They don’t call economics “the dismal science” for nothing. Yet it’s such a critical part of our lives. And it’s such an important part of history.
As a history nerd, I’ve found books that provide a historical perspective in many different ways — wars, natural disasters, disease, pests, and even sex. (How would English history be different if Henry VIII would’ve had lots of kids with his first wife?) There’s even a highly rated book on my reading list entitled How the Post Office Created America: A History by Winifred Gallagher. But I’m still looking for that great economics history of the U.S.
A step in the right direction is The Money Makers: How Roosevelt and Keynes Ended the Depression, Defeated Fascism, and Secured a Prosperous Peace by Eric Rauchway, which I have recently finished. That’s a pretty ambitious title, but Rauchway gives a well-researched view of one of the most difficult times in U.S. history. This book reminded me (as if I needed it), that there is always contentious political debate, especially in times of crisis. Some of those debates are still on-going today, like the importance of a balanced budget, which some thought was the best way to combat the Depression. At least today no one is arguing for a return to the gold standard.
That this is still a much-debated topic is reflected in the book’s rating — at the moment, 3.7 stars out of 5. In 23 reviews, 39% were 5-star, and 13% were 1-star. Comments range from “terrific scholarship and also great literature” to “bad history and terrible economics”. Go figure.
How did I rate it? I didn’t; I don’t feel knowledgeable enough. For me, the twists and turns were difficult to follow at times. But it gave me a real insight into the ideas that have shaped our economic policy, especially during World War II when Great Britain stood alone. Where we are today was forged in that time period. And economics led the way.