Deficits, Debt, and American Politics : Paper Shackles book cover
1st Edition

Deficits, Debt, and American Politics
Paper Shackles

  • Available for pre-order on May 9, 2023. Item will ship after May 30, 2023
ISBN 9781032497549
May 30, 2023 Forthcoming by Routledge
296 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

For most of the nation’s history, periods of growing indebtedness in the United States—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 reform 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.

Table of Contents

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

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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