The European Economy since 1945: Coordinated Capitalism and Beyond

Princeton University Press
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In 1945, many Europeans still heated with coal, cooled their food with ice, and lacked indoor plumbing. Today, things could hardly be more different. Over the second half of the twentieth century, the average European's buying power tripled, while working hours fell by a third. The European Economy since 1945 is a broad, accessible, forthright account of the extraordinary development of Europe's economy since the end of World War II. Barry Eichengreen argues that the continent's history has been critical to its economic performance, and that it will continue to be so going forward.

Challenging standard views that basic economic forces were behind postwar Europe's success, Eichengreen shows how Western Europe in particular inherited a set of institutions singularly well suited to the economic circumstances that reigned for almost three decades. Economic growth was facilitated by solidarity-centered trade unions, cohesive employers' associations, and growth-minded governments--all legacies of Europe's earlier history. For example, these institutions worked together to mobilize savings, finance investment, and stabilize wages.

However, this inheritance of economic and social institutions that was the solution until around 1973--when Europe had to switch from growth based on brute-force investment and the acquisition of known technologies to growth based on increased efficiency and innovation--then became the problem.

Thus, the key questions for the future are whether Europe and its constituent nations can now adapt their institutions to the needs of a globalized knowledge economy, and whether in doing so, the continent's distinctive history will be an obstacle or an asset.

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For more than half a century, the U.S. dollar has been not just America's currency but the world's. It is used globally by importers, exporters, investors, governments and central banks alike. Nearly three-quarters of all $100 bills circulate outside the United States. The dollar holdings of the Chinese government alone come to more than $1,000 per Chinese resident. This dependence on dollars, by banks, corporations and governments around the world, is a source of strength for the United States. It is, as a critic of U.S. policies once put it, America's "exorbitant privilege." However, recent events have raised concerns that this soon may be a privilege lost. Among these have been the effects of the financial crisis and the Great Recession: high unemployment, record federal deficits, and financial distress. In addition there is the rise of challengers like the euro and China's renminbi. Some say that the dollar may soon cease to be the world's standard currency--which would depress American living standards and weaken the country's international influence. In Exorbitant Privilege, one of our foremost economists, Barry Eichengreen, traces the rise of the dollar to international prominence over the course of the 20th century. He shows how the greenback dominated internationally in the second half of the century for the same reasons--and in the same way--that the United States dominated the global economy. But now, with the rise of China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies, America no longer towers over the global economy. It follows, Eichengreen argues, that the dollar will not be as dominant. But this does not mean that the coming changes will necessarily be sudden and dire--or that the dollar is doomed to lose its international status. Challenging the presumption that there is room for only one true global currency--either the dollar or something else--Eichengreen shows that several currencies have shared this international role over long periods. What was true in the distant past will be true, once again, in the not-too-distant future. The dollar will lose its international currency status, Eichengreen warns, only if the United States repeats the mistakes that led to the financial crisis and only if it fails to put its fiscal and financial house in order. The greenback's fate hinges, in other words, not on the actions of the Chinese government but on economic policy decisions here in the United States. Incisive, challenging and iconoclastic, Exorbitant Privilege, which was shortlisted for the FT Goldman Sachs 2011 Best Business Book of the Year, is a fascinating analysis of the changes that lie ahead. It is a challenge, equally, to those who warn that the dollar is doomed and to those who regard its continuing dominance as inevitable.
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Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jul 1, 2008
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Pages
520
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ISBN
9781400829545
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economic History
Business & Economics / Government & Business
History / Europe / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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The two great financial crises of the past century are the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession, which began in 2008. Both occurred against the backdrop of sharp credit booms, dubious banking practices, and a fragile and unstable global financial system. When markets went into cardiac arrest in 2008, policymakers invoked the lessons of the Great Depression in attempting to avert the worst. While their response prevented a financial collapse and catastrophic depression like that of the 1930s, unemployment in the U.S. and Europe still rose to excruciating high levels. Pain and suffering were widespread. The question, given this, is why didn't policymakers do better? Hall of Mirrors, Barry Eichengreen's monumental twinned history of the two crises, provides the farthest-reaching answer to this question to date. Alternating back and forth between the two crises and between North America and Europe, Eichengreen shows how fear of another Depression following the collapse of Lehman Brothers shaped policy responses on both continents, with both positive and negative results. Since bank failures were a prominent feature of the Great Depression, policymakers moved quickly to strengthen troubled banks. But because derivatives markets were not important in the 1930s, they missed problems in the so-called shadow banking system. Having done too little to support spending in the 1930s, governments also ramped up public spending this time around. But the response was indiscriminate and quickly came back to haunt overly indebted governments, particularly in Southern Europe. Moreover, because politicians overpromised, and because their measures failed to stave off a major recession, a backlash quickly developed against activist governments and central banks. Policymakers then prematurely succumbed to the temptation to return to normal policies before normal conditions had returned. The result has been a grindingly slow recovery in the United States and endless recession in Europe. Hall of Mirrors is both a major work of economic history and an essential exploration of how we avoided making only some of the same mistakes twice. It shows not just how the "lessons" of Great Depression history continue to shape society's response to contemporary economic problems, but also how the experience of the Great Recession will permanently change how we think about the Great Depression.
Why are some parts of the world so rich and others so poor? Why did the Industrial Revolution--and the unprecedented economic growth that came with it--occur in eighteenth-century England, and not at some other time, or in some other place? Why didn't industrialization make the whole world rich--and why did it make large parts of the world even poorer? In A Farewell to Alms, Gregory Clark tackles these profound questions and suggests a new and provocative way in which culture--not exploitation, geography, or resources--explains the wealth, and the poverty, of nations.

