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Religious Freedom in America
A Sense of Power
Sharing the Work
To Teach
Elements of Discipline
On Democracy
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No Uncle Sam
God, Country, Notre Dame
American Pendulum
In a Queer Voice
The Lincoln Assassination Riddle

Third Wave CapitalismThird Wave Capitalism

How Money, Power, and the Pursuit of Self-Interest Have Imperiled the American Dream

John Ehrenreich

Narrated by James Romick

Available from Audible

Book published by Cornell University Press

In Third Wave Capitalism, John Ehrenreich documents the emergence of a new stage in the history of American capitalism. Just as the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth century gave way to corporate capitalism in the twentieth, recent decades have witnessed corporate capitalism evolving into a new phase, which Ehrenreich calls "Third Wave Capitalism."

Third Wave Capitalism is marked by apparent contradictions: Rapid growth in productivity and lagging wages; fabulous wealth for the 1 percent and the persistence of high levels of poverty; increases in the standard of living and increases in mental illness, personal misery, and political rage; the apotheosis of the individual and the deterioration of democracy; increases in life expectancy and out-of-control medical costs; an African American president and the incarceration of a large percentage of the black population.

Ehrenreich asserts that these phenomena are evidence that a virulent, individualist, winner-take-all ideology and a virtual fusion of government and business have subverted the American dream. Greed and economic inequality reinforce the sense that each of us is “on our own.” The result is widespread lack of faith in collective responses to our common problems. The collapse of any organized opposition to business demands makes political solutions ever more difficult to imagine. Ehrenreich traces the impact of these changes on American health care, school reform, income distribution, racial inequities, and personal emotional distress. Not simply a lament, Ehrenreich's book seeks clues for breaking out of our current stalemate and proposes a strategy to create a new narrative in which change becomes possible.

John Ehrenreich is Professor of Psychology, State University of New York, College at Old Westbury. He is the author of The Altruistic Imagination: A History of Social Work and Social Policy in the United States, and The Humanitarian Companion: A Guide for Aid, Development, and Human Rights Workers. He is coauthor of The American Health Empire: Power, Profits, and Politics and Long March, Short Spring: The Student Uprising at Home and Abroad and editor of The Cultural Crisis of Modern Medicine.


“What ails America? In John Ehrenreich's wide-ranging analysis, growing inequality and political discontent are part of a larger shift toward a new kind of capitalism unconstrained by forces that previously kept it in check, including government, unions, and—here’s a twist—the prosperity of the professional classes. Ehrenreich’s vision of the country’s direction is bleak, but his faith in democratic principles invites hope that the country can restore some semblance of a humane balance.”

—Timothy Noah, author of The Great Divergence

“Questioning both conservative and progressive narratives, John Ehrenreich offers us a fascinating 'long look' at America. Behind us is the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth century and the corporate capitalism of the twentieth. An accumulation of signs of stress signal our arrival, he argues, at Third Wave Capitalism—characterized by the dominance of large global corporations, a growing blur between the private and public sectors, and a ‘me-directed’ narcissistic personality. Sobering, startling, important—a big-think book.”

—Arlie Hochschild, author of The Outsourced Self and So How‚Äôs the Family? and Other Essays

Third Wave Capitalism is a brilliant take on what ails our society and our politics. John Ehrenreich looks beneath and also beyond the conventional explanations of the forces undercutting democracy. By allowing us to understand better, he also allows us to hope.”

—E. J. Dionne Jr., author of Why the Right Went Wrong

“By highlighting the huge role of the nonprofit sector, and especially the 'Eds and Meds' that have become the hope of our devastated industrial cities, John Ehrenreich gives us an entirely distinctive perspective on contemporary American capitalism. No analysis of neoliberal America can be complete without Ehrenreich’s contribution.”

—Frances Fox Piven, Graduate Center of the City University of New York, coauthor with Richard Cloward of Regulating the Poor and Poor People‚Äôs Movements

“In Third Wave Capitalism, John Ehrenreich links themes of poverty, inequality, racial disparities, out-of-control health care costs, and assaults on public education—and explains them in terms of the broad changes in American capitalism over the last half century. A brilliant and subtle analysis!”

—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Bait and Switch and Nickel and Dimed

“John Ehrenreich crisply and meticulously shows that our retrograde politics, grotesque inequalities, and bad national moods are all of a piece; that oligopoly, the systematic gouging away of public services, the blurring of public-private boundaries, and the dampening of public life are elements in the same awful story of power abuse and bad ideas. This is an immensely clarifying book.”

—Todd Gitlin, Columbia University, author of Occupy Nation

“Our nation is confused because the current economy does not behave by the rules of older stages of capitalism. John Ehrenreich tells us this is a new age. In his description of the changes he has written a very valuable book that is that rare thing, useful.”

—Jeffrey Madrick, The Century Foundation, editor of Challenge

“This book is a wonderfully written account of the hyper-individualistic, market-oriented era in which we live, labeled 'Third Wave Capitalism' by the author. By weaving historical narrative, with powerful statistics and personal anecdote, John Ehrenreich describes the growth and impact of the 'medical-industrial complex' on our failing health care delivery system. Collective action challenging corporate control of health care, including single-payer health insurance reform, is the only adequate response.”

—Oliver Fein, Weill Cornell Medicine

Third Wave Capitalism details how the nation's corporate sector’s rapacious profit-seeking has ravaged our health care sector, and is transforming our public schools into reductive market institutions. Anyone committed to more effective health care and education for democracy will find John Ehrenreich’s trenchant analysis indispensable.”

—Norm Fruchter, Senior Scholar, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, author of Urban Schools, Public Will: Making Education Work for All our Children

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University Press Audiobooks