walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

_Exorbitant Privilege_, Barry Eichengreen (kindle)

Subtitled: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System
Published 2010 by Oxford University Press

I read Krugman and DeLong's blogs, erratically, and one or the other or both of them referred to Eichengreen enough times to send me off to Amazon to see what he has written and think about buying/reading one or more. I'm glad I did.

Eichengreen is an extremely readable author. He is so readable, and so much of his historical overview is so evenhanded and neutral (and he is so careful to tell you when it is not) that it's pretty easy to start trusting him and then be surprised. For better or for worse, his understanding of the history of bills and notes is sufficiently at odds with my previous reading that it kept me on my toes, so when he started giving miserably awful advice about how much we should worry about the deficit and why, I chuckled, rather than feeling betrayed and angry, in much the same way that I forgive ridiculous behavior in characters in romance novels that I might not tolerate in any other context.

Also, I stuck around for _Golden Fetters_, altho I'm less convinced I'm going to finish it. Eichengreen is aware that prior to The Great War, the negative impacts of stabilization of exchange rates could be offloaded onto groups whose awareness of why their world sucked was limited/wrong and whose political capacity to respond was even more limited, which makes his characterization of the pre-WW1 period so jarring. He knows it only _looked_ better than the interwar period, but he persists in saying they were different and the way he words things is confusing. Also, sloppy language about precisely what is meant by gold standard in various periods (again, I blame my previous reading for my response).

Because I was reading Eichengreen in the evenings, after going on rides all day, there's some confusion in my head about precisely where (down to which book -- altho I think it was _Exorbitant Privilege_) Eichengreen asserted baldly that we'll never get a world currency without world government, it was really fucking hilarious that he wrote it, given that he put that _after_ a discussion of how the Euro came into being. Seriously: if you can have a Euro without a Euro-zone government, why could we not do the same thing globally? Just because it ain't pretty doesn't mean it won't happen. (<-- I am not saying it will happen. I am merely noting that the bald assertion is unconvincing to me.)

Despite all of that, Eichengreen is unbelievably enjoyable reading. I'll keep coming back for more, even if he keeps making me chuckle and shake my head occasionally, because overall, he's amazingly sensible and quite fair in his explanations in the historical portions of the books.
Tags: book review
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