Book review: The Age of Austerity

Renowned journalist and academic Thomas B. Edsall foresees a period of austerity measures in the United States.


(Photo: Anna Lisa Sang)

THE AGE OF AUSTERITY : How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics
Thomas Byrne Edsall

Look beyond his Columbia University professorship to his quarter-century at the Washington Post and articles in Harper’s and The New Republic, and without opening his latest book, you’ll figure the former Pulitzer Prize finalist for a liberal. That’s a characterization to which Edsall thoroughly lives up in these pages. Whether that jaundices your view of his data is up to you.

But even if his biases grate, there’s still plenty here worth considering as the U.S. enters a presidential election year. Edsall believes that American debt and deficit levels, combined with factors like declining tax revenues and increasing strain on the social safety net, make a period of real austerity inevitable—and that austerity will lead to a “resource war” between Republicans and Democrats, as both vie to bend the government’s decreasing means to shape the country according to their respective visions. If you think things in Washington are gridlocked now, it’s nothing compared to what Edsall sees coming. The book’s late pages give vent to increasingly angry harangues against the right. But there is enough analysis of America’s compromised finances in the preceding pages to make clear what’s at stake in Edsall’s argument.