Governments today in both Europe and the United States have succeeded in casting government spending as reckless wastefulness that has made the economy worse. In contrast, they have advanced a policy of draconian budget cuts - austerity - to solve the financial crisis. We are told that we have all lived beyond our means and now need to tighten our belts. This view conveniently forgets where all that debt came from. Not from an orgy of government spending, but as the direct result of bailing out, recapitalizing, and adding liquidity to the broken banking system. Through these actions private debt was rechristened as government debt while those responsible for generating it walked away scot free, placing the blame on the state, and the burden on the taxpayer. That burden now takes the form of a global turn to austerity, the policy of reducing domestic wages and prices to restore competitiveness and balance the budget.
The problem, according to political economist Mark Blyth, is that austerity is a very dangerous idea. First of all, it doesn't work. As the past four years and countless historical examples from the last 100 years show, while it makes sense for any one state to try and cut its way to growth, it simply cannot work when all states try it simultaneously: all we do is shrink the economy. In the worst case, austerity policies worsened the Great Depression and created the conditions for seizures of power by the forces responsible for the Second World War: the Nazis and the Japanese military establishment. As Blyth amply demonstrates, the arguments for austerity are tenuous and the evidence thin. Rather than expanding growth and opportunity, the repeated revival of this dead economic idea has almost always led to low growth along with increases in wealth and income inequality. Austerity demolishes the conventional wisdom, marshaling an army of facts to demand that we recognize austerity for what it is, and what it costs us.
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Every politician needs to read this book
This book explains the history of economic austerity and how it has never worked and why it will never work. The author uses in-depth and sometimes complicated economic rationale to explain why but I think that is what lends so much legitimacy to his argument. I will admit it is not for the feeble minded but it is also not so complicated that the average concerned person can’t understand.
He gives the reader a complete analysis of why public spending cuts never lead to economic growth and typically fuel rising debt instead of lowering it. He further details how the global financial crisis is really a private crisis of the banking sector and not a problem of public spending run amok. It is glaringly obvious that governments have allowed the finance industry to needlessly gamble and in many cases, have been forced to bail them out with public money.
This book allowed me to finally understand the real reasons behind the European debt crisis and how much of it extends from several structural flaws in the Euro. I have read a number of books on the 2008/2009 financial crisis and I would say this is the best one yet. This really brought everything together for me as it really gets to the "why" behind a lot of the problems we see today.
I like his analysis of Iceland at the end and I wish he had written much more on the topic. My only complaint is that the author quotes a number of economic theorists and sometimes it is hard to determine if he is still talking about their opinion or his own.
Every politician should read this book and understand how cuts to public spending almost never produce the desired economic growth.
Great explanation of the concept