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The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die Hardcover – Jun 13 2013

3.2 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press (June 13 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594205450
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594205453
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 1.9 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #47,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

Review

“[Ferguson’s] intellectual virtuosity is refreshing. The Great Degeneration won't be popular in the Obama White House or other centers of power. Jeremiah wasn't popular with the elders of Judea either. They tossed him in jail for his sedition. They had reason later to be sorry.” —The Wall Street Journal

"An informative and enjoyable read." —Financial Times

About the Author

NIALL FERGUSON is one of the world’s most renowned historians. He is the author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World, The Ascent of Money, High Financier, and Civilization. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, a senior research fellow of Jesus College, Oxford, and a senior research fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is also a regular contributor to Newsweek and Bloomberg television.

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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
Before reading this book, I had supposed Mr. Ferguson to be one of the greatest historians writing today. After reading this book, I want to express my disillusionment. The Great Degeneration is not a history book, it is a diatribe. He rarely backs his claims with evidence or reasoning; he just expresses opinions, as if he were some god-like oracle with a great claim on historical insight. The book might best be regarded as the work of a hired lackey paying off a debt to the 1% wealthy elite who have admitted his voice to the halls of power. Does this seem too fierce a criticism? Then consider his statements, later in the book, that the most efficient future for humanity lies in very crowded, enormous cities. "True", he acknowledges, "there are equally large negative externalities: bigger cities have disproportionately bigger problems with crime, disease and pollution", but these he waives aside; he is using the word "externalities" the way the worst polluters dismiss the social costs of their misdeeds with the same term, a kind of collateral damage the masses will just have to live with. How does this make him a rabid spokesman for the 1%? Well, earlier in the book, he describes himself as living on an estate on the coastline of Wales-- I guess those swarming megacities are not for him and the very privileged few for whom he speaks. His only problem with that Welsh coastal house, he laments, was the pollution washed up on and littering the beach. He boasts that he did persuade local service clubs to clean those beaches, while lamenting that there are not enough groups doing this kind of work nowadays. I hope the Lord of the Manor paid well for that service. I really do not think my comments are too harsh; if anything, they are too mild.Read more ›
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