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The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die Hardcover – Jun 18 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (June 18 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594205450
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594205453
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 14.7 x 2.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #50,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)


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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A. D. Thibeault TOP 100 REVIEWER on June 18 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
*A full executive summary of this book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com.

Over the past half-millennium the West has built up a substantial lead over other parts of the world when it comes to both economic power and material standard of living. Now, however, this lead is slipping away. Indeed, developing nations led by such powers as China and India are quickly closing the gap, as they are experiencing impressive economic growth, while the West is stagnating. Many argue that this is the natural result of globalization (and the fact that major corporations are taking advantage of cheaper labor in developing nations). For Harvard historian and writer Niall Ferguson, however, there is something deeper going on here. For Ferguson, the closing of the gap between the West and the Rest has less to do with the rise of the Rest, as the decline of the West.

Specifically, Ferguson argues that it is the West's political, economic, legal and social institutions that have allowed it to gain the upper hand over the past 500 years or so, and that now these institutions are beginning to deteriorate (just as other nations increasingly copy what made the West successful in the first place). The result: Western stagnation, and the catching up of everyone else.

Ferguson identifies 4 primary institutions that account for the West's success over the past half-millennium: 1. Democracy; 2. Capitalism; 3. The Rule of Law; and 4. Civil Society. Each of these, the author argues, has eroded in the recent past.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Sullivan TOP 100 REVIEWER on June 19 2013
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Ferguson starts off, by describing Adam Smith`s description of a stagnant society. A stationary state according to Smith; is a once formally wealthy society, that is no longer experiencing any growth. Adam Smith`s model of a stationary state was China. Ferguson makes the argument, that it is now western society, which is in a stationary state. This of course is a complete reversal, of what Smith observed two hundred years ago.

Ferguson lists four pillars of western society. These social supports, have eroded in the last generation. The first one is democracy, second capitalism, third the rule of law, and the forth is civil society. Ferguson then expands, on these four aspects of western society. He explains how they worked well in the past. Then Ferguson outlines, how theses social networks have deteriorated in recent times.

Ferguson also examines the current debt problem. He identifies some critical debt threshold numbers, that have been surpassed. When debt levels exceed 90 per cent of GDP, this tends to be a drag on economic growth. These debt levels establish an unfair burden, onto the children and grandchildren of the next generation. However, Ferguson does not discuss the possibility of a sovereign debt default. This is a very real possibility, which the current generation does not seem to contemplate.

This was a short book and a very fast read. My only complaint, is that a lot more material was required. I realize this topic could involve volumes of information and endless discussion. A writer has to draw the line somewhere. However, 145 pages was not enough.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By William J. on July 21 2013
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If you have ever wanted to understand why we so many counties and cities are in the state they are in this book will give you a very good idea. The author captures the flaws of the system and thinking of officials with us today who are taking us down a path of self destruction through spending without conscience.
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Niall Ferguson's long-view ( 500 years) of the interplay of history, culture, innovation and economies are enlightening and troubling.I wish he had included his other writings on the struggle between hierarchies and networks in The Great Degeneration. Overall the book's insights would have been most helpful when I was at the peak of my career. However, now retired, I can read and reflect.
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While I agree with the arguments made in this book, I felt a wanting for more information when I finished. It seems a bit of a lazy effort on the authors part.
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