June 5th, 2014

_Austerity_, Mark Blyth

Subtitled: The History of a Dangerous Idea
Published by Oxford University Press

First and foremost, thanks to R. (not my husband or sister) for getting me this for my birthday!

Second, Blyth quotes Tony Judt's _Ill Fares the Land_ favorably/references it in a footnote. Fortunately, while this happened at the very beginning of the book, I sort of didn't really pay any attention to it until the end, so I was able to finish the book and enjoy its many good points.

Here is an earlier post about _Ill Fares the Land_: http://walkitout.livejournal.com/729287.html

As my historian librarian friend I. pointed out at the time, Judt was dying when the book was written and it was completed by someone else. His other work is apparently much better.

Many parts of Blyth's book are excellent. It is a history of ideas; the people are transient and not well developed, so this is in stark contrast to Neil Irwin's _The Alchemists_ (http://walkitout.livejournal.com/1124124.html). Also, while Irwin focused tightly on the most recent downtown, only resorting to earlier history for context, Blyth's story covers a much broader sweep of history.

The biggest complaint -- and it is a serious one -- is that Blyth questions whether we should have saved the banks at all, given the large gap between potential and actual output that occurred anyway. So, first of all, that's scary, because there's a big difference between the total collapse of a nation and its reconstruction in some very unpredictable way and the nation just not doing as much as it could have for a few years. We should all be able to tell the difference. Second, his point of comparison is Iceland. As I was shocked to realize when I was trying to read another book about Iceland (really should go back and try it again), Iceland is tiny. It's smaller than _Cleveland, OH_. I don't think it is a valid basis for comparison, especially in a book where the REBLL countries were dismissed for a variety of reasons, including their small size.

The best thing about this book is that Blyth is prepared to repeatedly and forcefully argue that saving is just as immoral as spending more than you have. This is an important argument to make and remake and hammer on until everyone Gets It. You cannot have a current account surplus without someone else running a current account deficit. Honestly, Blyth's willingness to energetically and imaginatively make this point makes up for every other problem in the book.

Really.