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Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea Hardcover – April 25, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (April 25, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019982830X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199828302
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 1.1 x 5.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #348,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"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

"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.

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Customer Reviews

I found this to be a very interesting and thought provoking book.
Dr. Blyth is a professor of political economy who demonstrates a mastery of economic policy and history in this insightful and well-written book.
As somebody said, if you can read the newspaper, you should read this book.
Neal Reynolds

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Gaetan Lion on April 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Blyth shows how the piling on debt in the US was not due to wasteful profligate policy, but instead associated with the bailing out of the private sector, and the banking and financial system. For another excellent coverage of this period see Mark Zandi's Paying the Price: Ending the Great Recession and Beginning a New American Century.

Mortgage borrowers were defaulting en masse, housing prices were dropping like a rock, and the banks and overall financial system were either heading towards insolvency or in a freeze. Without extension of credit and the associated brutal deleveraging of all sectors at once, an economy not only contracts... it just about dies. If the economy is left to its own devices resulting GDP contraction is very severe and unemployment rate can reach 20%+. You are in a Depression. The solution is for the Government to pick up the slack in Demand and counterbalance the deleveraging and contraction occurring in all other sectors with expansive policies. That's an effective Keynesian response. Blyth advanced that's what the US did and it worked. The US is now undergoing a slow and sustainable recovery and has seen its unemployment rate dropped markedly already (instead of heading towards 20%+).

As the financial crisis contaminated Europe through the conduits of complex misrated housing related securities such as MBS and CDOs Europe faced a banking and sovereign debt crisis of its weak peripheral members of the Euro Zone. After, a short and incomplete Keynesian response, the Euro Zone lead by Germany went on a destructive austerity path. European austerity has already thrown the peripheral countries into a long Depression.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Metallurgist TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I found this to be a very interesting and thought provoking book. The author makes his viewpoint very clear with the book's subtitle "The History of a Dangerous Idea". The essence of the author's argument is that austerity is unfair because it makes workers pay for the mistakes of banks, and even more importantly, dangerous because it does not lead to prosperity, but only to decreased economic growth and increased unemployment. This thesis is backed up by an analysis of the banking crisis of 2008, how it spread from the US to the EU, why the single currency Euro has made the problem worse for the EU and why using austerity to solve the problems will not work. It also discusses the history of the idea of austerity, both in terms of the economic theory that promotes it and the economic history that does not. Conservatives, who find Keynesian economics to be not only wrong, but also the road to economic ruin, will likely be turned off by the book's subtitle and many of the arguments that Professor Blyth utilizes. However, there is a lot of data in this book that they should look at, if only to criticize it. I found this book very enlightening and while I do not agree with all of Professor Blyth's ideas (particularly those of the last chapter), I learned a lot, so for me it was 5-stars.

What is in the book?
The book is divided into 7 chapters, which cover the following:

Chapter 1 - A Primer on Austerity. This is a short chapter that summarizes the main thesis of the book (mentioned above), and sets the stage for the more detailed discussions in subsequent chapters.

Chapter 2 - America: To Big to Fail? This is an excellent chapter that summarizes the origins and unfolding of the 2008-banking crisis in the US.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Ian Kaplan VINE VOICE on April 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The United States seems to be in a constant set of battles about budgets and spending. These battles are relatively new: they didn't exist until we got a Democratic President. Under Republican Presidents budget deficits were OK.

In addition to the existence of a Democratic President, the other factor that has induced the budget battles is current size of the US debt. Republicans constantly portray this debt as the result of government spending gone crazy. Some Republicans claim that President Obama is a socialist, so the spending, by implication must be a massive transfer of government wealth to those "takers" rather than "makers".

At the start of Mark Blyth's book Austerity, he reminds the reader of how the budget reached its current state. It was not a transfer of money to welfare mothers, but a transfer of money to too-big-to-fail banks (welfare bankers). This combined with the war of choice in Iraq, has resulted in trillions of dollars that have been lost to productive economy.

The subtitle of the books Austerity: "A History of a Dangerous Idea" discusses the long history in modern economics of austerity budgets and the roots of Austerity budgets going back to the late seventeenth century. Austerity is a dangerous idea because austerity budgets, when an economy is performing poorly, act against economic growth.

After providing a brief tour of the current fiscal crisis and a longer discussion of economic theories of Austerity, Mark Blyth provides a much briefer discussion of what might be done moving forward. He points out that Greece did not get into its current situation solely as a result of government spending and cheap Euro credits. The massive borrowing in Greece was, ultimately, a result of Greek citizens not paying their taxes.
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More About the Author

I am Professor of International Political Economy in the Department of Political Science at Brown University and a Faculty Fellow at Brown's Watson Institute for International Studies. I grew up in Dundee, Scotland. I received my PhD in political science from Columbia University in 1999 and taught at the Johns Hopkins University from 1997 until 2009.

My research interests lie in the of field international political economy. More specifically, my research trespasses several fields and aims to be as interdisciplinary as possible, drawing from political science, economics, sociology, complexity theory and evolutionary theory. My work falls into several related areas: the politics of ideas, how institutions (and disciplines) change, political parties, and the politics of finance.

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