'Capitalism in America'

Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge, Penguin, 486 pages, $35. At age 92, Alan Greenspan remains a towering figure in American finance. As the second-longest serving chairman of the Federal Reserve, he achieved an unprecedented level of celebrity as stocks soared to record levels in the 1990s, and then notoriety, as his legacy was undermined by the Great Recession that began two years after he left office. That a lifelong champion of free markets and an early acolyte of philosopher Ayn Rand could so successfully straddle the political spectrum for so long is a testament to the bipartisan free-market ideology that followed the end of the Cold War. At the time it all seemed like the ultimate triumph of democratic capitalism. Now, 10 years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers provoked a global financial panic and led to what Greenspan refers to as "the great stagnation," it begs for more interpretation. Less a conventional history than an extended polemic, "Capitalism in America: A History," by Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge, a columnist and editor for the Economist, explores and ultimately celebrates the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter's concept of "creative destruction," which the authors describe as a "perennial gale" that "uproots businesses — and lives — but that, in the process, creates a more productive economy." Both its interpretation of economic history and its recipe for revival, the book is likely to offend the dominant Trump wing of the Republican Party and the resurgent left among Democrats. It's not clear who, if anyone, will pick up the Greenspan torch.