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April 19, 1987|Paul Richter

BEYOND OUR MEANS by Alfred Malabre (Random House: $13.95; 162 pp.). Americans have overborrowed and overconsumed since the New Deal, but this long feast of self-indulgence may soon come to a disastrous end, warns the economics editor of the Wall Street Journal. With the thoroughness evident in the Journal's economics columns, Malabre details how consumer debts have piled ever higher, as corporations have "leveraged" themselves to the smokestack, and the U.S. Treasury has sold bonds until the United States is nearly the world's largest debtor.

The problem is a moral one, Malabre believes. As individuals, we can't resist each new credit card that comes in the mail. As a nation, we don't have the political will to tax more and spend less. Ronald Reagan promised to restore fiscal soundness; six years later, his Administration "provides an extreme, even grotesque, illustration of our collective abandon," the author writes.

Malabre recalls approvingly his grandfather's day, when an upright man worked day and night without the prospect of government "entitlements." Malabre's view of the past is nostalgic, and his view of the present is harsh. Many readers will find his conclusions familiar.

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