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The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence [Kindle Edition]

Robert J. Samuelson
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The Great Inflation in the 1960s and 1970s, notes award-winning columnist Robert J. Samuelson, played a crucial role in transforming American politics, economy, and everyday life. The direct consequences included stagnation in living standards, a growing belief—both in America and abroad—that the great-power status of the United States was ending, and Ronald Reagan’s election to the presidency in 1980. But that is only half the story. The end of high inflation led to two decades of almost uninterrupted economic growth, rising stock prices and ever-increasing home values. Paradoxically, this prolonged prosperity triggered the economic and financial collapse of 2008 and 2009 by making Americans—from bank executives to ordinary homeowners—overconfident, complacent, and careless. The Great Inflation and its Aftermath, Samuelson contends, demonstrated that we have not yet escaped the boom-and-bust cycles common in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is a sobering tale essential for anyone who wants to understand today’s world.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Samuelson, a columnist for the Washington Post and Newsweek, presents a highly readable and thought-provoking discussion of the crippling inflation that hit the United States from the mid-1960s to 1982, resulting in four recessions. According to the author, the culprit of inflation was the collective failure of communication and candor by the nation's economists; their bad advice became bad policy as both parties in the White House propagated economic ignorance that led to the Great Inflation. The memory of the Great Depression led to a full employment obsession—among other dangerous myths and stereotypes that were the major barrier to economic convalescence—culminating in a stalemate that was only lifted during the accidental alliance between Reagan and Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker. While business cycles seem milder now (The Great Moderation), the author argues that the cycle could repeat. The book's detailed sketches of the working of the Federal Reserve, stock market and corporate America give a comprehensive picture of the economy, which Samuelson describes as a social, political, and psychological mechanism encompassing ideas and values as much as trade and finance. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Newsweek and Washington Post columnist Samuelson is one of the rare journalists who debates politics and economics with a healthy skepticism toward conventional wisdom. The severity of the inflation that plagued the U.S. economy throughout the 1970s and early 1980s is often overlooked, but at the time it threatened to destabilize our entire monetary system. After World War II it was believed that downturns could be avoided by simply maintaining high employment, but that model ultimately led to the “stagflation” of the late 1970s and contributed to Jimmy Carter’s loss to Ronald Reagan in 1980. Through an unspoken alliance between Reagan and Fed chairman (and Democrat) Paul Volker, a deliberately engineered and very painful recession finally ended the inflationary spiral. Samuelson compares the challenges of that era to those we face now, and he is concerned that few leaders today have the fortitude to make the unpopular choices that will bring long-term solutions to the current economic crisis. Politicians would do well to study these errors of the past that teach that choosing quick fixes only delays and worsens the inevitable. --David Siegfried

Product Details

  • File Size: 758 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (November 11, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001FA0K7C
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #454,144 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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3.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
99 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beware of Keynesians November 15, 2008
Format:Hardcover
There is no economist - that I am aware of - writing for a weekly magazine (Newsweek) and daily newspaper (Washington Post) that is more objective and nonpartisan than Robert Samuelson. Not only does he avoid promoting either Republican or Democratic economic policies, he is very critical of both.

In this book, he talks about the great inflation, which many of us remember; and the lessons learned, which many of us have either forgotten or never learned in the first place. The great inflation of the 60s and 70s was, according to Samuelson, the result of misguided attempts by the government to keep artificially high levels of employment, and to keep the economy from falling into recession. Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs were instrumental in creating a wage-price spiral that didn't end until 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected. Even Richard Nixon could not stop the spiral with the imposition of a wage-price freeze. Nixon too was guilty of tampering with the system by urging the Fed chairman to keep the economy out of recession. During Jimmy Carter's presidency inflation was running at 14 percent and there was indeed an economic malaise. These inflationary times should be duly noted by the incoming Obama administration as many of the advisors are speaking urgently about applying big Keynesian stimulus packages.

When Ronald Reagan came into office he did a very brave and politically unpopular thing: he urged Paul Volcker, the Fed chairman, to raise interest rates and tighten credit in order to kill the inflation beast. (One of the few compliments I have for Ronald Reagan.) This precipitated the most severe recession since the Great Depression, but it did succeed in halting inflation.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you like Samuelson's columns, you'll like this book November 14, 2008
Format:Hardcover
Robert Samuelson is a journalist, not an economist. But his writing on economic issues makes him sound, to my ear, like an economist. Samuelson's columns in the Washington Post often catch my eye, and I have read many of them. Until I read this book and saw Samuelson's brief biography, I thought he was an economist.

