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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.
“[T]his book makes for timely reading, given the acrimonious partisanship that has animated the 2012 campaign. . . . [Edsall uses] his chops as a political reporter (he spent 25 years covering politics for The Washington Post and is currently writing an online column on the 2012 election for The New York Times) to put these developments in historical perspective and to assess how they might affect this year’s elections.” —Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
“The economic collapse that began in 2008 and its aftermath…has mired us in what Thomas Edsall rightly calls ‘the age of austerity.’ What this means, the former Washington Post reporter argues in his eye-opening and hugely important account, is a transformation of US politics into ‘a dog-eat-dog political competition over diminishing resources.’ Edsall’s point is powerfully argued. . . . [H]is book is essential . . . reading for anyone seeking to understand our broken politics.” —Chuck Leddy, Boston Globe
“The Age of Austerity is an impressive synthesis of reporting and political science. Eschewing the kind of personality-driven trivia that constitutes so much campaign reporting, Edsall digs deep into the underlying social, economic, and even psychological drivers of America’s increasingly polarized political coalitions.” —Matthew Yglesias, Slate
“[A] serious work . . . that repay[s] close attention. . . . Edsall’s book really comes alive . . . when it turns to the political effects of austerity. He believes that US politics will increasingly be characterised by a struggle for resources. . . . [S]ober and precise.” —Gideon Rachman, Financial Times
“Provide[s] much-needed information and analysis. . . . Like other overleveraged nations, the US may well be facing Thomas Edsall's ‘age of austerity.’” —Andrew Hacker, New York Review of Books
“In this erudite primer on the conditions that have brought us to this moment of economic crisis, journalist and Columbia University professor Edsall 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. . . . Providing ample sociological and economic evidence via descriptive graphs and in-depth analysis, Edsall . . . illuminates hard but necessary truths.” —Publishers Weekly
“I strongly recommend that every sensible, intelligent voter read this book before the fall elections.” —Ed Fisher, Morning Sun
“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 and the Daily Beast
“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
“As economists handicap the odds of a new recession and speculate about a lost decade for the U.S. economy, Tom Edsall offers a troubling vision of American political and social conflict in circumstances of low growth and intense polarization. To avoid what he dubs a ‘brutish future,’ our divided leaders will have to come together around a plan for renewed growth that is bound to offend the core constituencies of both political parties. 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
“Back in 1984 Thomas Edsall followed his bloodhound’s instincts into the labyrinth of Washington and produced a breakthrough account of The New Politics of Inequality, showing us how a quiet transfer of power had taken place in the nation’s capital. . . . Here, during the ‘morning in America’ of the Reagan Revolution, was the beginning of the long crusade bye the richest and most powerful interests to control America’s taxing and spending policies. They succeeded beyond even their own expectations, finally producing a government of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, and for the 1 percent. Now Edsall has produced another compelling and disturbing book grounded in the diligent and dogged reporting for which he is known and honored. Our present age of austerity is no accident. But there is a ray of light in this book: if our politics brought it on, our politics can change it—once we’ve changed the politicians.” —Bill Moyers
“The Age of Austerity greatly clarifies the current frightening crisis in our politics. Thomas Edsall, one of our major political commentators, sees Republicans and Democrats as competing coalitions of haves and have-nots, locked in brutal battles over the fundamentals of modern American government at a time of severe economic duress. The stakes for America’s future are economic and moral as well as political, and they are as large as they have been since the Great Depression. Edsall's analysis—at once calm and insistent, upsetting and enlightening—is a singularly valuable account of these ugly times.” —Sean Wilentz, Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor of the American Revolutionary Era at Princeton University, author of The Rise of American Democracy and The Age of Reagan