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Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea Paperback – 2 Jan 2015

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (2 Jan. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199389446
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199389445
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 2.8 x 14 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 25,355 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

excellent... timely... illuminating (Political Studies Review, Liam Stanley)

A must-read (ACEMAXX-ANALYTICS)

One of the especially good things in Mark Blyth's Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea is the way he traces the rise and fall of the idea of 'expansionary austerity', the proposition that cutting spending would actually lead to higher output. As Blyth documents, this idea 'spread like wildfire.' (Paul Krugman, The New York Review of Books)

An important polemic... valid and compelling. (Lawrence Summers, Financial Times)

Mark Blyth has written a clever, well-argued book that we should all read. (The Friend)

Essential reading... The economy is much too important to leave to economists. We need to understand how ideas shape it, and Blyth's new book provides an excellent starting point. (Washington Monthly)

Splendid new book. (Martin Wolf, Financial Times)

Austerity is an economic policy strategy, but is also an ideology and an approach to economic management freighted with politics. In this book Mark Blyth uncovers these successive strata. In doing so he wields his spade in a way that shows no patience for fools and foolishness. (Barry Eichengreen, George C. Pardee and Helen N. Pardee Professor of Economics and Political Science University of California, Berkeley)

Of all the zombie ideas that have been reanimated in the wake of the global financial crisis, austerity is the most dangerous. Mark Blyth shows how austerity created the disasters of the 1930s, and contributed to the descent of the world into global war. He shows how European austerity policies have prevented any recovery from the crisis of 2009, while rescuing and protecting the banks and financial institutions that created the crisis. An essential guide for anyone who wants to understand the current depression. (John Quiggin, author of Zombie Economics)

Most fascinating is the author's discussion of the historical underpinnings of austerity, first formulated by Enlightenment thinkers Locke, Hume and Adam Smith, around the (good) idea of parsimony and the (bad) idea of debt. Ultimately, writes Blyth, austerity is a 'zombie economic idea because it has been disproven time and again, but it just keeps coming. A clear explanation of a complicated, and severely flawed, idea. (Kirkus Reviews)

Informed, passionate. (Dissent Magazine)

Mark Blyth's fascinating analysis guides the reader through 'the historical ideology which has classified debt as problematic.' In doing so he outlines the relevance of century-old debates between the advocates and opponents of laissez faire, and explains why, after a brief reemergence in 2008-09, and despite the lack of evidence supporting austerity, the world turned its back on Keynesian policies. (Robert Skidelsky, author of Keynes: The Return of the Master)

Among all the calamities spawned by the global financial crisis, none was as easily avoidable as the idea that austerity policies were the only way out. In this feisty book, noted political scientist Mark Blyth covers new territory by recounting the intellectual history of this failed idea and how it came to exert a hold on the imagination of economists and politicians. It is an indication of the sorry state of macroeconomics that it takes a political scientist to expose so thoroughly one of the economics profession's most dangerous delusions. (Dani Rodrik, Rafiq Hariri Professor of International Political Economy, The John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University)

About the Author


Mark Blyth is Professor of International Political Economy at Brown University. He is the author of Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century.


Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If this book is representative of his other work, Mark Blyth possesses that rare quality in an economist of being able to distill the concepts of his field into an easy to read and comprehend format. In the current book he focuses on austerity, the poster child economic ideaof our post 2008 time and takes the reader on a journey of its intellectual / theoretical background, covers the factual support for its success from prior real life applications and finally offers both some conclusions on the likelihood of it succeeding, as well as on possible alternative futures.

As is apprent from the title, there is not a neoliberal bone in the author's body. While some may call him an unashamed Keynesian, he has the (to some) annoying characteristic of working both the economic literature and the real life factual examples down to the bottom line, which often leaves the austerity arguments severely wanting. He also clearly points out the redistribution aspects of the austerity message - and not in a Marxist manner - and how those affect the popularity of the policy.

The book is built up around several main facets. The first one being that the current predicament came about as a result of a banking crisis and not of public spending running amok (with the exception of Greece). This then led to the 'too big to fail' meme in the US and the consequent state bailout. In Europe some countries drew the same conclusion, however the banking sector is different - being accoridng to the author very much in the 'too big to bail' category.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mark Blyth delivers a masterful, blistering, devastating, and totally convincing critique of austerity. It's impossible to read this book and still believe that austerity is the right policy. Blyth writes engaging, powerful economic history of economies applying austerity, including the US, UK, Sweden, Germany, Japan and France in the 1920s and 1930s, Denmark and Ireland in the 1980s, and the Baltic states in 2008, demonstrating in each case that austerity does not work. It does not generate growth or reduce debt. He shows that the current hot spot crises in Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Italy are not due to profligate government expenditure, but to more differentiated specific factors. He makes the point that other economies cannot follow the German example of high savings and high exports, as the UK and EU seem to expect, since the whole world cannot be a net exporter.

He sets out the intellectual claim for austerity argued by the Bocconi University of Milan economists Alberto Alesina and Francesco Ardanga. Their core argument is that `when spending cuts are perceived as permanent, consumers anticipate a reduction in the tax burden and a permanent increase in their lifetime disposable income' (p172). Alesina delivered this diagnostic to the ECOFIN meeting in Madrid in 2010, labelled by Bloomberg as `Alesina's Hour'. The claim is very weak theoretically, and Blyth shows that the country economy data Alesina and Ardanga quote rejects rather than confirms their austerity hypothesis. So far, so good, in fact very good, and therefore 5 stars.

Blyth's weakness is that his diagnostic does not go far enough. He is content to prove that austerity doesn't work and then rather lamely propose forced government bonds and high tax as the alternative remedy.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Right off the top, I liked Austerity, because it directed me to a Youtube video of the author giving a five minute summary of the book in his lovely Scottish accent, immersed in complementary animation that he seemed to direct with his hands. A great start, that made me read with his delivery in mind. Fortunately, his writing is as clear, direct and succinct as his speaking, so it made reading Austerity a pleasure. It added immeasurably to the total experience. Something more authors might consider to get into the heads of their readers.

Austerity (the book) seems to be a bunch of Keystone Kops in dark suits, madly running around accomplishing very little. They rationalize, they contradict themselves and their policies, they make the same dumb moves over and over, they make up incredible formulas that cannot work even in theory, they take down the economies of the world - and they blame their governments for the mess they leave. The result is bankers continuing to pay themselves obscenely, while governments are saddled with assumed banking debt and the ugly prospect of austerity, as Blyth puts it, that "constitutes the greatest bait and switch in human history."

Blyth proves repeatedly that austerity is "zombie economics" - no matter how many times it is disproved, it just keeps coming back for more. No amount of mere fact disconfirms a good ideology, he tells us.
He hammers the point that in essentially every national case except maybe Greece, government spending was not behind the current financial collapse. Government was not overspending, not creating inflation, not distorting the economy. It was the bankers doing that, with theories of efficient markets and off the books vehicles.
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