MixedThe New Republic... unrelenting in its assault on the facade of the country’s meritocratic order. But the book has a harder time showing what is new about much of this. The wealthy were perfectly capable of separating themselves from the masses throughout the nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth. Schwartz acknowledges, in a section exploring segmentation on cruise ships, that the Titanic was far more rigidly hierarchical than any ship today. He accepts that the wealthy have long had access to better medical care, to private rooms in hospitals, and to the most admired doctors. But a note of nostalgia seeps through his analysis, as he harks back to an ill-defined age when American life was not as stratified, when the private sector worked in greater harmony with the public interest ... When was that time? Schwartz doesn’t say exactly, though the reader assumes that his elusive golden age maps onto the decades between World War II and the 1970s, when economic growth in the United States was broadly shared among labor and capital ... In his breathless recounting of present ills, Schwartz is probably guilty of misplacing the historical emphasis. Perhaps it isn’t the current economy that is an aberration, but rather the more egalitarian economy that for a short while preceded it, one that was produced by particular material circumstances (the aftermath of World War II) and political will (the desire on both sides of the Atlantic to curb the influence of private interests over the public weal, in part to dampen the appeal of more radical, socialist politics)...Schwartz never demonstrates that the velvet rope economy amounts to a change in kind, rather than just a change in degree or, worse, the logical continuation of two centuries of free-market liberalism ... might have benefited from looking beyond the United States ... what Schwartz offers in admirable detail is a portrait of disarticulation in the United States ... Schwartz’s tour of the modern economy is a study of not just how the market carves consumers into separate tribal groups, but of how it can create countries within countries whose borders—however velvet—are incontrovertibly real.
PositiveThe NationPoonam profiles several young men whose aspirations belie their circumstances and whose thirst for recognition seems at times all-consuming ... Dreamers takes for granted that it’s already too late for millions upon millions of young people, that no economic miracle will scoop them up smoothly from poverty and obscurity. What interests Poonam is how they make do in the absence of an economy that works for them, the ways they try to make better or at least bigger lives for themselves ... Poonam might have arrived at a somewhat different picture of this restless generation had she spent time in other parts of the country like the south, where the BJP is much less popular, and where religious communities live in considerably greater harmony. A country of India’s size is always more than its heartland.