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New York Times Bestseller

One of our wisest and most clear-eyed economic thinkers offers a masterful narrative of the crisis and its lessons.

Many fine books on the financial crisis were first drafts of history—books written to fill the need for immediate understanding. Alan S. Blinder, esteemed Princeton professor, Wall Street Journal columnist, and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, held off, taking the time to understand the crisis and to think his way through to a truly comprehensive and coherent narrative of how the worst economic crisis in postwar American history happened, what the government did to fight it, and what we can do from here—mired as we still are in its wreckage.

With bracing clarity, Blinder shows us how the U.S. financial system, which had grown far too complex for its own good—and too unregulated for the public good—experienced a perfect storm beginning in 2007. Things started unraveling when the much-chronicled housing bubble burst, but the ensuing implosion of what Blinder calls the “bond bubble” was larger and more devastating. Some people think of the financial industry as a sideshow with little relevance to the real economy—where the jobs, factories, and shops are. But finance is more like the circulatory system of the economic body: if the blood stops flowing, the body goes into cardiac arrest. When America’s financial structure crumbled, the damage proved to be not only deep, but wide. It took the crisis for the world to discover, to its horror, just how truly interconnected—and fragile—the global financial system is. Some observers argue that large global forces were the major culprits of the crisis. Blinder disagrees, arguing that the problem started in the U.S. and was pushed abroad, as complex, opaque, and overrated investment products were exported to a hungry world, which was nearly poisoned by them.

The second part of the story explains how American and international government intervention kept us from a total meltdown. Many of the U.S. government’s actions, particularly the Fed’s, were previously unimaginable. And to an amazing—and certainly misunderstood—extent, they worked. The worst did not happen. Blinder offers clear-eyed answers to the questions still before us, even if some of the choices ahead are as divisive as they are unavoidable. After the Music Stopped is an essential history that we cannot afford to forget, because one thing history teaches is that it will happen again.
Will higher pay provide an incentive for better work? Can productivity be increased by changing the way workers are compensated? In response to the urgent need to improve productivity performance in American industry, leading economists examine alternative compensation schemes to assess their efficiency in raising productivity.

Over the years a number of suggestions have been made for improving labor productivity by changing the manner in which laborers are compensated for their efforts. The ideas presented and analyzed in this volume have all been put into practice, in modified form or on a small scale, in the United States or elsewhere. Some are new; others quite old.

David I. Levine and Laura D'Andrea Tyson consider the effects of employee participation in decisionmaking on firm performance, and Martin L. Weitzman and Douglas L. Kruse discuss the implications of profit sharing and related forms of pay for group performance. Michael A. Conte and Jan Svejnar analyze employee stock ownership plans in the United States and other forms of worker ownership in Europe; Masanore Hashimoto uses a transaction-cost perspective to assess Japanese employment and wage systems. Daniel J. B. Mitchell, David Lewin, and Edward E. Lawler III give an overall analysis of traditional and alternative pay systems, their history, development, and curent use, and recommend further experimentation with alternative compensation plans to ensure more adaptability on the part of U.S. firms. Blinder provides an overview of the findings and conclusions.

