1st Edition

Deficits, Debt, and American Politics Paper Shackles

By Marc Allen Eisner Copyright 2023
    290 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    290 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    "For most of the history of the United States, periods of growing indebtedness—a product of wars and economic crises—were followed by reductions in the debt-to-GDP ratio." But why have the last several decades failed to follow this pattern, leaving the national debt at its highest level since World War II? In this groundbreaking new book, author Marc Allen Eisner, who has devoted most of his scholarly career to studying the evolution of the US political economy, explores the significant changes in the fiscal conditions of the United States during the postwar period, embedding the discussion in a broader historical context. He demonstrates that the national debt is in part a product of reduced revenues and the growing costs of the largest entitlement programs, but it also reflects a long series of shocks, including two wars, the financial crisis and Great Recession, and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    Deficits, Debt, and American Politics chronicles the history of the US debt in the postwar period, placed in the context of broader changes in the political economy and partisan politics. But it grounds this exploration in reader-friendly, chapter-length discussions of public finance, taxation, mandatory spending, and the budgetary process from a policy perspective. The volume concludes with a discussion of the challenges of comprehensive tax and program reforms in the current political climate.

    Deficits, Debt, and American Politics assumes little prior knowledge on the part of the reader, making it an ideal book for courses on public policy and political economy taught at both the upper-level undergraduate and graduate level. The material on public finance, long-term trends in taxation and spending, and the budgetary process, often relegated to descriptive texts, will be invaluable in courses engaging the deficit and debt.

    1. Introduction: As Far as the Eyes Can See  Part I  2. Spending: The Growing Dominance of Mandatory Programs  3. Taxation: Building the Revenue Constraint  4. The Fiscal Gap: Why Deficits and the Debt Matter  Part II  5. The Great Deleveraging: Growth and Debt in The Wake of The War  6. The Great Inflection: Stagflation and the Death of a Consensus  7. The Great Reversal: Growing Debt and the Quest for Fiscal Control  8. Budgeting in Hard Times: Polarization, Gridlock, and Crisis  9. Populism and Pandemic: The Road to Record Debt  10. Conclusion: The Politics of Paper Shackles


    Marc Allen Eisner is the Henry Merritt Wriston Chair of Public Policy and Professor of Government at Wesleyan University. He is author of Regulatory Politics in an Age of Polarization and Drift (Routledge, 2017) and The American Political Economy (Routledge, 2014).

    "This wonderful book is a rich intellectual exercise, full of information and insight about the fiscal and budgetary challenges the federal government has faced and often failed to meet.  It is written with clarity and cogency that will appeal to students and public policy practitioners and commentators."

    G. Calvin Mackenzie, Goldfarb Family Distinguished Professor of Government Emeritus, Colby College, USA

    "America's public debt is again salient--and no easier to confront. Eisner's historical-institutional account uncovers how we got here, how hard it is to find a resolution, and why it matters. Students will welcome his mix of diverse academic perspectives with clearly explained policy detail and insight. He deftly shows how action on both sides of the tax and expenditure divide created, over multiple Administrations, a deeply complex, contradictory, and self-defeating jumble of practices and expectations. The result has been extraordinary and persistent deficits and debts. His final chapter on widely popular efforts to support the economy through Covid and to create industrial policy around climate change underline the difficulty of avoiding expensive collective action. Partisan developments in Congress and country mean resolution is not likely, but this is an excellent guide to the politics of the policy clash."

    Alistair Howard, Professor, Temple University, USA