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An Extraordinary Time The decades after World War II were a golden age across much of the world It was a time of economic miracles an era when steady jobs were easy to find and families could see their living standards improving year after year And then around 1973 the good times vanished The world economy slumped badly then settled into the slow erratic growth that had been the norm before the war The result was an era of anxiety uncertainty and political extremism that we are still grappling with today In An Extraordinary Time acclaimed economic historian Marc Levinson describes how the end of the postwar boom reverberated throughout the global economy bringing energy shortages financial crises soaring unemployment and a gnawing sense of insecurity Politicians suddenly unable to deliver the prosperity of years past railed haplessly against currency speculators oil sheikhs and other forces they could not control From Sweden to Southern California citizens grew suspicious of their newly ineffective governments and rebelled against the high taxes needed to support social welfare programs enacted when coffers were flush Almost everywhere the pendulum swung to the right bringing politicians like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan to power But their promise that deregulation privatization lower tax rates and smaller government would restore economic security and robust growth proved unfounded Although the guiding hand of the state could no longer deliver the steady economic performance the public had come to expect free market policies were eually unable to do so The golden age would not come back again A sweeping reappraisal of the last sixty years of world history An Extraordinary Time forces us to come to terms with how little control we actually have over the economy

  • Hardcover
  • 336 pages
  • An Extraordinary Time
  • Marc Levinson
  • English
  • 12 May 2014
  • 9780465061983

10 thoughts on “An Extraordinary Time

  1. Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin says:

    Very descriptive history of the end of the post war boom in the 1970s This is a period I read about a lot It is a place of turns for the worse a point where things went terribly wrong This period should get attention than the 1960s or 1980s It is a point of departure a watershed where things were going in a good direction to where things went in a bad direction Prosperity faltered and the secure times of the previous three decades were called into uestion Old Keynesian tweeks in economy didn't seem to be working It was a decade of Oil Shocks Stagflation and growing distrust of institutions When things turned right later in the decade in response to these developments we went from the frying pan into the fire where we've been ever since I like the description in the book but I don't share the author's prognosis that the postwar boom can't be revived or that Keynesian policy couldn't have retrieved our economy over the long haul but they lost their argument with the public and thereby we all lost

  2. Andrew Andrew says:

    This review was written in multiple parts over a working dayAn Extraordinary Time The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy by Marc Levinson is an examination of the economic downturn in the 1970's and a look at what Levinson terms as the end of the post WWII boom After WWII many Western nations as well as Japan experienced massive economic growth rates a large expansion in personal income for citizens and an expansion of social welfare programs and workers unions a period often dubbed the Golden Years or Les Trente Glorieuses These were years of plenty for many with massive industrial growth Politicians grappled with the concept of full employment and were generally accepting of higher inflation rates as workers incomes and macro productivity rose to match it Most nations utilized centralized principles of economic guidance with even the most liberal of democracies creating ministries and agencies to control exports manage interest rates and encourage steady job growth and industrial output This period saw massive rates of infrastructure growth as well paid blue collar workers sought new homes cars and consumer goods to improve their uality of living This period transcended political divisions with both socialist and conservative parties expanding welfare programs engaging in protectionist economic policies and generally seeking full employment at the expense of inflation ratesThe meat and bones of this book however is the examination of what went wrong with the above policy priorities what the reaction was and what the issues with those decisions were After the Golden Years 1970ish most liberal democracies that existed made decisive shifts to the right of the political spectrum Politicians like Nixon Reagan Thatcher Kohl and so on made major gains politically and disrupted the old party system that existed in most mature liberal democracies US excluded New parties emerged and the overarching priority of both political actors and citizenry was deregulation with the ultimate goal of tax reduction for the average consumerworker Why did this happen? The thirty or so Glorious Years were a workers paradise What changed?First off Levinson argues that the most significant change was a massive drop in productivity factors in Western industrial firms and an inability to adapt to the changes by Western governments and citizens Most Western constituents were used to periods of sustainable and steady growth and when this trend failed they blamed their current political structure namely the socially driven policies of the previous periods politicians The average Joe only thinks about his bottom line no criticism necessarily but fails to see the larger picture This is the crux of Levinson's argument But why? Why would a poorer individual with a declining share in society who is struggling to make ends meat vote for political actors that we see nowadays as representatives of the Upper Class? This is a tough uestion but Levinson does a wonderful job examining the changes and issues presented through a critical lens and the prevailing attitudes of voters at the times examined Suffice to say Levinson has written an interesting account of post WWII economics The author argues for increased independence of firms in the economy and a careful examination of global policy trends over a period of decades following the economic downturns present after 1973 An examination of banking trends levels of government structure and business cycle trends takes a deeper look at how and why downturns began after the 1970's and ultimately determines a return in this period to cyclical economic ups and downs These cycles are global and often little can be done by individual nation states to combat them alone Greater cooperation between Federal Banks and national governments is reuired to ensure cycles in the economy do as little damage as possible to the average citizens Levinson is not offering a small government argument but instead a nuanced cooperation between private and public elements on a global scale to encourage low unemployment figures high wages solid benefits and economic stability This was a very topical read and I can certainly recommend it as an adept examination of economic downturns and the policy and business level decisions that paved their way into existence

