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Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies Hardcover – May 25, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (May 25, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030011818X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300118186
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,001,820 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A highly original illumination of how the American Century collapsed."—Rick Perlstein, The Nation  
(Rick Perlstein The Nation 2010-10-21)

"[An] elegant, pinpoint dissection of the economic mistakes and far-reaching policy decisions of the seventies."—Oscar Villalon, Virginia Quarterly Review
(Oscar Villalon Virginia Quarterly Review)

"Here is one of those rare books in which a seasoned historian offers compelling analyses of urgent contemporary importance. Pivotal Decade will startle and provoke you.  It is on my not-miss list."—Sean Wilentz, Princeton University
(Sean Wilentz)

"In this probing, economically literate analysis, Judith Stein explains how and why the 1970s became the only 20th century decade other than that of the Great Depression during which Americans ended up poorer than they began. By explaining how we got to an economy that subordinates the manufacture of stuff to one that trades, finances, and consumes it, Stein provides the fullest story of the way economic stagnation prepared the way for a new era of social inequality. Citizens of Obama's America should take note."—Nelson Lichtenstein, author of The Retail Revolution: How Wal-mart Created a Brave New World of Business
(Nelson Lichtenstein)

"Americans perplexed by the use of defective Chinese steel to rebuild the iconic San Francisco Bay Bridge will find an explanation for their puzzlement in Judith Stein's Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded  Factories for Finance in the Seventies. Bringing together political and economic history in the context of American foreign policy, Stein shows how Americans allowed the allure of paper profits to undermine our economic underpinnings."—Fred Siegel, The Cooper Union for Science and Art
(Fred Siegel)

"Judith Stein gets it. Pivotal Decade's illustration and examination of the last forty years of failed economic policy will be a powerful text for our generation as well as for the future. We must learn these lessons once and for all—before it's too late."—Leo W. Gerard, president, United Steelworkers
(Leo W. Gerard)

“An extraordinary achievement.”—The Journal of American History
(The Journal of American History)

“Pivotal Decade is an important explanation of how liberal became a dirty word and how conservative views came to dominate American political life for so long.”—Eric Foner, TheBrowser.com
(Eric Foner TheBrowser.com)

“Stein succeeds not only in making the 1970s much more interesting to read about, but in revealing the decade as the great historical pivot from postwar American boom to bust.”—David Chappell, Journal of the Historical Society
(David Chappell Journal of the Historical Society)

“Stein's book is full of fine-grained arguments about economics, labor, and history.”—Josh Rothman, The Boston Globe
(Boston Globe)

“This book should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand how the economic restructuring of the 1970s led to our current age of inequality. It is a masterful study of the history of capitalism that is driven not by ideology but by a clearheaded interpretation of historical events and patterns.”—Shane Hamilton, Industrial and Labor Relations Review
(Shane Hamilton Industrial and Labor Relations Review)

""[A]n outstanding analytical history of the origins of neoliberalism in the 1970s."—Frank J. Whittington, The Gerontologist
(Frank J. Whittington The Gerontologist)

About the Author

Judith Stein is professor of history at the City College and Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is the author of The World of Marcus Garvey and Running Steel, Running America.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 6 customer reviews
She marshals a lot of episodic and anecdotal evidence for this case, but really needs more, in my view.
Jonathan Zasloff
A very well-researched, original work of history, not a polemic, although the author clearly has a few points to make.
This is a very important book for anyone who wants to understand the root causes of our current economic troubles.
Kenneth L. Matheny

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Zasloff on January 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Pivotal Decade is a well-written history of American political economy in the 1970's, with a policy agenda just below the surface. If you thought that the 1970's were about the end of Vietnam, Watergate, bell bottoms, disco, and Iran, then this book will try to disabuse you of those notions, and go a long way toward doing so. The problem is that it doesn't really make the sale. It leaves us with more questions than answers, which is fine -- even preferable -- for a work of history, but frustrating for a policy piece.

Stein argues that the 1970's represented a time of US deindustrialization, and that federal policy failures were a principal cause of this trend. Instead of aggressively fighting for domestic manufacturing, both Republican and Democratic administrations chose to placate Japan and European allies on Cold War grounds: keeping them prosperous would strengthen the western alliance. And instead of intervening "microeconomically" to assist key sectors like autos and steel, economic policymakers, focusing on Keynesian fine-tuning, denied that there was a problem altogether and insisted that the federal government's only job was to stimulate and maintain aggregate demand.

Jimmy Carter comes in for particular abuse, although he is seen as part of a long-term trend within the Democratic party, namely, the dominance of "new politics" liberals uninterested in bread-and-butter economic issues like wages and living standards, and focused only on foreign policy, cultural issues, and the environment. These "new politics" forces developed when the critique of America's "affluent society" was at its apex; by the mid- to late 1970's, when these issues had been eclipsed by the flatlining of the US economy, they had no ideas to solve the problem.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By farington on July 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book is very well researched but it often seems the facts gained from that research don't get put to good use. I wasn't sure what the author's thesis was through most of the book; there were threads of foreign trade, New Democrats, Keynesianism v. supply side, unions, national manufacturing policy, etc. but I didn't feel like it was adequately pulled together to form a coherent argument.

I did basically enjoy the book, having come of age in the '70's, so it was interesting to resurrect some of the old political names and issues that I remember hearing nightly on the evening news. And it was useful to be reminded that the U.S. trade imbalance began as long ago as the Nixon administration, it didn't just begin with Reagan and continue with succeeding administrations, as seems to be a current popular theme among some political pundits. This, and the idea that ecomomy-stimulating measures, whether Keynesian or supply-side, won't get results if the economy's structurally flawed, are the two points I got from reading this book. But the rest--should we redevelop our manufacturing base, is it even possible, have we moved along too far to go back, should there be a national manufacturing policy--is not discussed particularly well in this book and one should probably turn to other books for better insight. I suppose I'd start with Robert Reich's "Work of Nations", which the author cites, and go from there.

One minor quibble: the author spends entirely too much time on the details of presidental primary battles. How does it matter to the question of the trade imbalance that Wilbur Mills made a run at the presidency in 1972?
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By riviera123 on October 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Very detailed coverage of US economic policy-making in the 70's, with an emphasis on international trade and macroeconomics. A very well-researched, original work of history, not a polemic, although the author clearly has a few points to make. One is that since WWII, the US has been far too willing to allow our allies to flout the rules of fair trade in order to gain their support for our political ambitions. Another is that we've never developed effective strategies to target our corporate investments on the areas that will best improve overall productivity and help us to develop and retain high-value-added manufacturing jobs. At any rate, it's one of the best books on US political economy and trade that I've read. Also has good coverage of the presidential campaigns from an economic perspective.
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More About the Author

Judith Stein received her BA at Vassar College and Ph.D from Yale. She is currently a Distinguished Professor of history at City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Before the recent Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies (2010), she published The World of Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society (1986) and Running Steel, Running America: Race, Economic Policy, and the Decline of Liberalism (1998).

As well as writing for scholarly journals, she has published in the New York Times, New York Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Village Voice, In These Times, The Nation, and Dissent. She blogs regularly for Dissent. Stein has taught abroad, most recently as the Nicholas Sivochev Distinguished Professor of History at Moscow State University, in Russia, in 2006. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and Fund for Labor Studies and is currently working on a book on the U.S.. China, and Neoliberalism. Stein is also a fair tennis player.