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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2013 Oxford University Press (P)2014 Audible Inc.

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Biting Rhetoric; Short on Answers

I learned about this book from my mother, who heard an interview with the author on NPR. Blyth grew up in Scotland, and is a professor of political economy at Brown. Oxford University Press published this title in 2012. You may have heard of the concept if you’ve been following current events in Europe. In short, austerity is the curtailment of government spending, often resulting in large cuts to the welfare state and other social expenditures. It is often justified by the aim of reducing government debt, although this claim is almost always fraudulent in practice (if not in intention). As the subtitle suggests (“The History of a Dangerous Idea”), austerity isn’t just uncomfortable, but could be blamed (indirectly), for such inhumane incidents as World War II. Blyth meticulously tracks the history of austerity globally, going back to the roots of the concept with Adam Smith and John Locke, tracing it’s evolution over the past century, and then offering a current-day analysis. If anything, his refutation of research done over the past thirty years in support of austerity is too rigorous, verging on obsessive. Ultimately, this book is an economic text, and you should be prepared for technical literature (although there isn’t any math in the book) if you’re considering picking up this book. One refrain in the book is that austerity is an ideology too compelling to be dispelled by a century of misery, destruction, and abject failure. Although Blyth repeatedly admits the inability of facts to have any impact to discredit austerity, he blunders on with a relentlessly fact-based rhetoric throughout the text. The book leaves two vital questions unanswered: 1. If austerity fails to accomplish its stated aims so consistency, what affords it such credence? 2. What ideology of superior ethic and utility has the temerity to unseat austerity? In the book, Blyth valiantly strives to unpack some of the underlying fundamentals that drive a healthy economy. Such a feat is not to be scoffed at; few academics or economists make it this far, tending to fumble about with mechanisms rather than getting to the pattern level. It is a question that has been driving much of my inquiry for many years now. He does so by illustrating relatively simple maxims, rather than getting into the complex metaphysics underlying the social technology we call money (also a fascinating arena, but less approachable). Where is the inquisitive reader to go from here? I’m looking forward to reading histories of Japan and China, as well as Yanis Varoufakis’ two most recent books. Unfortunately, I have yet to encounter a paradigm that encompasses ecological economics while preserving a high quality of living. Currently, the faster our economy churns, the more destruction is borne. And yet, depressions more commonly result in fascist dictatorships than socialist anarchies. How we bridge economic and ecological health is one of the existential mandates of our times, and the more I learn, the further I realize we are from a pragmatic solution. Regenerative economics continues to be elusive.

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  • JJ
  • 08-07-15

Every politician needs to read this book

Any additional comments?

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.

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Great ideas, terrible voice over talent

Mark Blyth essentially gives these ideas away for free in his numerous YouTube videos on the subject. I had hoped for more content that isn't part of his numerous recorded lectures - this was disappointing in that respect. Also, having watched a number of these videos, Blyth has a distinctive rhythm and tone to his speech, and that comes across in his writing as well. Unfortunately, the narrator, Fred Stella, seems to be doing his best to imitate a machine trying to imitate human speech. He takes an already dense subject and makes it almost unlistenable. Just search for Mark Blyth on YouTube and watch the top five results. You'll get all the same information and hear it in Blyth's inimitable Glaswegian.

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good read boring at times.

lots of information, found it hard to absorb all of it will listen to again.

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Instant classic

A review of the 2008 financial crisis, historical economic theory, and the story of austerity.

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Great explanation of the concept

Both the written and the audibook versions are great. It goes into great detail as to why economically austerity is not a good idea, and why country sized economies cannot be run like a household budget. The author does a great job of building up on concepts and showing how the idea of austerity can hinder, not help an economy.

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Brilliant

I'm somewhate familiar with Mark Blyth thanks to youtubin action. Wish he would have narrated it personally with his Scottish accent. Oh well. Still a great listen.

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A good overview

This can get a little hard to follow if you're not up on the last few decades of EU monetary kerfuffles, but the book isn't setting out to be an intro to international monetary policy. I thought his arguments were well laid out and supported with real world case studies, though I'm predisposed to agree with his conclusions. The writing style is accessible and not too dry, and the narrator is pleasant.

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wonderful

Mark Blyth is the man! his wonderful expliantion makes it easy for regular people to understand complicated subjects and enjoy doing so.

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  • Steve
  • 04-08-15

An enlightening read

This is something that that everyone of the voting public should be aware of. The author pulls no puches ans cites each one of his points with a valid reference. His conclusions are logical and feasible and delivered in plain and explained language.

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  • Michael
  • 07-29-15

Economically heavy

I gave this book a go, as I was interested in the subject matter. I would only recommend to a serious follower of economic theory as it is too in depth and jargon heavy for the dabbler like myself.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Andrew
  • 04-29-15

Hugely enlightening.

Was expecting quite a dry factual story. Found the whole book hugely enlightening with excellent cross referenced examples to prove thesis. Very well narrated keeping my attention through some very complex issues throughout.

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  • Robert Jenkins
  • 01-13-15

politicians should hang their heads in shame

very good content, dubious delivery but not distracting enough to stop you listening.

book has an obvious bias but then so does the policy of austerity

5 people found this helpful

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  • Jonathan
  • 08-22-15

Really interesting but definitely not entry level.

The content is very enlightening and well thought out. However, as someone who hadn't read much on economics before the learning curve was rather steep.

4 people found this helpful

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  • W. Warby
  • 08-06-15

Not for the layman

This book may be interesting to specialists in the field but for a layman with a general interest in economic theory, this book is way too technical and complicated, and I got completely lost. It is filled with too much detail and facts and figures used to evidence the points being made, which made it hard for me to grasp the core thread of the arguments. About three hours from the end I gave up, having learned almost nothing.

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  • gerrard
  • 06-23-15

Great book

Really enjoyed this book. The technical explanations are aimed at economics students, but were well explained for the uninitiated (me). Chapters 1-3 are breath taking. Mark Blyth has lectured on this topic at the RSA which is an excellent synopsis of his theory on Austerity do check it out,

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  • GKS
  • 07-30-20

An unintelligible rant

A very poor ideological rant with no attempt to to make the narrative understandable or logical.

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  • Jim W
  • 06-18-20

So well explained and important

Only Yanis Varoufakis can explain complicated economic ideas this well to people with little background. This book amazed me with how concrete it was. Everyone should read it so we know how pointless all this suffering is. I would say that the first few chapters are the weakest, so persevere.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-13-20

brilliant history of austerity,

especially relevant in light of new threat to economies from covid. government's will likely try this playbook again in 2020, need to be ready to resist and oppose with evidence

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  • Sean James Finn
  • 12-16-16

Awesome, but for one thing

The book should have been narrated by the author. otherwise, it's an awesome analysis of austerity.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-05-19

Australian Politicians need to read this!

An essential read if your interested in economics and politics. The author lays down a solid well researched and historical analysis of how economists get things so wrong!

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  • John
  • 09-11-18

Not a convincing arguement against austerity.

Not a convincing arguement against austerity. Many examples cited are poor examples of austerity. It appears he claims government is both the problem and the solution. Burdening the citizen with ever amounting debt and taxes is not a long term solution.