Synopses & Reviews
One of our most prescient political observers provides a sobering account of how pitched battles over scarce resources will increasingly define American politics in the coming years — and how we might avoid, or at least mitigate, the damage from these ideological and economic battles.
In a matter of just three years, a bitter struggle over limited resources has enveloped political discourse at every level in the United States. Fights between haves and have-nots over health care, unemployment benefits, funding for mortgage write-downs, economic stimulus legislation — and, at the local level, over cuts in police protection, garbage collection, and in the number of teachers — have dominated the debate. Elected officials are being forced to make zero-sum choices — or worse, choices with no winners.
Resource competition between Democrats and Republicans has left each side determined to protect what it has at the expense of the other. The major issues of the next few years —long-term deficit reduction; entitlement reform, notably of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; major cuts in defense spending; and difficulty in financing a continuation of American international involvement — suggest that your-gain-is-my-loss politics will inevitably intensify.
"In this erudite primer on the conditions that have brought us to this moment of economic crisis, journalist and Columbia University professor Edsall (Chain Reaction) argues that the U.S. faces a future of diminished resources, and, as a result of partisan intractability, the possibility that we won't overcome current challenges to long-term prosperity. Tracing the moral underpinnings of the conflict between Democrats and Republicans, Edsall explains how the parties' value systems differ on such concepts as freedom, liberty, fairness, and the collective good. 'The United States is now split ideologically to the extent that falsehoods to one faction are truths to the other,' he writes. In this atmosphere, elected officials choose political victory over socially or economically beneficial action. While Washington protects its interests and those of the wealthiest Americans, the rest of the country faces soaring costs, crumbling infrastructure, and diminishing opportunities for education, jobs, and overall quality of life. Providing ample sociological and economic evidence via descriptive graphs and in-depth analysis, Edsall argues that decisions are being shaped by the destructive politics of scarcity, and that without decisive action to reverse the course of our sagging economy, we're destined to fall behind. Although perhaps too academic in tone for a general audience, the book illuminates hard but necessary truths." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Thomas Edsall has written some of the most important and lasting political books of the last 25 years. Here, he deftly places the debates and controversies of the current moment in a broader historical and policy context. And he explains clearly why our economic woes have political causes — a fact that most people don't quite believe, but one that urgently needs to be understood." Michael Tomasky, political columnist for Newsweek
"Tom Edsall is a tough realist with a large conscience and a brilliant mind. That's why he's one of the country’s most important political writers: he faces difficult truths that others try to avoid and discerns important trends before they become trendy — and before most people even notice them. He's done that again with The Age of Austerity, exactly the right book asking the right questions for our moment." E. J. Dionne, Jr., author of Why Americans Hate Politics
"If Edsall is right, the outlook for such an agreement is dim at best, and the alternative is the decline of the United States." William Galston, Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution and former policy advisor to President Clinton
About the Author
Thomas Edsall is an American journalist and academic, best known for his 25 years covering politics for the Washington Post. He holds the Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professorship in Public Affairs Journalism at Columbia University, and writes an online 2012 election column for the New York Times. In addition, he is a correspondent for The New Republic, and the author of Chain Reaction, a Pulitzer Prize finalist (1992), The New Politics of Equality (1984), and Building Red America (2006), among other works. Edsall is also the winner of the Carey McWilliams Award of the American Political Science Association. Mr. Edsall lives in New York and Washington, D.C. with his wife, Mary.