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Robert J. Samuelson, "The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence"
Random House | 2008 | ISBN: 0375505482 | 335 pages | siPDF | 4.1 MB
It’s a giant gap in our history. The Great Inflation, argues award-winning columnist Robert J. Samuelson in this provocative book, was the worst domestic policy blunder of the postwar era and played a crucial role in transforming American politics, economy, and everyday life—and yet its story is hardly remembered or appreciated. In these uncertain economic times, it is more imperative than ever that we understand what happened in the 1960s and 1970s, lest we be doomed to repeat our mistakes.
From 1960 to 1979, inflation rose from barely more than 1 percent to nearly 14 percent. It was the greatest peacetime inflationary spike in this nation’s history, and it had massive repercussions in every area of our lives. The direct consequences included Ronald Reagan’s election to the presidency in 1980, stagnation in living standards, and a growing belief—both in America and abroad—that the great-power status of the United States was ending. The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath traces the origins and rise of double-digit inflation and its fall in the brutal 1981-82 recession, engineered by the Federal Reserve under then-chairman Paul Volcker and with the staunch backing of Reagan.
But that is only half the story. The end of high inflation triggered economic and social changes that are still with us. The stock market and housing booms were both direct outcomes; American business became more productive—and also much less protective of workers—and globalization was encouraged.
We cannot understand today’s world, Samuelson contends, without understanding the Great Inflation and its aftermath. Nor can we prepare for the future unless we heed its lessons. This incisive and enlightening book will stand as the authoritative account of a watershed event of our times.
From Publishers Weekly
Samuelson, a columnist for the Washington Post and Newsweek, presents a highly readable and thought-provoking discussion of the crippling inflation that hit the United States from the mid-1960s to 1982, resulting in four recessions.
According to the author, the culprit of inflation was the collective failure of communication and candor by the nation's economists; their bad advice became bad policy as both parties in the White House propagated economic ignorance that led to the Great Inflation. The memory of the Great Depression led to a full employment obsession—among other dangerous myths and stereotypes that were the major barrier to economic convalescence—culminating in a stalemate that was only lifted during the accidental alliance between Reagan and Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker.
While business cycles seem milder now (The Great Moderation), the author argues that the cycle could repeat. The book's detailed sketches of the working of the Federal Reserve, stock market and corporate America give a comprehensive picture of the economy, which Samuelson describes as a social, political, and psychological mechanism encompassing ideas and values as much as trade and finance.
Newsweek and Washington Post columnist Samuelson is one of the rare journalists who debates politics and economics with a healthy skepticism toward conventional wisdom. The severity of the inflation that plagued the U.S. economy throughout the 1970s and early 1980s is often overlooked, but at the time it threatened to destabilize our entire monetary system.
After World War II it was believed that downturns could be avoided by simply maintaining high employment, but that model ultimately led to the “stagflation” of the late 1970s and contributed to Jimmy Carter’s loss to Ronald Reagan in 1980. Through an unspoken alliance between Reagan and Fed chairman (and Democrat) Paul Volker, a deliberately engineered and very painful recession finally ended the inflationary spiral.
Samuelson compares the challenges of that era to those we face now, and he is concerned that few leaders today have the fortitude to make the unpopular choices that will bring long-term solutions to the current economic crisis. Politicians would do well to study these errors of the past that teach that choosing quick fixes only delays and worsens the inevitable.
Tags: Economics, History, Business, Politics
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