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A Free Nation Deep in Debt: The Financial Roots of Democracy Paperback – May 22, 2006
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Top Customer Reviews
For those who like some structure in a book of this complexity, it can easily be divided into an introduction and four main sections. The first seven pages, with the title "Introduction: The Financial Roots of Democracy," sketches out what is to come, providing the reader with a framework for the coming text and raising the essential questions with which the author will wrestle.
The first section traces the history of public finance and political freedom from the end of the Bronze Age to the end of the Dark Ages, contrasts two different types of finances -- tribal and imperial, explains the historic advantages of autocratic government, considers the critical period when some of the emerging societies settled down and civilized themselves without losing their political freedom, and, in regard to the so-called Dark Ages, asks why they had a more intense and enduring effect in western Europe than in other places. This initial section sets the stage for a comprehensive description of the relationship of public finance and political freedom in the Middle Ages and modern times.Read more ›
Macdonald's argument starts with the fiscal stress associated with having to raise huge amount of funds in preparation for warfare. In such situation, raising taxes is impractical. Often tax rates would have had to double or treble to raise adequate funds to finance wars throughout history. A government can?t do that without causing a revolution. Often what states and government did before the advent of well developed public bond markets was to mine their grounds (or grounds of conquered territories) for mineral riches (gold and silver). The states would then hoard these gold reserves as funds available for a rainy day (war). But, as Macdonald points out this treasure hoarding was most inefficient from an economic standpoint.
Public debt markets became a much preferred alternative to treasure hoarding for financing wars. This was true for several reasons. Treasure hoarding represented a huge amount of wasted capital not reinvested in the economy where it could have generated rapidly rising living standards for society at large. Bond financing (public debt) was so much more flexible a tool for war financing than an ongoing tasking treasure hoarding mechanism.Read more ›
A Free Nation Debt in Debt is an impressive bit of research and analysis. Macdonald does a remarkable job tracing the role of public debt stretching back thousands of years in an attempt to advance the notion that democracies are inextricably tied to government funding, and indeed exist because of it. Throughout history, Macdonald argues, public debt has applied pressure on government to become more transparent to both creditors and the citizens it represents.
Of course, the problem with public debt is that it necessitates taxation -- and it may irk readers to hear Macdonald judge who is under- and over-taxed -- an intimately related issue. In fact, taxation plays such a role that you could argue it's a minor character in Macdonald's story.
Does A Free Nation Deep in Debt succeed? That will depend on your perspective. Small government types probably won't care for Macdonald's primary thesis while others may nod in agreement. Either way, it is a fine example of historical research. Warning: Not a casual read. You don't need a degree in economics to pick this up but don't expect to breeze through through it either.
France had kings who defaulted on a whim, a bramble bush
of borrowing instruments, a terribly inefficient tax system, with lots of exemptions for their aristocrats, no public information and a lousy resale market. French citizen did not lend to France. England paid 3% on its debt and France paid 11% on its debt as the Revolution neared. England carried debt of double its GNP and France went bankrupt which killed the ancien regime with debt of 2/3d of GNP. Terrific story.
MacDonald is concise and accurate summarizer of the literature on issues (American Revolutionary War debt) that I know about.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It has been years since I read this book, but it transformed my entire outlook on macroeconomics. During the Napoleonic Wars, England had a robust public debt market while France... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Charles J. Edwards
I have not finished this marvelously over-written book but I can tell you I no longer look at the U.S.'s problems the same way. Read morePublished on November 25, 2004 by Max R.
This impressively researched opus reflects an obsession with One Big Idea that never comes quite clearly into focus, but revolves around the critical historical role played by... Read morePublished on June 7, 2004 by Rolf Dobelli