'Bold Endeavors' tells how feds can fix economy by spending

The land where the canal was built is in Panama, which rose in revolt against neighboring Colombia on Nov. 3, 1903. To gain access to a strip of land across the Isthmus of Panama, the U.S. fomented that revolution, a bold endeavor indeed but hardly one of America's finest hours.

The book's major flaw is a lack of analysis, taking readers for granted by offering conclusions without the benefit of argument. Past governments made huge, risky bets on infrastructure, and those bets paid out — so perhaps the Obama administration should do the same. That's the implied argument here.

But not everyone agrees that the New Deal or projects like rural electrification were responsible for economic recovery or the continued financial strength of America. Some even think these expenditures hurt the nation or should have been undertaken by private enterprise.

A few pages of discussion about the strength or weakness of these positions would have provided some analytical heft.

Rohatyn's most compelling material comes in the epilogue and author's note. Here is a concrete discussion of the state of America's infrastructure woes and his role in saving New York City from bankruptcy.

As a survey of 10 of the biggest federal projects in American history, Bold Endeavors is a good overview. But the book is unlikely to sway opinion on the current economic debate — on whether the best course for America is cutting taxes and relying on free markets or financing major projects and bolstering regulations.

Russ Juskalian is a freelance writer based in New York

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