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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 beThe 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 equally 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....

Title : An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy
Author :
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ISBN : 9780465061983
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 336 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy Reviews

  • Peter Mcloughlin
    2019-01-25 17:47

    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 more 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 question. 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.

  • Andrew
    2019-02-09 15:40

    *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 more 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 quality 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 rates.The 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 consumer/worker. 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 question, 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 more 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 required 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 more 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.

  • Matthew
    2019-02-07 17:42

    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.

  • Amy Sayre Lee
    2019-02-19 15:32

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

  • Tetsuya
    2019-01-31 20:37

    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 hand.After the world faced the Oil Shock in 1973, all the underlining economic conditions changed drastically, i.e., 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 economies.After 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 miracles.Levinson 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 communism.I 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.

  • Vinod Peris
    2019-02-02 20:34

    The Annual GDP growth for the US has dropped from a high of 5% in the sixties to around 1.5% 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 war.In 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. Furthermore 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.

  • Liam
    2019-02-14 16:34

    "By 1978, the tide of deregulation had advanced so far that in France, where the state had dominated the economy since the age of Louis XIV, the government abolished controls on the price of bread for the first time in 185 years." (113)"It may have been the toilet paper situation that awoke Japan to the dangers ahead. In late October 1973, just as the Arab oil producers were raising prices and cutting back supplies, a rumor made the rounds in Osaka that the country was running out of toilet paper. A newspaper picked up the story, and mobs of housewives soon set upon grocery stores to buy every roll in sight. A government statement that there was no shortage only increased the panic. In Amagasaki, an elderly woman broke her leg when a crowd of shoppers pushed her to the floor. In Shizuoka, one man purchased a thousand rolls, just in case. In Tokyo, stores capped sales to individual customers. As Japanese apartments filled up with boxes of paper, the government stepped in, ordering wholesalers to empty their warehouses of toilet paper in order to stem the frenzy." (115)"'People who have visions should go see a doctor.'" (quoting Helmut Schmidt, 163)"In every wealthy economy, productivity growth after the early 1970s was markedly slower than before, for reasons having little to do with economic policy. The huge reservoir of underutilized labor that had shifted into more productive work in the postwar years could not be tapped again: peasant farmers and sharecroppers had long since moved to the cities, and the flow of previously unemployed women into the labor force was over. The sorts of public-sector expenditures that could bring almost immediate gains in productivity, such as building superhighways and modernizing ports, had been made. Although young people entering the labor force invariably had more schooling that their parents, the years of an extremely rapid rise in average education were past now that literacy was almost universal in wealthy economies. Future advances in well-being would depend heavily on developing innovations and putting them to effective use." (262)"Managers saw risks all around, and they responded by putting off long-term investments whose payoffs seemed highly uncertain. Across the wealthy economies, business investment, which had increased and average of 5.6 percent per year between 1960 and 1973, grew at a far slower rate, barely 4 percent per year, for the next two decades." (266)"The American economist Paul Samuelson put it well: 'The third quarter of the Twentieth Century was a golden age of economic progress. It surpassed any reasoned expectations. And we are not likely to see its equivalent soon again.'" (270)

  • Sam
    2019-02-17 19:32

    The new normal—the expression, appears only in the last few pages of An Extraordinary Time. But Marc Levinson gives ample clues that the new normal, in various guises, has persisted since the stagflation of the early 1970s. If central governments have failed to address economic woes coherently since then, it is because their actions are almost always counterproductive. A latent theme coursing through An Extraordinary Time is just how unsuccessful governments are at ensuring desirable economic outcomes. Given that the era 1948-1973 was so historically unprecedented in the gains made in productivity then, perhaps it is no surprise that revanchists like Donald Trump come up with slogans like ‘make America great again’—as though anyone by force of will could return us to incredible productivity growth. Now that civilization has entered an era of more gradual increases in productivity (think the end of initially massive economic gains attributable to urbanization, transportation, and telecom), the wonks in Washington don’t act as though this is the case. They lead us in the false hope of expectations of plenty, instead.A shadow of inevitable economic gloom pervades Levinson’s book. As a thought exercise, readers might wonder what new technologies or unseen contingencies might prove him wrong. Self-driving cars? Well, only if the highways are up to the task--and only if the vehicles themselves are game changers in terms of their benefits. Otherwise, they are just an incremental blip. Gene-splicing as a cure for some diseases? Only if the procedure can be made affordable, and applied more-or-less fairly, without resorting to some kind lottery system. Some consumer device comparable to the PC, laptop, or smart phone, that has yet to be invented? No doubt lots of useful things remain to be invented, but they will appear incrementally, at least in the new steady-state system in which we find ourselves. Which is not to say, that at some unexpected moment, there won’t be people like Rosalind Franklin who have the insight into The Next Big Thing. That is, until we return to another new normal.

  • Phillias
    2019-02-14 20:31

    Great modern history survey. concise. no future postuations.

  • Peter Tillman
    2019-01-25 20:53

    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 find.I 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 address.Essay 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 review."The 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!

  • catinca.ciornei
    2019-02-10 18:29

    Story of political and economical events from end of WWII to the 1980s'. It is focused on the 'end of the party' period, meaning the low growth, high inflationary 1970s' announced by the oil crisis but actually due to unstoppable multiyear decline in productivity. Interesting and full of information, down to earth in that it realistically explains how most of politics is electoral promises impossible to keep and most of economics is wishful thinking based on previous experiences and sometimes not even that. It's a humane history of economics - its main thesis holds that nobody really knows what the medium to long-term brings, and the world is a complicated intertwined place where good and bad happens at times without explanations or logic. One of the book's conclusions could be found on page 268 - "the evident popular despair about economic decline in Japan, North America, and Western Europe reflected an entirely different problem: the difficulty of writing a social contract able to respond to demographic change and technological innovation."I enjoyed the deluge of facts and how Mr. Levinson weaves them together into a careful narrative.

  • Christopher Obert
    2019-02-08 22:34

    This book is about the economies of the 1960's, 1970's and the 1980's. If you want to understand where we are now and where we may end up, it's good to know how we got here.

  • Robert Hooper
    2019-02-09 16:49

    recommended by wsj

  • Mills College Library
    2019-02-13 21:31

    330.9045 L6659 2016