Business bookshelf: 'The Age of Austerity'

  • Updated: March 10, 2012 - 4:08 PM

"The Age of Austerity" by Thomas Edsall

Thomas Byrne Edsall, Doubleday, 256 pages, $24.95

Things are bad and unlikely to get better soon.

So says political analyst Thomas Byrne Edsall in his lumpy new book, "The Age of Austerity." The book suggests that the venomous partisanship oozing through Washington and the rest of the country today, the gridlocked Congress' inability to deal with the nation's problems, mounting deficits, two costly wars, and continuing economic fallout from the crash of 2008 are all knit together in one noxious dynamic.

It's not just that the promises of the American Dream have been predicated on the idea of growth. It's also, he says, that compromises between left and right, between "one political party promoting a social safety net and the other party asserting that hard-earned tax dollars unjustly finance those benefits," have required an expanding economy that could be divvied up through negotiation.

All that has changed, Edsall argues. With a ballooning deficit, aging baby boomers and stubborn unemployment, he says, America has "entered a period of austerity markedly different from anything we have seen before." With it, he contends, "a brutish future stands before us," with Republicans and Democrats "enmeshed in a death struggle to protect the benefits and goods that flow to their respective bases."

As Edsall sees it, clashing left and right austerity strategies will shape the 2012 election, but that election is unlikely to resolve anything because "incentives to sustain partisan warfare far outweigh the rewards of bipartisan cooperation." Both parties "found that fear and anger are the best motivators to boost voter turnout," he depressingly concludes, adding that the debt crisis is likely to emerge "as an immediate danger toward the end of the decade in 2018-20, when health care and other social insurance costs begin to once more balloon."

"For a politician," he adds, "an event six or eight years away is so far into the future that it does not warrant attention."

NEW YORK TIMES

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