Countering the prevailing theory that the Industrial Revolution was sparked by the sudden development of stable political, legal, and economic institutions in seventeenth-century Europe, Clark shows that such institutions existed long before industrialization. He argues instead that these institutions gradually led to deep cultural changes by encouraging people to abandon hunter-gatherer instincts-violence, impatience, and economy of effort-and adopt economic habits-hard work, rationality, and education.

The problem, Clark says, is that only societies that have long histories of settlement and security seem to develop the cultural characteristics and effective workforces that enable economic growth. For the many societies that have not enjoyed long periods of stability, industrialization has not been a blessing. Clark also dissects the notion, championed by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel, that natural endowments such as geography account for differences in the wealth of nations.

A brilliant and sobering challenge to the idea that poor societies can be economically developed through outside intervention, A Farewell to Alms may change the way global economic history is understood.

The Big Problem of Small Change offers the first credible and analytically sound explanation of how a problem that dogged monetary authorities for hundreds of years was finally solved. Two leading economists, Thomas Sargent and François Velde, examine the evolution of Western European economies through the lens of one of the classic problems of monetary history--the recurring scarcity and depreciation of small change. Through penetrating and clearly worded analysis, they tell the story of how monetary technologies, doctrines, and practices evolved from 1300 to 1850; of how the "standard formula" was devised to address an age-old dilemma without causing inflation.

One big problem had long plagued commodity money (that is, money literally worth its weight in gold): governments were hard-pressed to provide a steady supply of small change because of its high costs of production. The ensuing shortages hampered trade and, paradoxically, resulted in inflation and depreciation of small change. After centuries of technological progress that limited counterfeiting, in the nineteenth century governments replaced the small change in use until then with fiat money (money not literally equal to the value claimed for it)--ensuring a secure flow of small change. But this was not all. By solving this problem, suggest Sargent and Velde, modern European states laid the intellectual and practical basis for the diverse forms of money that make the world go round today.

This keenly argued, richly imaginative, and attractively illustrated study presents a comprehensive history and theory of small change. The authors skillfully convey the intuition that underlies their rigorous analysis. All those intrigued by monetary history will recognize this book for the standard that it is.

Why the current Bretton Woods-like international financial system, featuring large current account deficits in the center country, the United States, and massive reserve accumulation by the periphery, is not sustainable.

In Global Imbalances and the Lessons of Bretton Woods, Barry Eichengreen takes issue with the argument that today's international financial system is largely analogous to the Bretton Woods System of the period 1958 to 1973. Then, as now, it has been argued, the United States ran balance of payment deficits, provided international reserves to other countries, and acted as export market of last resort for the rest of the world. Then, as now, the story continues, other countries were reluctant to revalue their currencies for fear of seeing their export-led growth slow and suffering capital losses on their foreign reserves. Eichengreen argues in response that the power of historical analogy lies not just in finding parallels but in highlighting differences, and he finds important differences in the structure of the world economy today. Such differences, he concludes, mean that the current constellation of exchange rates and payments imbalances is unlikely to last as long as the original Bretton Woods System.

Two of the most salient differences are the twin deficits and low savings rate of the United States, which do not augur well for the sustainability of the country's international position. Such differences, he concludes, mean that the current constellation of exchange rates and payments imbalances is unlikely to last as long as the original Bretton Woods System. After identifying these differences, Eichengreen looks in detail at the Gold Pool, the mechanism through which European central banks sought to support the dollar in the 1960s. He shows that the Pool was fragile and short lived, which does not bode well for collective efforts on the part of Asian central banks to restrain reserve diversification and support the dollar today. He studies Japan's exit from its dollar peg in 1971, drawing lessons for China's transition to greater exchange rate flexibility. And he considers the history of reserve currency competition, asking if it has lessons for whether the dollar is destined to lose its standing as preeminent international currency to the euro or even the Chinese renminbi.

International trade has shaped the modern world, yet until now no single book has been available for both economists and general readers that traces the history of the international economy from its earliest beginnings to the present day. Power and Plenty fills this gap, providing the first full account of world trade and development over the course of the last millennium.

Ronald Findlay and Kevin O'Rourke examine the successive waves of globalization and "deglobalization" that have occurred during the past thousand years, looking closely at the technological and political causes behind these long-term trends. They show how the expansion and contraction of the world economy has been directly tied to the two-way interplay of trade and geopolitics, and how war and peace have been critical determinants of international trade over the very long run. The story they tell is sweeping in scope, one that links the emergence of the Western economies with economic and political developments throughout Eurasia centuries ago. Drawing extensively upon empirical evidence and informing their systematic analysis with insights from contemporary economic theory, Findlay and O'Rourke demonstrate the close interrelationships of trade and warfare, the mutual interdependence of the world's different regions, and the crucial role these factors have played in explaining modern economic growth.

Power and Plenty is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the origins of today's international economy, the forces that continue to shape it, and the economic and political challenges confronting policymakers in the twenty-first century.

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