  3. Matthew Matthew says:

    Stunning analysis of the economic history of the 1970s I find an apt comparison between the ungovernabilty of that era and the present which both led to sharp turns toward the right in the capitalist democracies

  4. Alison Zoccola Alison Zoccola says:

    Here is another book that I read for a class this time a class on US economic history after 1865 This book was eye opening and focused just as much on the rest of the world as it did on the United States you get a whirlwind tour of all the major parts of western economic history after World War II you need to look elsewhere for a similar survey of the Communist bloc of the time Marc Levinson examines the causes of the extraordinary economic growth following the end of World War II what led it to slow down and curdle in the mid 1970s and why in his very persuasive opinion won't come back For me this book explains the origins of today's economic discontent and it should be reuired reading for the MAGA crowd there was no globalist conspiracy to take away your jobs and America won't be great again in the way you want it to be great Instead economic forces beyond any one person's control ended those great times and they are unlikely to return Levinson offers hope though rather than recreate the bygone never to return days past we should work to make our now ordinary economy work for as many people as possible Making economic policy for the present rather than the past is the only way forward and it would behoove the world to understand that to learn from history before it even gets a chance to repeat itself If you want to understand our current economic climate I highly recommend this book to you

  5. Amy J. Amy J. says:

    I thought that this book was generally boring but it spurred uite a heated discussion in my book group

  6. Peter Tillman Peter Tillman says:

    This is an odd book It purports to demonstrate that mature economies such as the US Western Europe and Japan can grow rapidly in special circumstances basically he uses the recovery from WW2 as his example and then settle back to lower growth for the long term What he actually does is spend two short chapters on the postwar boom the rest of the book on the difficult decade following the oil shock of 1973 and a short wrapup chapter where he says that the cause of the bust or drop in growth is the drop is productivity improvements in all advanced economies worldwide Well duh He does have a number of amusing anecdotes of political folly which is not hard to findI skimmed after awhile but I didn't find the book very compelling Levinson writes well but goes off on tangents and into imo superfluous detail He's probably right in outline but some countries do better than others after the boom fades The US is one until recently Which he doesn't really acknowledge or addressEssay by the author adapted from the book Kennedy's enthusiastic WSJ review darn both WSJ articles are now paywalled Ah the trick is to google marc levinson an extraordinary time wsj and both come up full text You can get a pretty fair idea of Levinson's book from his essay Kennedy's reviewThe Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert Gordon covers this same topic in much greater detail I have some notes posted at and will write it up in due course Definitely a doorstop

  7. Chris Esposo Chris Esposo says:

    If you've taken an international economics course in undergrad at any time in the past 15 years say using Krugman's textbook on the matter or an euivalent you've covered 45 or of the material in this book In this respect the book is a surprisingly standard historicalpolitical analysis of western monetary policy in the 30 glorious years post war as well as the 80s 90sUnfortunately not much explanation or discussion is dedicated at peeling back possible reasons to explain the lowered annual GDP growth in the US economy except in the last 40 mins of the listen The explanations are all standard and amount to the notion that innovation is now the main driver of growth and there is far from a 11 relationship between capital spend on related activities and actual output or spillover Useful only if you are unfamiliar with the standard treatment Need focus comparingcontrasting the differential growth between that era and our own and bringing forward possible prescriptive policies