Some economic events are so major and unsettling that they “change everything.” Such is the case with the financial crisis that started in the summer of 2007 and is still a drag on the world economy. Yet enough time has now elapsed for economists to consider questions that run deeper than the usual focus on the immediate causes and consequences of the crisis. How have these stunning events changed our thinking about the role of the financial system in the economy, about the costs and benefits of financial innovation, about the efficiency of financial markets, and about the role the government should play in regulating finance? In Rethinking the Financial Crisis, some of the nation’s most renowned economists share their assessments of particular aspects of the crisis and reconsider the way we think about the financial system and its role in the economy. In its wide-ranging inquiry into the financial crash, Rethinking the Financial Crisis marshals an impressive collection of rigorous and yet empirically-relevant research that, in some respects, upsets the conventional wisdom about the crisis and also opens up new areas for exploration. Two separate chapters–by Burton G. Malkiel and by Hersh Shefrin and Meir Statman – debate whether the facts of the financial crisis upend the efficient market hypothesis and require a more behavioral account of financial market performance. To build a better bridge between the study of finance and the “real” economy of production and employment, Simon Gilchrist and Egan Zakrasjek take an innovative measure of financial stress and embed it in a model of the U.S. economy to assess how disruptions in financial markets affect economic activity—and how the Federal Reserve might do monetary policy better. The volume also examines the crucial role of financial innovation in the evolution of the pre-crash financial system. Thomas Philippon documents the huge increase in the size of the financial services industry relative to real GDP, and also the increasing cost per financial transaction. He suggests that the finance industry of 1900 was just as able to produce loans, bonds, and stocks as its modern counterpart—and it did so more cheaply. Robert Jarrow looks in detail at some of the major types of exotic securities developed by financial engineers, such as collateralized debt obligations and credit-default swaps, reaching judgments on which make the real economy more efficient and which do not. The volume’s final section turns explicitly to regulatory matters. Robert Litan discusses the political economy of financial regulation before and after the crisis. He reviews the provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, which he considers an imperfect but useful response to a major breakdown in market and regulatory discipline. At a time when the financial sector continues to be a source of considerable controversy, Rethinking the Financial Crisis addresses important questions about the complex workings of American finance and shows how the study of economics needs to change to deepen our understanding of the indispensable but risky role that the financial system plays in modern economies.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, a substantial number of U.S. companies announced major restructuring and downsizing. But we don't know exactly what changes in the U.S. and global economy triggered this phenomenon. Little research has been done on the underlying causes of downsizing. Did companies actually reduce the size of their workforces, or did they simply change the composition of their workforces by firing some kinds of workers and hiring others? Downsizing in America, one of the most comprehensive analyses of the subject to date, confronts all these questions, exploring three main issues: the extent to which firms actually downsized, the factors that triggered changes in firm size, and the consequences of downsizing. The authors show that much of the conventional wisdom regarding the spate of downsizing in the 1980s and 1990s is inaccurate. Nearly half of the large firms that announced major layoffs subsequently increased their workforce by more than 10 percent within two or three years. The only arena in which downsizing predominated appears to be the manufacturing sector-less than 20 percent of the U.S. workforce. Downsizing in America offers a range of compelling hypotheses to account for adoption of downsizing as an accepted business practice. In the short run, many companies experiencing difficulties due to decreased sales, cash flow problems, or declining securities prices reduced their workforces temporarily, expanding them again when business conditions improved. The most significant trigger leading to long-term downsizing was the rapid change in technology. Companies rid themselves of their least skilled workers and subsequently hired employees who were better prepared to work with new technology, which in some sectors reduced the size of firm at which production is most efficient. Baumol, Blinder, and Wolff also reveal what they call the dirty little secret of downsizing: it is profitable in part because it holds down wages. Downsizing in America shows that reducing employee rolls increased profits, since downsizing firms spent less money on wages relative to output, but it did not increase productivity. Nor did unions impede downsizing. The authors show that unionized industries were actually more likely to downsize in order to eliminate expensive union labor. In sum, downsizing transferred income from labor to capital-from workers to owners
Two leading economists discuss a range of issues relating to the “offshoring” of American jobs, from free trade to unemployment levels.

It is no surprise that many fearful American workers see the call center operator in Bangalore or the factory worker in Guangzhou as a threat to their jobs. The emergence of China and India (along with other, smaller developing countries) as economic powers has doubled the supply of labor to the integrated world economy. Economic theory suggests that such a dramatic increase in the supply of labor without an accompanying increase in the supply of capital is likely to exert downward pressure on wages for workers already in the integrated world economy, and wages for most workers in the United States have indeed stagnated or declined. In this book, leading economists Jagdish Bhagwati and Alan S. Blinder offer their perspectives on how the outsourcing of labor and the shifting of jobs to lower-wage countries affect the U.S. economy and what, if any, policy responses are required. Bhagwati, in his colorful and pithy style, focuses on globalization and free trade, while Blinder, erudite and witty, addresses the significance of labor market adjustment caused by trade. Bhagwati's and Blinder's contributions are followed by comments from economists Richard Freedman, Douglas A. Irwin, Lori G. Kletzer, and Robert Z. Lawrence. Bhagwati and Blinder then respond separately to the issues raised. Benjamin Friedman, who edited this volume (and organized the symposium that inspired it), provides an introduction.

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