The Great Degeneration

The Great Degeneration

How Institutions Decay and Economies Die

Book - 2013
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From renowned historian Niall Ferguson, a searching and provocative examination of the widespread institutional rot that threatens our collective future

What causes rich countries to lose their way? Symptoms of decline are all around us today: slowing growth, crushing debts, increasing inequality, aging populations, antisocial behavior. But what exactly has gone wrong? The answer, Niall Ferguson argues in The Great Degeneration , is that our institutions--the intricate frameworks within which a society can flourish or fail--are degenerating.

Representative government, the free market, the rule of law, and civil society--these are the four pillars of West European and North American societies. It was these institutions, rather than any geographical or climatic advantages, that set the West on the path to global dominance beginning around 1500. In our time, however, these institutions have deteriorated in disturbing ways. Our democracies have broken the contract between the generations by heaping IOUs on our children and grandchildren. Our markets are hindered by overcomplex regulations that debilitate the political and economic processes they were created to support; the rule of law has become the rule of lawyers. And civil society has degenerated into uncivil society, where we lazily expect all of our problems to be solved by the state.

It is institutional degeneration, in other words, that lies behind economic stagnation and the geopolitical decline that comes with it. With characteristic verve and historical insight, Ferguson analyzes not only the causes of this stagnation but also its profound consequences.

The Great Degeneration is an incisive indictment of an era of negligence and complacency. While the Arab world struggles to adopt democracy and China struggles to move from economic liberalization to the rule of law, our society is squandering the institutional inheritance of centuries. To arrest the breakdown of our civilization, Ferguson warns, will take heroic leadership and radical reform.
Publisher: New York :, Penguin Press,, 2013.
Copyright Date: ©2012
ISBN: 9781594205453
Characteristics: 174 pages :,illustrations ;,22 cm.


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Jan 31, 2016

Ferguson provides an excellent overview of the degeneration issue for the US economy and society. In this little book, he covers some of the main contributors that have shed light--so it is a good introduction to the topic. Imaginatively, he provides a different slant on the causes of the Great Financial Crisis, counter to the usual big bank, housing crisis, Greenspan Fed failure thesis. Instead, he focuses on complex regulation's unintended consequences and the loss of public associations and smaller independent/diverse actors in the economy. A worthwhile read.

Workingthestacks Jul 30, 2015

There are some very perceptive points in this book but overall I felt I was being fed something covertly libertarian. He does do some cherry-picking in this book, like rationalizing post-war boom cycles as the result of fiscal relaxation and not as a result of holding impoverished, war-torn countries to impossible reparations or enjoying the boom of war industry.

Jun 21, 2014

The author presents this as a reasoned view of history and the growth of the west. I found he did have some interesting ideas, but they were overshadowed by his political and social idead. It is in reality mostly rightwing conservative propaganda. It has an air of elitism to his particular school. He also expects us to miss the fact he ignores key aspects of current events and history that contribute to the raise of the east. If you want to feel good about conservative ideas enjoy this British aurhors book. Otherwise its an ok read but dont put much belief in his points. Although I would say consider the effects of the institutions he meantions as key.

Apr 16, 2014

This book is too brief ( based on some lectures ) to really tackle the concepts that he brings up. Their is just not enough research presented to show causation. That being said the points are valid for discussion however there needs to be more evidenced produced for this book to be considered and erudite study of stagnating societies. Worth reading as it is short and gives topics that are worth discussing even if you don't agree with the author.

aab33 Aug 16, 2013

A great historian examines the problems associated with a generation maintaining its contract for potential growth with succeeding generations. He reviews history and looks at the current economic principles and practices in light of what has history has taught us--I'm not giving anything away in saying that the picture he paints is a worrisome one. For such a quick and easy read, it is amazingly perceptive and detailed.

Jul 29, 2013

I have been a Ferguson fan till now.But he pays little attention here to overpopulation, climate change, inequality, democracy ... preferring to focus
on [the myth of] government over-regulation of [big financial] business

Jul 26, 2013

I struggled for hours but the system does not let me post my comment even though it is less than 600 words. Then I tried to cut it into 3 pieces: That's impossible too. So I edited it to these few comments.
Niall Ferguson is my favourite contemporary historian, even though – or perhaps because – I often vigorously disagree with him.
I have read almost all of Niall Ferguson's books, some more than twice. He is not only a brilliant historian, but also an amazing story teller. The Great Degeneration is the most disappointing book I have read by Ferguson. 2 out of 5 seems charitable.

May 31, 2013

byoneoka's comments below are accurate insofar as what Ferguson attemps to relay in his typical Harvard disingenuous manner - - after years of getting rid of ALL oversight and regulation, Ferguson, that Harvard shill (are there any non-shills at Harvard??), claims complex regulations were the problem, like a fantasy author creating idiotic fairy kingdoms to believe in!
From the Clinton Administration:
Private Securities Litigation Reform Act [making securities fraud legal] - - 1995.
REIT Modernization Act [set up for mortgages fraud on a colossal structure]
Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act [removing the vestiges of Glass-Steagall, further allowing for banks to commit fraud]
Commodity Futures Modernization Act [removing all oversight from commodity trading, CDSes, et cetera]
From the Bush Administration:
Shrinking SEC's Risk Management from 100 people down to 1.
Dissolving the IRS's // high roller division \\, which normally went after the rich and the top corporations, yielding the highest revenues.
Adding an amendment to his bankruptcy bill, giving top priority as a creditor to bondholders. [Revealed by the FCIC report on the meltdown]
Nothing unintended about any of this: the same top banks which created most of those CDOs that went south, also bought the majority of the CDSes, although there were also many crony buyers who were not connected to anything - - thus the beauty of the greatest insurance swindle in human history. [They created the trash financial structures called CDOs, synthetic CDOs, synthetic CDOs squared, et cetera, et cetera, then after selling them off, bought the insurance policies [CDSes, unregulated insurance] on them which they knew would pay out! And the CDS sellers, principally AIG and other banks, were bailed out by TARP and the Fed, which paid off the originators of the CDOs and holders of those CDSes!]
Although not a Michael Lewis fan by any stretch, the movie and book, The Big Short, does make the most important point that one had to be a major player to create those CDOs and purchase those CDSes. [Between 1997 to 2007, $23 trillion in securitized debt was sold, between 2007 to 2009, US households lost $23 trillion in assets: $17 trillion outright, $6 trillion in increased underlying costs.]

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