Michael A. McCarthy

Dismantling Solidarity

Capitalist Politics and American Pensions since the New Deal

Cornell University Press 2017

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in PoliticsNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Public PolicyNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network April 7, 2017 Sarah E. Patterson

Over half of Americans approaching retirement age report having no money saved for retirement, but how did we get here as a nation? In...

Over half of Americans approaching retirement age report having no money saved for retirement, but how did we get here as a nation? In his book, Dismantling Solidarity: Capitalist Politics and American Pensions since the New Deal (ILR/Cornell University Press, 2017) Dr. Michael A. McCarthy takes the reader through the historical background of the U.S. pension system. He breaks down the development of the current system into three parts: the spread of employer based private pensions, the financialization and investment of pension funds into the stock market, and the replacement of traditional pension plans with 401(k) retirement plans. McCarthy argues that pensions have moved from being solidaristic, or relying on social systems, to increasingly being tied to risky capitalist markets. Using a rich set of historical archives, he explains how changes in the pension system usually came about in response to economic pressures, for example the end of World War II. By providing examples throughout the book, he delves deeper into how the current pension system developed within a capitalist context, noting how many of the changes to the system were unintentional or secondary to other factors at hand. One of the key pieces of the book that makes this a clear example of Sociology is the important attention McCarthy pays to the fact that the pension system has become a system of social stratification, meaning those who need pensions the most are the least likely to have them. This book would be good for a variety of audiences including sociologists broadly, policy makers, historians, and political scientists. By providing a historical frame to the current U.S. pension system, McCarthy helps the reader understand how we got here and where we might be headed.

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