The Age of Deficits
Presidents and Unbalanced Budgets from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush
Richard Neustadt Prize (UK)
The debate over the federal budget-and the deficit spending it tends to produce-has assumed a renewed urgency for reasons that are painfully clear to all of us. Over the past thirty-two years-from the presidency of Jimmy Carter through that of George W. Bush-the U.S. government has in fact balanced its budget in only four of them, while the fiscal challenges confronting President Obama make a balanced budget anytime soon a remote possibility. Iwan Morgan's book provides a much-needed historical perspective on this perennially troubling issue
“A boldly written and ambitiously researched account of America’s flawed budgeting process that is well worth reading.”
—Journal of American History
“Morgan’s book is truly a story foretold. . . . This book is a clear-headed exposition of the political fix in which America’s polarized political class has put the country.”
—Congress and the PresidencySee all reviews...
“The deficit is once again at the center of the national political debate. . . . Little wonder responsible citizens and scholars alike despair of the prospect of getting beyond stylized, predictable claims. Luckily, an antidote is at hand. [This book] will not bring Democratic liberals together with their Tea Party counterparts, but it does offer the balanced, insightful historical perspective the debate needs. . . . [It] grounds pithy and nicely crafted case studies of each president from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush in a historical narrative that pinpoints significant changes in politics, budgets, and institutions. . . . The Age of Deficits tells how we got here, recounting each president's aims and accomplishments through the lens of the budgetary process. Separate chapters are well researched and deftly-written, and although the outlines of the story are familiar, Morgan’s thoroughness at canvassing the archives and contemporary commentary reveals details that even experts will appreciate. Exemplary political history, the book is both illuminating and a pleasure to read.”
—Presidential Studies Quarterly
“This timely and ambitious book undermines long-held assumptions that the President (any President) is or can be the responsible steward of the nation’s finances. Balancing historic scope with political depth, The Age of Deficits tackles the entire budgeting history of the United States while delving into the complex subtopics that animate budget dramas year-to-year and decade-to-decade: elections, parties, institutional developments, monetary and fiscal policy, world economic events, an the mysterious bond market. . . . [The book is] a lively and engaging discussion of the limits of representative democracy.”
—American Review of Politics
“Exhaustively researched, elegantly written, and balanced, Morgan’s remarkable study is a major scholarly contribution to our understanding of the presidency and of federal budget policy.”
—Dennis Ippolito, author of Why Budgets Matter: Budget Policy and American Politics
“An important and impressive analysis of budgetary and fiscal politics since the Carter presidency that will stand for some time to come.”
—James D. Savage, author of Balanced Budgets and American Politics
“A strikingly original and illuminating work that should be read by everyone seeking to understand how modern American politics and public policy work. This is history at its most relevant best.—”
—Robert M. Collins, author of More: The Politics of Economic Growth in Postwar AmericaSee fewer reviews...
The prominent role of Congress notwithstanding, Morgan closely examines the role of presidents in the emergence of large federal budget deficits in the 1970s and 1980s, the reduction of the deficit problem in the 1990s, and its resurrection in the early twenty-first century. He focuses in particular on presidential budget policy to show how, over five administrations, deficit reduction merely complemented rather than took precedence over political priorities-and how Democrats came to support deficit reduction as necessary to preserve the liberal state, while Republicans largely tolerated deficits in order to safeguard their tax programs. Along the way, he considers such curiosities as why Carter and Clinton sought to reduce the deficit at a high level of revenue while Reagan and Bush 43 took the low road, and why Reagan and Bush 41 pressed for constitutional change prohibiting unbalanced budgets while Carter and Clinton opposed such an amendment.
Through this historical perspective, Morgan offers an innovative analysis of the relationship between presidential budget policy and the Federal Reserve's direction of monetary policy and probes the emerging link between America's domestic public indebtedness and external indebtedness. He also provides a fresh look at the growth of the entitlement state in a generally conservative era and the failure of efforts to place it on a secure financial footing.
The Age of Deficits boldly places the budget deficit at the center of modern American political history. Morgan clearly shows that, however much our recent leaders defined the deficit as a threat, their responses to it ultimately reflected their concern with reconciling its reduction with other elements of their governing agenda.