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An Extraordinary Time The decades after World War II were a golden age across much of the world It was a time of economic miracles an era when steady jobs were easy to find and families could see their living standards improving year after year And then around 1973 the good times vanished The world economy slumped badly then settled into the slow erratic growth that had been the norm before the war The result was an era of anxiety uncertainty and political extremism that we are still grappling with today In An Extraordinary Time acclaimed economic historian Marc Levinson describes how the end of the postwar boom reverberated throughout the global economy bringing energy shortages financial crises soaring unemployment and a gnawing sense of insecurity Politicians suddenly unable to deliver the prosperity of years past railed haplessly against currency speculators oil sheikhs and other forces they could not control From Sweden to Southern California citizens grew suspicious of their newly ineffective governments and rebelled against the high taxes needed to support social welfare programs enacted when coffers were flush Almost everywhere the pendulum swung to the right bringing politicians like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan to power But their promise that deregulation privatization lower tax rates and smaller government would restore economic security and robust growth proved unfounded Although the guiding hand of the state could no longer deliver the steady economic performance the public had come to expect free market policies were eually unable to do so The golden age would not come back again A sweeping reappraisal of the last sixty years of world history An Extraordinary Time forces us to come to terms with how little control we actually have over the economy A refreshing take on the low growth era of the 1970s onward by someone who doesn't have a political axe to grind Levinson looks across countries to find the causes of lower growth and to measure the political trends that arose in response to it He tells the story of the overburdened bureaucracies of the post war developed countries but also the failure of neoliberalism and deregulation to reverse the slowdown of growth Levinson seems to conclude that neither approach statism vs neoliberalism was effective at ensuring the extraordinary times went on but it would have been interesting to have a discussion of whether the neoliberalism of the 80s and 90s improved growth at the margin eg ensured growth slowed less than the alternative of statism would have In some cases this seems to be the implication of Levinson's findings eg the reduced prices as a result of deregulating the airline industry making air travel accessible to the middle class but he doesn't tie these efficiencies into a larger argument about the benefits of neoliberalism Very descriptive history of the end of the post war boom in the 1970s This is a period I read about a lot It is a place of turns for the worse a point where things went terribly wrong This period should get attention than the 1960s or 1980s It is a point of departure a watershed where things were going in a good direction to where things went in a bad direction Prosperity faltered and the secure times of the previous three decades were called into uestion Old Keynesian tweeks in economy didn't seem to be working It was a decade of Oil Shocks Stagflation and growing distrust of institutions When things turned right later in the decade in response to these developments we went from the frying pan into the fire where we've been ever since I like the description in the book but I don't share the author's prognosis that the postwar boom can't be revived or that Keynesian policy couldn't have retrieved our economy over the long haul but they lost their argument with the public and thereby we all lost This review was written in multiple parts over a working dayAn Extraordinary Time The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy by Marc Levinson is an examination of the economic downturn in the 1970's and a look at what Levinson terms as the end of the post WWII boom After WWII many Western nations as well as Japan experienced massive economic growth rates a large expansion in personal income for citizens and an expansion of social welfare programs and workers unions a period often dubbed the Golden Years or Les Trente Glorieuses These were years of plenty for many with massive industrial growth Politicians grappled with the concept of full employment and were generally accepting of higher inflation rates as workers incomes and macro productivity rose to match it Most nations utilized centralized principles of economic guidance with even the most liberal of democracies creating ministries and agencies to control exports manage interest rates and encourage steady job growth and industrial output This period saw massive rates of infrastructure growth as well paid blue collar workers sought new homes cars and consumer goods to improve their uality of living This period transcended political divisions with both socialist and conservative parties expanding welfare programs engaging in protectionist economic policies and generally seeking full employment at the expense of inflation ratesThe meat and bones of this book however is the examination of what went wrong with the above policy priorities what the reaction was and what the issues with those decisions were After the Golden Years 1970ish most liberal democracies that existed made decisive shifts to the right of the political spectrum Politicians like Nixon Reagan Thatcher Kohl and so on made major gains politically and disrupted the old party system that existed in most mature liberal democracies US excluded New parties emerged and the overarching priority of both political actors and citizenry was deregulation with the ultimate goal of tax reduction for the average consumerworker Why did this happen The thirty or so Glorious Years were a workers paradise What changedFirst off Levinson argues that the most significant change was a massive drop in productivity factors in Western industrial firms and an inability to adapt to the changes by Western governments and citizens Most Western constituents were used to periods of sustainable and steady growth and when this trend failed they blamed their current political structure namely the socially driven policies of the previous periods politicians The average Joe only thinks about his bottom line no criticism necessarily but fails to see the larger picture This is the crux of Levinson's argument But why Why would a poorer individual with a declining share in society who is struggling to make ends meat vote for political actors that we see nowadays as representatives of the Upper Class This is a tough uestion but Levinson does a wonderful job examining the changes and issues presented through a critical lens and the prevailing attitudes of voters at the times examined Suffice to say Levinson has written an interesting account of post WWII economics The author argues for increased independence of firms in the economy and a careful examination of global policy trends over a period of decades following the economic downturns present after 1973 An examination of banking trends levels of government structure and business cycle trends takes a deeper look at how and why downturns began after the 1970's and ultimately determines a return in this period to cyclical economic ups and downs These cycles are global and often little can be done by individual nation states to combat them alone Greater cooperation between Federal Banks and national governments is reuired to ensure cycles in the economy do as little damage as possible to the average citizens Levinson is not offering a small government argument but instead a nuanced cooperation between private and public elements on a global scale to encourage low unemployment figures high wages solid benefits and economic stability This was a very topical read and I can certainly recommend it as an adept examination of economic downturns and the policy and business level decisions that paved their way into existence Stunning analysis of the economic history of the 1970s I find an apt comparison between the ungovernabilty of that era and the present which both led to sharp turns toward the right in the capitalist democracies

  • Hardcover
  • 336 pages
  • An Extraordinary Time
  • Marc Levinson
  • English
  • 10 February 2016
  • 9780465061983

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