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An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy Hardcover – November 8, 2016
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"Levinson, an economist and ex-journalist, has the virtues of both-an eye for detail and an understanding of the broader picture."
- Washington Post, Best Economics Books of 2016
"A smoothly written account of the U.S. and the world economy.... Mr. Levinson is a smart enough author not to be tempted into some breathless mono-causal account of either the earlier 'boom' or the later slowdown. He's excellent at description."
-Wall Street Journal
"A provocative book."
-Robert Samuelson, Washington Post
"[Levinson] has a journalist's appreciation for the power of on-the-ground observation."
"A valuable antidote to all passionately held economic ideologie."
-Paul Collier, Times Literary Supplement (UK)
"It is this story of the coming and passing of that long boom-and apparently the inability of politicians to do much about resuscitating it-that Levinson crisply tells."
"An Extraordinary Time provides a well-balanced (and surprisingly entertaining) tour of global economic and political history since 1973...Excellent book. Highly recommended."
-Inside Higher Ed
"Levinson has unmatchable understanding of economics and an extraordinary ability to explain intricate economics to laymen."
-Washington Book Review
"Levinson's account of this vexed era is lucid, well-paced, and entwined with vivid sketches of economists, central bankers, and politicians who failed to restore the pre-1973 good times. He also succeeds at translating complex economic issues into understandable terms for lay readers. Levinson's admirably evenhanded treatment of recent economic history steers clear of dogmas on both left and right to explore knottier truths."
-Publishers Weekly, starred review
"[Levinson's] view is absolutely worth heeding in these days of unprecedented worldwide financial experimentation.... A cogently argued account that lays bare the similarities and differences between the world today and earlier theoretical shortcomings."
"I've heard it said that economic history is a dying art. Well, not in Marc Levinson's hands. This account of how the extraordinary economic times from 1948 to 1973 turned into the very ordinary (or worse) times that followed is comprehensive, artfully presented, and largely persuasive. That's quite an achievement."
-Alan Blinder, Princeton University, author of After the Music Stopped
"A provocative account of recent economic history which argues the good times have gone, and no government-neither left nor right-can bring them back. A sobering read."
-Eric Rauchway, University of California, Davis, author of The Money Makers
"Marc Levinson has given us a fascinating and perceptive account of the economic difficulties of the 1970s and the response of policymakers. As the United States and other countries struggled with the turbulent end of the post-World War II boom, seeking to cope with stagflation and higher unemployment, they often turned politically to the right-embracing tax cuts and deregulation. How did this process work its way out? This timely book of an important period is not just informative, but helps put our current economic difficulties in perspective."
-Douglas Irwin, Dartmouth College, author of Free Trade Under Fire
"A lively, well-researched tour of the transformation of the American economy in the decades after World War II-how it happened and why the pace didn't last. A great read for those who lived through those years and those who want to learn about them."
-Alice M. Rivlin, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
About the Author
Marc Levinson is the former finance and economics editor at the Economist and the author of five books, including The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger. He lives in Washington, DC.
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Turns out I was only looking at part of the reason for our apparent success.. The entre post-war period was filled with other events and government action which magnified these already huge advantages which our economy temporarily enjoyed., while the rest of the world rebuilt, with modern equipment. and low cost labor, we enjoyed a fools' paradise--the grasshopper years. This book provides a fascinating tour through the well-intended mistakes which, we can see in retrospect, deluded us into thinking that this was God's plan. It wasn't.
He starts off by setting the framework in the 1970s, as economic growth reached its peak in the rich countries as they (unknowingly at the time) neared the pinnacle of their economic growth and frequently productivity growth (although the latter had already started to slow in several countries). Levinson then goes into great and fascinating detail about various countries' responses to this, from the rise of Thatcher in Great Britain to the shift towards new industries in Japan as the old "smokestack" export industries declined. Throughout it all, he poses a question - "Why did economic growth and productivity drastically slow down worldwide after the early 1970s?" There are no easy answers, and Levinson goes into great detail examining each potential reason why it might have occurred.
All of the above might make this book seem more dry than it is. It is not a dry book at all - as mentioned above, one of Levinson's great strengths is that he can make this all incredibly interesting and very readable. I strongly recommend this to anyone who might be curious about what has happened in the world's economy since the 1970s.
Since the economic boom slowed in the 1970s and 1980s (depending on the country in which you lived or the industry in which you worked), politicians of all political and ideological convictions have tried to restore the glamour. Alas, neither right-wing free marketeers nor left-wing state socialists have been able to bring back the glory days. Electorates in reasonably democratic countries have responded with frustration.
One of the autnor's comments on page 267 perhaps summarizes it best: "... Rising anger at the state's inability to deliver average citizens the prosperity it had promised manifested itself in uncomfortable ways: resentment of immigrants blamed for taking supposedly scarce jobs; vociferous opposition to paying taxes to maintain roads and public buildings; relentless criticsm of public services that had once been treated as proud achievements, such as schools and health programs." Anybody reading this recognize what country this statement describes?
There are no charts or graphs in the book to demonstrate the author's assertions about long-term trends. The book is, however, heavily foot-noted. If you are interested in more detailed analysis, you should read the cited books and articles. Just glancing at their titles, many of them appear to be pretty dense reading. I didn't find the absence of heavy economic analysis to be an issue. In fact, I thought it made the book more enjoyable to read.