Although he begins slowly and tempts one to cast the book aside prematurely, Professor Frieden ultimately provides a useful play by play account of global trade and money flows over the past one hundred odd years. Whether or not he intended to prove as much, his chronicle demonstrates that absent sound political leadership, the result within ANY COUNTRY is an enlarged volume of tradeable goods, a small financial elite, a bewildered and increasingly indebted and disenfranchised population which must mobilize into political constituencies to battle for scraps. This was true under the classical gold standard, and it remains true under the regime of floating exchange rates. It was less true during the Bretton Woods regime (1946 to 1973), largely because speculative financial flows were restricted by exchange controls.
The strength of the book is that it mentions every event of consequence, most of them in passing. A reader can sense the inevitable buildup of economic and political pressures, and watch them explode one by one. That America allows itself to be drawn into the morass, time after time, is testament to the linguistic capabilities of our well heeled charlatans, toadying academics and ignoramus politicians, who always manage to capture the public forum, and who continue to retain it even after the latest disaster which ought to have made even them consider reality just this once. Don't hold your breath. For those for whom globalization pays it pays really well. Until the rest of us digest the lessons of books like this one, the music can be expected to continue as more and more chairs are drawn away.
Professor Frieden displays respectable academic virtues and remains even handed toward the concerns of both rich and poor. You won't get a radical suggestion out of him. It is tempting to suggest that America should turn its back on the global economy, and put its population to work here at home making what we need. It is more tempting to suggest that the beneficiaries of global money flows should be taxed progressively (and then some), that banks should be returned to productive lending and broken into manageable pieces, that large corporations should be progressively taxed on their capitalizations rather than on what they choose to report as earnings, and that land should be taxed at its unimproved value instead of under the conventional method which endlessly rewards those whose ancestors grabbed it first (and a succession of buccaneer tycoons shrewd enough to bamboozle the bankers who allow them one way options to step into inheritor shoes). All of these gestures would help and none of them is likely to be tried, at least until things become dramatically worse. The only certainty is that our present course is not going to work, but at least many of us will have plenty of time to become experts in economic history. They say it helps to understand why one is being $crewed.