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Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century Paperback – September 16, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0521010528 ISBN-10: 0521010527

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 298 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (September 16, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521010527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521010528
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 5.9 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #959,053 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"[R]emarkably rigorous, original, and interesting work.... Blyth breaks new ground by using Frank Knight's concept of uncertainty as a linchpin for this theory of institutional change.... Highly recommended." Choice

"Economic historians frequently fail to connect their findings to broader political and sociological questions. Mark Blyth, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, avoids that pitfall in Great Transformations. In a well-researched comparative study of the United States and Sweden, Blyth analyzes the impact of economic ideas on institutional change." History: Reviews of New Books

"Blyth's analysis is sweeping, thorough, and powerfully demonstrates the path-shaping power of ideas to frame and give substance to institutional reconfiguration." Governance

"[An] important new book." EH.NET

Book Description

This book analyses political and economic change in the Twentieth century through an examination of institutional change in the United States and Sweden from the 1920s to the end of the 1990's. The key claim is that economic ideas are powerful political tools used by domestic groups in order to effect change since whoever defines what the economy is, what is wrong with it, and what would improve it, has a profound political resource in their possession. Blyth demonstrates why this is the case, and offers a theory as to why economic ideas are so politically important.

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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Nexon on April 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
Mark Blyth's Great Transformations may or may not be the true heir to Polanyi's Great Transformation, but it certainly comes close. Blyth provides a clear, incisive criticism of the way most political economists treat the role of ideas in the formation of economic policy. The two case studies -- the United States and Sweden -- provide plausible evidence that Blyth is correct about the multifaceted role economic ideas play in mobilizing political actors, transforming the way the economy is regulated, and even influencing market behavior. These strengths ensure the book's importance to an academic audience.
But there is much here for the non-academic. Those interested in current debates about the role of the government in the economy will find many of Blyth's arguments deeply provocative. Blyth shows how the "common sense assumptions" that currently dominate arguments about tax and fiscal policy owe their success not to the truth of their propositions but to a series of contingent synergies between external events, such as the OPEC oil embargo, and political struggles in specific countries. Ultimately, Blyth's book is a powerful call to make political values, rather than facile claims about economic inevitability, the centerpiece of debates about the future of welfare and governmental regulation. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Blyth, his history of the development, adoption, and non-adoption of economic principles in the US and Sweden should not be ignored.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Matthew D. Jones on July 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a brilliant, meticulously researched book, which is a worthy successor to Polanyi's seminal work, The Great Transformation, from which it explicitly draws its inspiration.

Blyth's central thesis is that, in the operation of democratic capitalism, "[i]deas matter because they can actually alter people's conception of their own self-interest" (p. vii). He then goes on to detail how, in Sweden and the United States, "embedded liberalism" ("liberalism" in the American sense of center-left on the political spectrum) grew out of a set of economic ideas about the origins of the Great Depression that led to policies informing a set of institutions (such as collective bargaining) that tempered the effects of markets on labor, and which became so "embedded" in the functioning of democratic capitalism that the ideas and institutions appeared "natural" and irrational to question.

However, starting in the 1960s, and reaching a head with the "stagflation" of the 1970s, economic elites determined that "embedded liberalism" was no longer in their interests. The book then details how these elites systematically deployed their considerable resources to resurrect once discredited neoliberal ("neoliberal" in the other sense of support for laissez faire markets) economic ideas (e.g., Hayek and
...Read more ›
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