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Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America Hardcover – May 21, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 21, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476700257
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476700250
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #444,845 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A book with riveting historical perspective for careful thought about where we are and where we can go if we get it right." (The Honorable George P. Shultz, Hoover Institution)

"Hubbard and Kane synthesize economics, politics and psychology to develop a new audacious theory of why countries decline. Compulsory reading for anyone who wants to understand the major issues that America now faces and whether decline can be averted, or will instead become inevitable." (James Robinson, co-author of Why Nations Fail)

“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 America’s future.” (Henry A. Kissinger)

"Political paralysis leading to fiscal collapse is the “existential threat” facing America, argues this stimulating, contentious economic history... Theirs is political economy with a grand historical sweep—and provocative implications for the present." (Publishers Weekly)

“Offers some policy proposals that ought to be taken seriously, even by those who don’t agree with all their premises. At the very least, some of these ideas could be used as blueprints for the rare politician seeking some acceptable grounds for compromise.” (Time.com)

“A readable, data-rich history of the fall of great powers through the eyes of two fiscally troubled US conservatives in 2013.” (Financial Times)

“The history of economic folly that they skillfully recount in ‘Balance’ is a timely reminder that societies that seem invincible are often anything but.” (Wall Street Journal)

"[A] rapid romp through imperial history.... The authors argue persuasively that the decay [of nations] typically starts long before [an external military] event and usually originates with some internal change. " (Foreign Affairs)

About the Author

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. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and two sons.
Tim Kane is the chief economist of the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC and former senior economist at the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress. He is a veteran U.S. Air Force officer. He lives in Vienna, Virginia with his wife and four children.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 54 people found the following review helpful By D. W. MacKenzie on May 21, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Balance does a good job of putting contemporary issues in historical context. More specifically, Balance aims at explaining crucial fiscal issues that face younger Americans. America is on track towards unsustainable levels of spending and taxation. Hubbard and Kane think that America's fiscal imbalances will lead to relative economic decline, and consequently the decline of America as a great power. What are the root causes of imbalance? Hubbard and Kane consider many factors: over-centralization, short sighted or irrational policies, the rise of extractive institutions over inclusive institutions, changes in political rules and norms... Here the book exhibits great value, whether you agree with their explanation or not. Hubbard and Kane do a good job of spelling out possible root causes of imbalance and decline, and we do need to think carefully about these issues.

Hubbard and Kane briefly examine a number of historical examples of imbalance and decline: Spain, China, Rome, Japan, England, the Eurozone, and interestingly California. There is a serious tradeoff in these chapters. Each of these examples is covered in about 20 pages. The cursory treatment of each of these historical episodes makes this book readable and accessible to a general audience. However, the reader is left with very brief summaries of complicated historical examples, some of which span centuries. Brevity isn't necessarily a problem, but readers who lack extensive knowledge of economic history do have to trust the authors' judgment in compressing so much history in so few pages. That being said, Balance is a worthwhile read.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Ira E. Stoll VINE VOICE on May 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
For readers used to economists fighting endlessly about the Great Depression, the New Deal, the stagflation of the 1970s and the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s, this work by Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Kane will be refreshing for its long view.

There's a five-page section in the book on "The Severan Debasement," named for the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, who ruled from 193 to 211. Between 193 and 196, by the book's account, Severus debased the coin known as the denarius to 54 percent pure silver from 81.5 percent. In other words, he paid the empire's expenses by imposing the tax of inflation.

The British historian Edward Gibbon said Severus was "justly considered" as "the principal author of the decline of the Roman Empire."

What's this got to do with 21st Century America? Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Kane draw the conclusion that, as they put it, "the existential threat is internal...The decline in Rome was economic, from the rampant inflation and excessive taxation of the Third Century to the central-planning tragedy of Diocletian."

Their argument proceeds engagingly through a series of brief case studies in decline -- not just Rome but also China, Spain, the Ottoman Empire, Japan, Europe, Great Britain, and California.

The conclusion of the book is devoted to a consideration of contemporary American policy. The ideas for growth that they embrace include tax reform, "alliance agreements" with the United Kingdom, Japan, and Canada to create a freer flow of labor and capital, and reductions in regulatory burdens such as occupational licensing.

The action they recommend most emphatically, however, is a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Samuel J. Sharp on June 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
"Balance" is a methodical look at Great Power history through the lens of modern economic thought. The thesis is clear: Great Power decline is fundamentally economic in nature, and economic decline is a consequence of stagnant institutions, primarily a political system biased into status quo inaction. The book essentially has three main parts. First, the authors describe their simple definition of a great power: a combination of GDP, GDP per capita, and GDP growth. The authors discuss broad methods of growth: scale, innovation, and investment. The second part applies their theory of economic power to fallen powers: Rome, Spain, Ming China, Great Britain, and other more curious selections such as California and Europe. The third part discusses modern America and the challenges it faces in maintaining its relative economic dominance as other economies converge to the production frontier.

The book is casually written and heavily influenced by other books in the field: Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," Acemoglu and Robinson's "Why Nations Fail," and Douglass North's "Structure and Change in Economic History." As a work of history, "Balance" is an engaging read that covers a lot of ground in supporting the argument that institutions that grow prone to excessive loss aversion ultimately doom Great Powers. As thought-provoking as the middle chapters can be, readers may find the economic analysis too shallow and over simplified. The book ends abruptly with the authors' remedy for America's fiscal woes. They present a carefully-drafted balanced-budget amendment that enshrines both discipline and flexibility. Whether this is enough to address the political stagnation problem the authors attribute to every other Great Power's decline is not answered.
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Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America
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