  8. Tetsuya Tetsuya says:

    Levinson explains how the world economies in the Gold Age from the World War II to the Oil Shock had well performed with high economic growth rate low inflation rate and low unemployment rate Such a good performance of the world economies significantly contributed for the improvement of human well being in major advanced countries on the one hand while the politicians policy makers as well as ordinary nationals in these advanced countries all became to take for granted that economy could be controllable so as to grow at high rate with continuous improvement of human well being on the other handAfter the world faced the Oil Shock in 1973 all the underlining economic conditions changed drastically ie turned into being troubled with low economic growth rate high inflation rate and high unemployment rate In spite of efforts to challenge these economic bad conditions such as the Thatcherism and the Reaganomics which promoted deregulation and privatization the economies of major advanced countries have remained low growth rate and high unemployment rate and widened income gap between rich and poor as a result of the liberalization of economiesAfter reviewed postwar world economic history Levinson concluded as below;The Golden Age was an extraordinary time and the generation that lived through it enjoyed extraordinary opportunity But as economist John Fernald observed after delving deeply into American productivity data “It is the exceptional growth that appears unusual” The same applies to every other country in the world Economic miracles do happen but in most times and most places economics grow slowly bringing a gradual improvement in living standards punctuated by sudden bursts of euphoria and by recessions that throw unneeded workers on the street Neither market oriented economic policies such as those championed by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan nor statist reforms such as those initially undertaken by François Mitterrand have proven able to alter that reality In Japan and Korea massive state guided investment booms once the objects of breathless admiration around the world brought explosive economic growth followed by rapid improvements in living standards again for a while But those economies too eventually fell from orbit their political leaders no longer able to deliver miraclesLevinson successfully described the dynamics of the world economies and the Golden Age was mere extraordinary period which derived from such historical conditions a the restoration of the advanced countries from ruins after the World War II b the rise of communism that resulted in the Cold War and c the implementation of the Marshall Plan to support economic restoration of the advanced countries as an urgent response of US against the rise of communismI highly recommend this book if you are interested in postwar world economic history and want to understand why the advanced countries currently face difficulties in their economies

  9. Vinod Peris Vinod Peris says:

    The Annual GDP growth for the US has dropped from a high of 5% in the sixties to around 15% currently If you look at China or India they are roughly in the 7% range in the current times But it wasn’t always like this If you are curious to learn about the ups and downs of the world economies starting from World War 2 Marc has a wealth of knowledge that he shares with us in his perspective of the economic journey of the major parts of the world after the warIn a nutshell his thesis is that the first twenty five years after the war saw an unprecedented growth in the economy It was the classic postwar boom and economic growth in the Western World reached its peak around 1970 There were plenty of high paid manufacturing jobs in the US that brought overall prosperity to the nation After 1970 productivity slowed down Labor Unions got powerful and demanded higher wages and perks Further the inefficiencies of government regulation and large state run industries coal steel transportation etc started to weigh heavily on the economy The transportation system in US was highly regulated in the 70s Airline routes are a good example of how the government limited the number of airlines on any given route and that allowed them to charge high prices They made a good profit despite the fact that many planes had tons of empty seats Compare that with the disruption caused by Uber today with Taxis They have opened the market up not only deregulated the taxi industry but have gone further and made it incredibly easy for an individual to offer you a transportation service for a fee Marc takes a heavy subject like world economics and narrates many of these events in a story like manner that makes the book enjoyable I marveled at how many of the changes like privatization seemed to be trends that spread from one country to another If you are remotely interested in economics I highly recommend this book

  10. Ryan Tolusso Ryan Tolusso says:

    A refreshing take on the low growth era of the 1970s onward by someone who doesn't have a political axe to grind Levinson looks across countries to find the causes of lower growth and to measure the political trends that arose in response to it He tells the story of the overburdened bureaucracies of the post war developed countries but also the failure of neoliberalism and deregulation to reverse the slowdown of growth Levinson seems to conclude that neither approach statism vs neoliberalism was effective at ensuring the extraordinary times went on but it would have been interesting to have a discussion of whether the neoliberalism of the 80s and 90s improved growth at the margin eg ensured growth slowed less than the alternative of statism would have In some cases this seems to be the implication of Levinson's findings eg the reduced prices as a result of deregulating the airline industry making air travel accessible to the middle class but he doesn't tie these efficiencies into a larger argument about the benefits of neoliberalism

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