Synopses & Reviews
There have been two global financial crises in the past century: the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession that began in 2008. Both featured loose credit, precarious real estate and stock market bubbles, suspicious banking practices, an inflexible monetary system, and global imbalances; both had devastating economic consequences. In both cases, people in the prosperous decade preceding the crash believed they were living in a post-volatility economy, one that had tamed the cycle of boom and bust. When the global financial system began to totter in 2008, policymakers were able to draw on the lessons of the Great Depression in order to prevent a repeat, but their response was still inadequate to prevent massive economic turmoil on a global scale.
In Hall of Mirrors, renowned economist Barry Eichengreen provides the first book-length analysis of the two crises and their aftermaths. Weaving together the narratives of the 30s and recent years, he shows how fear of another Depression greatly informed the policy response after the Lehman Brothers collapse, with both positive and negative results. On the positive side, institutions took the opposite paths that they had during the Depression; government increased spending and cut taxes, and central banks reduced interest rates, flooded the market with liquidity, and coordinated international cooperation. This in large part prevented the bank failures, 25% unemployment rate, and other disasters that characterized the Great Depression. But they all too often hewed too closely and too literally to the lessons of the Depression, seeing it as a mirror rather than focusing on the core differences. Moreover, in their haste to differentiate themselves from their forbears, today's policymakers neglected the constructive but ultimately futile steps that the Federal Reserve took in the 1930s. While the rapidly constructed policies of late 2008 did succeed in staving off catastrophe in the years after, policymakers, institutions, and society as a whole were too eager to get back to normal, even when that meant stunting the recovery via harsh austerity policies and eschewing necessary long-term reforms. The result was a grindingly slow recovery in the US and a devastating recession in Europe.
Hall of Mirrors is not only a monumental work of economic history, but an essential exploration of how we avoided making only some of the same mistakes twice--and why our partial remedy makes us highly susceptible to making other, equally important mistakes yet again.
"The Great Depression was the signal economic event of the 20th century and, we hope, the Great Recession will be the signal event of the 21st. Few people on earth can draw out the similarities and differences as well as Barry Eichengreen, who paints with equal facility in broad strokes and in fascinating detail. Reading Hall of Mirrors is a joy. Keeping it on your bookshelf for future reference is a necessity."--Alan Blinder, author of After the Music Stopped
"Historical analogies come cheap, but historical insight relevant to today is both rare and valuable. Barry Eichengreen's Hall of Mirrors is packed with the essential insights that give the reader understanding of the macro policy mistakes of the 1930s and the 2000s, both why they occurred and how devastating they were. A must-read." --Adam S. Posen, President, Peterson Institute for International Economics
"Much of modern economics has ignored the study of economic history. Barry Eichengreen's Hall of Mirrors shows why that is a huge mistake. Combining fascinating narrative detail with cogent analysis of the relevant theory, it illuminates crucial parallels and differences between the causes of and policy response to the Great Depression and the Great Recession. It illustrates how good historical analysis must inform current policy choices, but also how superficial historic analogy can lead us astray. It carries powerful implications for the policies still needed to drive continued recovery from the Great Recession, and to stop us repeating in future the mistakes which led to disaster in the past." --Adair Turner, Senior Fellow, Institute for New Economic Thinking
"Eichengreen the economist joined forces with Eichengreen the historian to produce a truly unique book that revisits the past in the light of current discussions and examines present issues in the light of past experience. Eichengreen demonstrates forcefully how important-but also how difficult-it is to learn from history. A must-read for all students of the global crisis but also for everyone interested in understanding why experience is no guarantee against policy errors." --Jean Pisani-Ferry, Professor, Hertie School of Governance (Berlin) and Commissioner-General for Policy Planning (Paris)
"A powerful plus ça change vibe courses through [Eichengreen's] comparison, as he discusses each era's major players and events--e.g., the grifters (Charles Ponzi vs. Bernie Madoff), the reparative legislation (Glass-Steagall Act vs. Dodd-Frank), the economic advisers (FDR's brains trust vs. Obama's team), the institutional collapses (Union Guardian Trust vs. Lehman Brothers) the bubbles (the Florida land boom vs. the subprime mortgage loans), the panicked electorate and the nervous politicians. Eichengreen leavens his wide-angle treatment of complex issues-he devotes almost equal time to economic developments in Europe during each era--with capsule portraits of the major players, with becoming modesty about his own assessments (notwithstanding his obvious intellect) and even with occasional humor." --Kirkus Reviews
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.
About the Author
is Professor of Economics and Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. His previous books include Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System
and Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression, 1919-1939
Table of Contents
Castles in Spain Made Real
Financialization with a Vengeance
Flip That House
Europe and the Euro
The Crisis to End All Crises
The J.P. Morgan of the South
Will America Topple Too?
Out of the Shadows
The Worst Financial Crisis Since 1933
The Three B's
Preventing the Worst
The Turn to Austerity
The Euro Crisis
Whatever It Takes