Business bookshelf: 'Down the Up Escalator'

  • Article by: Los Angeles Times
  • Updated: March 30, 2013 - 11:33 AM

In the official estimation of government economists, the Great Recession ended in 2009. But in Barbara Garson’s new book, it lives on. And for the people whose stories she tells, the Great Recession may never die.

“Down the Up Escalator” is best read as a kind of travelogue through a beaten-down but-not-broken United States. Garson interviews call-center operators, boutique saleswomen and mortgage brokers. To all she is a generous, open-minded listener. The book is most noteworthy as a record of Americans’ emotional reactions to the new economic truths, including the feeling that it isn’t our right to get rich easy; and the realization that justice and fairness are not necessarily hard-wired into the American economy.

“Down the Up Escalator” is an insightful account of the changes that have swept through an America where good, hardworking people are learning to make do with less money, less opportunity and less free time.

Garson notes, again and again, the way employers and financiers benefit and profit from recessions. Each downturn, she illustrates persuasively, ends with a bit more American wealth shifted upward.

Only one of Garson’s subjects suggests a radical solution, saying that one day people might “storm the White House” in anger. Most simply adapt to their new realities. They decide, for instance, to have one less child. Or they take jobs they never imagined doing, like Tracy, a woman with a law degree who finds herself doing construction work.

“How many more recessions and jobless recoveries can we cycle through?” Garson asks near the end of “Down the Up Escalator.” “How many times can we emerge with the rich richer, the poor poorer ...?”

Garson knows these are questions she can’t answer. Instead, her book makes it clear that with each new crisis the American people will survive by digging deeper into their supplies of creativity, courage and humor.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

  • Down the Up Escalator

    Barbara Garson, Doubleday, 288 pages, $26.95
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