evolving into a new phase, which Ehrenreich calls “Third Wave Capitalism.”

Third Wave Capitalism is marked by apparent contradictions: Rapid growth in productivity and lagging wages; fabulous wealth for the 1 percent and the persistence of high levels of poverty; increases in the standard of living and increases in mental illness, personal misery, and political rage; the apotheosis of the individual and the deterioration of democracy; increases in life expectancy and out-of-control medical costs; an African American president and the incarceration of a large percentage of the black population.

Ehrenreich asserts that these phenomena are evidence that a virulent, individualist, winner-take-all ideology and a virtual fusion of government and business have subverted the American dream. Greed and economic inequality reinforce the sense that each of us is “on our own.” The result is widespread lack of faith in collective responses to our common problems. The collapse of any organized opposition to business demands makes political solutions ever more difficult to imagine. Ehrenreich traces the impact of these changes on American health care, school reform, income distribution, racial inequities, and personal emotional distress. Not simply a lament, Ehrenreich’s book seeks clues for breaking out of our current stalemate and proposes a strategy to create a new narrative in which change becomes possible.

My Review

As a synthesis of the impact of modern capitalism on U.S. health care, school reform, income distribution, racial inequities, and mental health, this book is fascinating and informative.

It is also highly disturbing; a wealthy nation where people die of treatable diseases because they can’t afford health care, where teachers are blamed for the effects of poverty on their students, where though technically illegal, segregation in housing and education is still the norm, where people pretend that it isn’t all connected but each individual’s fault if they haven’t managed to achieve the ‘American Dream’. Ehrenreich’s solutions are sprinkled throughout the chapters, but all add up to a series of sensible suggestions for an equitable society.

I definitely recommend reading this book if you want to understand U.S. society. It can be hard work at times but well worth the effort to gain that understanding.


Published by

R Cawkwell

Hi I'm Rosemarie and I like to write. I write short stories and longer fiction, poetry and occasionally articles. I'm working on quite a few things at the minute and wouldn't mind one day actually getting published in print.

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