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The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die Hardcover – June 13, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (June 13, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594205450
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594205453
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“[Ferguson’s] intellectual virtuosity is refreshing. The Great Degeneration won't be popular in the Obama White House or other centers of power. Jeremiah wasn't popular with the elders of Judea either. They tossed him in jail for his sedition. They had reason later to be sorry.” —The Wall Street Journal

"An informative and enjoyable read." —Financial Times

About the Author

NIALL FERGUSON is one of the world’s most renowned historians. He is the author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World, The Ascent of Money, High Financier, and Civilization. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, a senior research fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and a senior research fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is also a regular contributor to Newsweek and Bloomberg television.

More About the Author

Niall Ferguson is one of our most renowned historians. He is the bestselling author of numerous books, including The War of the World, Colossus, and Empire.

Customer Reviews

Exceptional book ... ez read and well thought out.
JJ Mel
This book is relevant to readers who are interested in understanding how institutions can influence political and economic development in the western world.
Hubert Shea
In this case I think the publisher is seriously misleading potential readers.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

143 of 148 people found the following review helpful By A. D. Thibeault on June 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover
*A full summary of this book is available here: An Executive Summary of Niall Ferguson's 'The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die'

The main argument: Over the past half-millennium the West has built up a substantial lead over other parts of the world when it comes to both economic power and material standard of living. Now, though, this lead is slipping away. Indeed, developing nations led by such powers as China and India are quickly closing the gap, as they experience impressive economic growth, while the West is stagnating. Many argue that this is the natural result of globalization (and the fact that major corporations are taking advantage of cheaper labor in developing nations). For Harvard historian and writer Niall Ferguson, however, there is something deeper going on here. For Ferguson, the closing of the gap between the West and the Rest has less to do with the rise of the Rest, as the decline of the West.

Specifically, Ferguson argues that it is the West's political, economic, legal and social institutions that have allowed it to gain the upper hand over the past 500 years or so, and that now these institutions are beginning to deteriorate (just as other nations increasingly copy what made the West successful in the first place). The result: Western stagnation, and the catching up of everyone else.

Ferguson identifies 4 primary institutions that account for the West's success over the past half-millennium: 1. Democracy; 2. Capitalism; 3. The Rule of Law; and 4. Civil Society. Each of these, the author argues, has eroded in the recent past.
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150 of 164 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Weitz VINE VOICE on October 19, 2012
Format: Paperback
This is a review of "The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die" which is the kindle title of this work, and is no longer available on kindle.

The author is concerned about the "Degeneration of the West" into a "Stationary State" similar to that of China during the previous centuries. This he believes is due to the weakening of traditional civil institutions, crony capitalism, inefficient bureaucracy, and the decay of our legal system. Needless to say, this has drastic political and economic consequences for our society, with the widening gap of economic inequality being a symptom of the problem. Other symptoms are the rise of a welfare state that exploits those who work for those that have become "entitled". The abandonment of what Edmund burke called "The partnership between the generations", is also the abandonment of what is our true social contract. The excessive public and private debt is a symptom of a deeper problem; the breakdown of the generational social order.

For the rise of Europe Ferguson rejects the theories of Diamond (geographic factors), North and Wallace (transition to open access society), Max Weber (Protestant Capitalism) and Pomerants ("ghost acres"). The author argues that it is not so much as geographic and cultural factors (citing the two Koreas and the city of Nogales on the US-Mexican border), but rather the role of an inclusive elite vs. an exclusive elite with extractive institutions. He agrees with the argument of De Soto that dysfunctional institutions force the poor to live outside the law without title to the property they often "own". This is "dead capital" that cannot be used to increase wealth.
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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Hubert Shea on February 15, 2013
Format: Paperback
In this book Professor Ferguson maintains that economic prospect in the western world will continue to be gloomy if politicians fail to take radical reform of the four institutional pillars that have led the western world to maintain its economic hegemony since the sixteenth century. He dispels the widely-held proposition advocated by Max Weber and David Landes (P.27) that culture is a key independent variable to determine economic growth which differentiates economic trajectory of rich countries from the poor ones. Nor does he accept other plausible perspectives and interpretations (natural resources and forces, climate, and technoptimism) to account for the rise and fall of the western economy. To him, a holistic institutional transformation from extractive (limited access) to inclusive (open access) ones (P.30) is a panacea for the current stationary economy in the western world.

In terms of the four institutional pillars, Professor Ferguson maintains that key maladies with western institutions encompass meager regulatory enforcement in the financial sector, rotten rule of law, government encroachment in the civil society, and breakdown of social contract between the generations (Edmund Burke's concept of contract in which the current fiscal policies cannot inexorably create huge debts at the expense of the young and the unborn). Professor Ferguson disagrees with Keynesian economists who are advocates of low interest rate and issuance of public debt to stimulate economic growth.

In this book Professor Ferguson is quite pessimistic towards institutional degeneration in the western world because economic and political processes are dominated by rent-seeking elites (P.
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