But Samuelson has a way with words that marks him as a journalist. When I saw a Newsweek article by Samuelson based on this book, I thought the book worth a read. It is indeed. Samuelson looks to economic history, in particular the "great inflation" of the 1970s, for lessons that it teaches us about today's world.

In fact, Samuelson believes that the roots of the current credit crisis are firmly planted in the great inflation. That is, that the "disinflation" we grew to enjoy as the great inflation was brought under control led us into bad habits that have finally come to roost.

I won't summarize the book here. If you want a good summary, the Newsweek excerpt that Samuelson himself wrote does a better job than I can. The core of the book is there. To get much more, you have to read the book.

And I encourage you to read the book. Samuelson sometimes has the air of a didactic "know it all." Maybe that comes with the territory when you are a columnist (not a self-doubting profession) for both the Washington Post and Newsweek. That air can annoy -- it did annoy me a bit in this book. But it has not kept me from benefiting from Samuelson's work.

Be warned, though. Samuelson says he wrote this book for the general reader. Readers without an interest and some background in economics may find the book tough going. It's not a collection of columns. It's an in-depth economic history and analysis.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Economic History November 20, 2008
Format:Hardcover
Robert J. Samuelson asserts in this book that the last half-century has been one long economic cycle dominated by the rise and fall of inflation.

Inflation surged in the 1970s, after many years of economic policies designed to smooth out business cycles and to keep unemployment as low as possible, even at the risk of higher inflation. Fighting inflation was not a top priority in the presidencies of Nixon and Carter. Samuelson believes that Ronald Reagan would not have been elected president had there not been double-digit inflation during the Carter years, and also believes that Reagan was the only president who would have allowed Fed chairman Paul Volcker to raise interest rates to the extent necessary to minimize inflation.

The author demonstrates that the taming of inflation led, in the following years, to milder and briefer recessions, globalization, and the boom in stock prices and home prices. However, while economic growth was robust in the 1980s and 1990s, jobs were not as secure as they were in the 1950s and 1960s.

Samuelson believes that the half-century economic cycle defined by inflation is ending, and speculates about what might come next. He compares the present moment to the late Fifties, just prior to the rise of inflation in the Sixties, and discovers many similarities. He offers his opinions on what should be done for the economy (starting with, of course, controlling inflation) in the coming years.

Hopefully, the incoming administration will favor a strong currency and resist the temptation to implement more and bigger social programs, which would stifle economic growth. It is heartening to see that Paul Volcker is one of Barack Obama's economic advisors.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Good insight on politics and general ideas of the time and their influence on the course
of events.
Published 2 months ago by John B. Connely
1.0 out of 5 stars This book is terrible
This newspaper writer does not know economics despite having other individuals proof his ideas for sound economic theory. Skip this book and read Aftershock.
Published 9 months ago by Dan A Zeien
1.0 out of 5 stars Incoherent
I was looking for some insights on inflation's history, looking toward today. What I found instead was a rambling trip with little structure historically or conceptually, through... Read more
Published 12 months ago by PHIL
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Book...even if you're not an economist!
Only being an amateur investor and historian I approached this book with hesitation; Will I understand it, will it be boring? Read more
Published 14 months ago by J. Hojnacki
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Economic History
'The Great Inflation' is about the inflationary period that plagued the US economy from the middle 1960s until the early 1980s. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Nicholas Roberts
4.0 out of 5 stars A Primer for the Fiscal Cliff
Robert Samuelson is the everyday economist. His background as a journalist means he's a better communicator than most economists. Read more
Published on November 12, 2012 by Dustin Hill
2.0 out of 5 stars What, you say?
The author begins the book's Introduction by saying that he wished someone else had written this book, but since they had not, he felt compelled to. Read more
Published on December 28, 2011 by Carl E. Johnson Jr.
3.0 out of 5 stars Weak arguments for such a strong title
The author of this book is one of the few popular authors who writes on complex economics and social science topics for the lay reader. Read more
Published on November 10, 2011 by Newton Ooi
3.0 out of 5 stars Read Only if You Are Inflation History Buff
The author's central thesis for this book is that "the rise and fall of high inflation was the most significant economic event of the past half century". Read more
Published on June 5, 2011 by Dale C. Maley
5.0 out of 5 stars Player Piano , Phillips, and High Prices
Reading this book reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut's first novel, Player Piano. Vonnegut's first book was written in 1952 and is about a dystopian world where engineers and their... Read more
Published on June 4, 2011 by G.X. Larson
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