cover image Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America

Balance: The Economics of Great Powers from Ancient Rome to Modern America

Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane. Simon & Schuster, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4767-0025-0

Political paralysis leading to fiscal collapse is the “existential threat” facing America, argues this stimulating, contentious economic history. Economists Hubbard (dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business) and Kane (chief economist of the Hudson Institute), both one-time advisers to the 2012 Romney-Ryan campaign, conduct a loose, engaging tour through history, pinpointing the economic failings of states from ancient Rome (debased currency, expensive bread and circuses, totalitarian labor controls) and Ming China (squabbling between court mandarins and eunuchs that scotched trade initiatives) to contemporary Europe and the United States (unsustainable government entitlements and debt). They frame the perennial debate over national decline in novel economic terms, ranking countries by a metric of “economic power”—GDP times productivity times the square root of growth—that puts America still uneasily on top. The authors’ economics tilt conservative, extolling budget austerity, low taxes, and free trade, while deploring over-mighty public-sector workers—a latter-day Praetorian Guard of California’s state government—and excessive welfare spending. They conclude by proposing a constitutional balanced-budget amendment, while acknowledging dysfunctional political institutions that block reform, like the “prisoners dilemma” in Congress that prevents Republicans and Democrats alike from compromising on deficits. Theirs is political economy with a grand historical sweep—and provocative implications for the present. 34 images. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (June 11)