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Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America Hardcover – 12 Sep 2013

3.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: ATRIA BOOKS (12 Sept. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476700257
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476700250
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 921,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


In seeking to discover what might be common factors throughout history to explain the rise and decline of powerful states, Hubbard and Kane have succeeded in identifying surprisingly similar trajectories. Their thought-provoking analysis has compelling relevance for Americas future. --Henry A. Kissinger

About the Author

Tim Kane is the chief economist of the Hudson Institute, veteran Air Force officer, and has twice served at the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress. He regularly writes for The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and USA TODAY and is well-known public speaker. Glenn Hubbard is the dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Business and the former chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers. He is a frequent contributor to Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, as well as PBS's The Nightly Business Report and American Public Media's Marketplace.

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By Athan TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 5 Aug. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Racking my brains to try to figure out what I've learnt from this book.

I'm genuinely tempted to say "nothing" but it's not entirely true.

I've learnt that Diocletian formalised guilds in Rome. In school we were all taught how horrible he'd been to Christians, but I now know we additionally have him to thank for the 28 "closed professions" Mario Monti lost his mandate trying to pry open. Cool info.

But I was surprised that the book could not make the connection between Rome and the Ottoman Empire. I mean what was great about both was common (respect for the achievements / tolerance for the culture and religion of their subjects) and what was bad about both was common (the fact that praetorians / janissaries etc. ended up running the empires for themselves a lot of the time). That's before you consider that one was built on the ashes of the other.

And, in general, the book took me through a whirlwind tour of Rome, China, Spain, Turkey, Japan, the EU, California and the US and then did not really do much in terms of putting the pieces together.

There was no oooomph. No passion. No over-riding theme. Too much, er, Balance. Then again, that's what it says on the cover.

Regardless, there are enough fun ideas in the book that one should not reject it. Like, for example, that the British empire did not die of overstretch. Rather, it failed to assimilate the US. Giving British citizenship to American subjects would indeed have been quite a coup. Even if it's the wrong idea, it's an intriguing concept.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars 72 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The laws of economics cannot be violated with impunity, by anyone, at anytime. 9 July 2014
By Andy McKinney - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Glen Hubbard and Tim Kane take us on a trip down memory lane, examining a number of major nations and empires along the way. One of the things that contributed to the Fall of Rome turns out to have been the relentless devaluation of the currency. Who would have guessed that even the Romans developed the habit of making financial commitments the exceeded their ability to make good on those commitments. The government in Rome tried to make the currency stretch further by mixing lead into the silver coinage. Naturally that didn't work out the way they wanted.
Through the ages Kane and Hubbard expose the many ways that governments have tried unsuccessfully to thwart, avoid or simply violate the laws of economics. The Ottomans used their people as financial goats to be milked and then eaten. That was not a good long term plan. Spain had a river of gold and silver flow to it from the Americans for centuries but at the end of the day Spain ended up with nothing but lost wars to show for the unprecedented wealth that slipped through the nation's collective fingers.
I found the section on modern California both fascinating and frightening. The authors explanations of how California got into such a fix left no details, however complex, un-examined.
The authors, at once academics and economists-professions not known for either clarity or brevity-managed to produce a work that is accessible to the layman. Which is exactly what we laymen need to help us understand how very badly our political masters have miss-managed our nation's financial well being. In fact, they have gone a long ways to have put us all on the slide to history's refuse pile. All of the errors, mistakes, miscalculations and out right frauds committed by our leaders have predictable even inevitable results.
But we suffer from their maleficence as will our children and perhaps their children....
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Approach - Doesn't Go Far Enough 19 Nov. 2013
By David B. Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Hubbard and Kane’s book starts out strong. They propose a thesis about the fiscal threat to American power and develop it by explaining it in hard number terms. They review most of the standard declinism literature and find it wanting versus their more empirical approach. Their discussion of how to measure economic power is worthwhile whether you agree or disagree with anything else in the book.

However, when they turn to their case studies things start to get less precise. The case studies (Rome, China,Spain, etc) are presented fairly enough and anyone who has read similar studies will recognize most of the points being made. My complaint with this approach is that they are following the descriptive method they complained about earlier without adding anything new to the standard analysis. For example, the concept of centralized bureaucracy. If you identify that one of the issues that led to a fiscal decline was a too centralized bureaucracy, how would you count it? Is there a tipping point where the percentage of the elite class being employed by the government becomes too much? This would be something to try to quantify if you are attempting a more empirical approach to this subject.

By the time we get to the end of the book and begin discussing the current US situation, along with the authors proscription, there is not much different than any other political opinion piece. A book that I felt started out with high promise, in the end disappointed.

References, notes, and index all top rate.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars LESS Convinced -- the MORE that I read... 2 Jan. 2014
By nexusstone - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Some shoes -- the MORE that you wear them -- the BETTER that they feel -- & the MORE that you ENJOY them...

While the (basic) book / work / thesis was 'interesting' -- the further that it (& I) progressed, my experience in reading this book was the OPPOSITE of the above...

For *ME*, the FURTHER that I read (on in) it -- the LESS that I felt that I (really) was getting out of the thesis / assertions / documentation -- or being 'CONVINCED' -- the MORE 'holes' (vs 'wholes' or even 'chasms') that appeared -- & the LESS that I ENJOY(ed) -- &/or was 'COMPELLED' by -- the work...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The theme is that poor economic governance was the root cause of the downfall of the great powers 21 July 2013
By John - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The author makes convincing arguments that the great empires have all fallen because of currency debasement or debt. The combination of welfare expenses, defense costs, and wasteful, lavish spending in each of his examples grew beyond the ability of the tax base to sustain the outlays. In each example he points to excess spending precipitated by an attempt of the regimen to remain in power. After analyzing the erstwhile great powers he compares the current economic path of California with those failed states.

The author offers solutions for the U.S. to avoid these past mistakes but in my view he should have devoted more ink to how the creation of a middle class is possible only with economic growth encouraged by free market, Adam Smith concepts.
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read, disagree with cause 8 July 2013
By Michael J Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Overall a pretty good read. I think the authors are right in that when institutions stop focusing on how to benefit society and start focusing on benefiting themselves, societies become short-sighted and run into fiscal disaster.
I disagree with the authors' reason for why this is happening in the US. I think the real reason is the primary system. The idea behind the primary system was to "empower" the citizenry to select their candidates, rather than having the parties select candidates. The result is that the most motivated people, who are naturally the most ideological, drive the candidate selection process. Most of us never vote in a primary, because we have better things to do than immerse our lives in politics. When election time comes around, we're presented with 2 candidates who represent the extremes of the political spectrum, and we're left with a choice between the lesser of 2 evils.
Contrast this with our typical choices when party bosses selected candidates behind closed doors 'in smoke filled rooms'. Each party had the incentive to select a centrist candidate in hopes of winning the moderate voters over. Resulting in a Congress with more moderate members, and more willingness to work together.
Primaries - yet another great idea that turned out to be a disaster in the real world from the intellectuals trying to make over our country.
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