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The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics Hardcover – January 10, 2012
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Praise for The Age of Austerity:
"[T]his book makes for timely reading, given the acrimonious partisanship that has animated the 2012 campaign.... [Edsall uses] his chops as a political reporter (he spent 25 years covering politics for The Washington Post and is currently writing an online column on the 2012 election for The New York Times) to put these developments in historical perspective and to assess how they might affect this year’s elections."—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"The economic collapse that began in 2008 and its aftermath…has mired us in what Thomas Edsall rightly calls “the age of austerity.’’ What this means, the former Washington Post reporter argues in his eye-opening and hugely important account, is a transformation of US politics into “a dog-eat-dog political competition over diminishing resources.’’ Edsall’s point is powerfully argued…. [H]is book is essential…reading for anyone seeking to understand our broken politics."—Chuck Leddy, Boston Globe
"The Age of Austerity is an impressive synthesis of reporting and political science. Eschewing the kind of personality-driven trivia that constitutes so much campaign reporting, Edsall digs deep into the underlying social, economic, and even psychological drivers of America's increasingly polarized political coalitions."—Matthew Yglesias, Slate
"[A] serious work…that repay[s] close attention….. Edsall’s book really comes alive…when it turns to the political effects of austerity. He believes that US politics will increasingly be characterised by a struggle for resources…. [S]ober and precise."—Gideon Rachman, Financial Times
"Provide[s] much-needed information and analysis.... Like other overleveraged nations, the US may well be facing Thomas Edsall's 'age of austerity'."—Andrew Hacker, New York Review of Books
"In this erudite primer on the conditions that have brought us to this moment of economic crisis, journalist and Columbia University professor Edsall argues that the U.S. faces a future of diminished resources, and, as a result of partisan intractability, the possibility that we won't overcome current challenges to long-term prosperity.... Providing ample sociological and economic evidence via descriptive graphs and in-depth analysis, Edsall...illuminates hard but necessary truths."—Publishers Weekly
"I strongly recommend that every sensible, intelligent voter read this book before the fall elections."—Ed Fisher, Morning Sun
Advance Praise for The Age of Austerity:
“Thomas Edsall has written some of the most important and lasting political books of the last 25 years. Here, he deftly places the debates and controversies of the current moment in a broader historical and policy context. And he explains clearly why our economic woes have political causes—a fact that most people don't quite believe, but one that urgently needs to be understood.”
— Michael Tomasky, political columnist for Newsweek and the Daily Beast
“Tom Edsall is a tough realist with a large conscience and a brilliant mind. That's why he's one of the country’s most important political writers: he faces difficult truths that others try to avoid and discerns important trends before they become trendy—and before most people even notice them. He's done that again with The Age of Austerity, exactly the right book asking the right questions for our moment.”
— E. J. Dionne, Jr., author of Why Americans Hate Politics
“As economists handicap the odds of a new recession and speculate about a lost decade for the U.S. economy, Tom Edsall offers a troubling vision of American political and social conflict in circumstances of low growth and intense polarization. To avoid what he dubs a “brutish future,” our divided leaders will have to come together around a plan for renewed growth that is bound to offend the core constituencies of both political parties. If Edsall is right, the outlook for such an agreement is dim at best, and the alternative is the decline of the United States.”
— William Galston, Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution and former policy advisor to President Clinton
“The Age of Scarcity greatly clarifies the current frightening crisis in our politics. Thomas Edsall, one of our major political commentators, sees Republicans and Democrats as competing coalitions of haves and have-nots, locked in brutal battles over the fundamentals of modern American government at a time of severe economic duress. The stakes for America's future are economic and moral as well as political, and they are as large as they have been since the Great Depression. Edsall's analysis—at once calm and insistent, upsetting and enlightening—is a singularly valuable account of these ugly times.”
— Sean Wilentz, Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor of the American Revolutionary Era at Princeton University, author of The Rise of American Democracy and The Age of Reagan
About the Author
Thomas Edsall is an American journalist and academic, best known for his 25 years covering politics for the Washington Post. He holds the Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professorship in Public Affairs Journalism at Columbia University, and writes an online 2012 election column for the New York Times. In addition, he is a correspondent for The New Republic, and the author of Chain Reaction, a Pulitzer Prize finalist (1992), The New Politics of Equality (1984), and Building Red America (2006), among other works. Edsall is also the winner of the Carey McWilliams Award of the American Political Science Association. Mr. Edsall lives in New York and Washington, D.C. with his wife, Mary.
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Top Customer Reviews
In the great expansion of the US economy in the decades following WWII, concerns about distribution of economic gains were largely relegated to the background. But the author notes that beginnings of the politics of resentment can be seen in the rise in the 1960s and 70s of those claiming rights: women, blacks, the poor, etc. At that time an unchallenged US economy had the means to adopt many programs to compensate for the disadvantages that those groups often faced in the marketplace. But the huge deficits and the un- and underemployment beginning in 2009 have completely undermined the mild tolerance for such programs among the "haves," and transformed to a widespread attitude of resentment in 2012.
Using data from several polls and voting choices, the author clearly establishes that the "haves," that is those older, whiter, and richer, now largely find those dependent on government assistance of all forms to be mostly undeserving. And the vast majority of them have some connection with the Republican Party and its mania for cutting taxes and government spending despite the consequences to both the economy and to individuals. But the author also contends that the election of Obama in 2008 added to the uniting of conservatives and Republicans, who have become rather alarmed at the rising political power of a constituency dependent on the state and the tax resources largely supplied by the "haves." They certainly resent indirectly supporting, through government payments, a substantial percentage of the Democratic constituency.
The author captures the alarm of conservatives and their unwillingness to budge from their positions due to their perceptions of scarcity. They see a last opportunity to secure their privileged place in America. However, Republicans are well aware that non-Hispanic whites will be a minority in America before mid-century. Hispanics and blacks, who largely vote Democratic, will experience considerable growth in the same period. In addition, there are significant differences within the Republican constituency - most are not ultra-rich. In fact, a substantial percentage of them are dependent upon the very government entitlement payments, in the form of Social Security and Medicare, that they so decry for others. Just how far will they be willing to go in a politics of austerity?
The author scarcely conceals his feelings that this new rise of conservatives based on the resentment of others is unduly harsh, ignores some very obvious realities, and could be leading America down a path of rapid decline. For example, resentment against those who cannot find employment conveniently ignores the massive transfer of jobs to overseas subsidiaries. More than just a little hypocrisy is evidenced when haves are quite willing to accept more in SS payments than they have contributed - the shortfall made up by the taxes paid by the ethnics that they have so little regard for. The author observes that when elites of a society distance themselves from broader social concerns - the overall well-being of society, most obviously by failing to contribute adequate resources (taxes), that such a society will inevitably decline. Even more alarming is the attitude among elites that society is fair game for predation - how else can the Wall St debacle of 2008 be explained.
The book is sobering. It can't be said to be particularly revelatory. However, the detailing of the increasing resentments of those already with a leg up in this era of scarcity is disturbing. A lot of anger and ignorance is now driving American politics, which does not bode well for our future. Some hoped that the election of Obama would be a breath of fresh air in American politics, but it seems that was only fuel for the fires of resentment.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone seeking a greater understanding of the current political situation in the United States