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Markets and Majorities

Markets and Majorities

America's government intervenes in almost every aspect of its citizens' daily lives. From the air we breathe, to our health, wealth, and security, Americans wade through a vast political ocean. Unfortunately, we do so blindly; few Americans understand how or why our government regulates the market mechanisms that surround us. In Markets and Majorities, Steven Sheffrin addresses essential yet overlooked questions about political intervention in economic spheres. Why should we trust the government to clean our air? How do we know what to define as clean? What kind of health insurance business will the government run? What are the dangers of publicly financed doctors?

Sheffrin first explains traditional theories of market failure, used to justify intervention. He then combines the crucial question of political viability with the fascinating particulars of policy histories. Sheffrin applies such analysis to the areas of health care, social security, environmental policy, product liability, trade policy, and fiscal and budgetary policy. He argues that beneath each area lies a unique calculus of market failure and political pressures, and convincingly demonstrates that no single policy can be understood out of economic and political context. In short, the fact that markets may fail does not guarantee that politics will succeed. By examining both sides of each policy area, Sheffrin's careful review of our national policy-making reveals a minefield where, in many cases, politics cannot help but fail as badly as markets. However, he shows that all is not lost, citing, among other examples, political intervention in the medical industry as the only hope of stopping hospitals from competitive purchases of useless technology.

Markets and Majorities is must reading for anyone who has ever wondered why government just can't seem to get things done, as well as anyone who has asked why it should try in the first place.
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  • Free Press | 
  • 285 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451602500 | 
  • June 2010
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


When Markets Fail

Lecturing in Eastern Europe in the autumn of 1989, I was asked in a reproachful way why I did not urge the economics of Professor Friedrich Hayek as the alternative to the economic system there so obviously failing. I replied that this was not a design which, in its rejection of regulatory, welfare, or other ameliorating actions by the state, we in the United States or elsewhere in the nonsocialist world would find tolerable.

John Kenneth Galbraith

The end of the 1980s and the early 1990s marked a victory for democratic society around the world. Dictators in... see more

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