In the Red

The Politics of Public Debt Accumulation in Developed Countries

Subjects: Political Science, Political Economy
Hardcover : 9780472130641, 224 pages, 5 tables, 5 charts, 6 x 9, March 2018
Open Access : 9780472900923, 224 pages, 5 tables, 5 charts, 6 x 9, March 2018

This open access version made available with the support of libraries participating in Knowledge Unlatched.
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Insightful study that identifies the underlying factors contributing to countries continually accumulating immense debt


Why do rich countries flirt with fiscal disaster? Between the 1970s and the 2000s, during times of peace and prosperity, affluent countries—like Belgium, Greece, Italy, and Japan—accumulated so much debt that they became vulnerable and exposed themselves to the risk of default. In the past three decades, an extensive scholarly consensus emerged that these problems were created by fiscal indiscipline, the lack of sufficient concern for budgetary constraints from policy makers as they try to please voters. This approach formed the foundation for the fiscal surveillance system that attempted to bring borrowing in European countries under control via a set of fiscal rules. In the Red demonstrates that the problem of sustained, large-scale debt accumulation is an adjustment issue rather than a governance failure. Irrespective of whether the original impetus for borrowing arose from exogenous changes or irresponsible decision making, policy makers invariably initiate spending cuts and/or tax increases when debt grows at an alarming rate for several years in a row. Zsófia Barta argues that explaining why some countries accumulate substantial amounts of debt for decades hinges on understanding the conditions required to allow policy makers to successfully put into place painful adjustment measures.

Zsófia Barta is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany SUNY.

“This book is timely. It’s one of those books that when you read it, you think, ‘I can’t believe someone hasn’t done this before.’ But in fact, no one has. . . . Its topic is intellectually challenging and substantively important.”
—Pepper Culpepper, University of Oxford

In the Red will convince other scholars that fiscal polarization and international exposure are important factors to incorporate in any systematic attempt to understand processes of fiscal adjustment.” 
—Deborah Mabbett, Birbeck, University of London

Winner: American Political Science Association (APSA) 2018 European Politics and Society Section Book Award

- APSA European Politics and Society Section Book Award

Honorable Mention: International Studies Association (ISA) 2019 International Political Economy Best Book Award

- ISA IPE Best Book Award

Honorable Mention: Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) 2020 Alice Amsden Best Book Award

- SASE Alice Amsden Best Book Award

Listen: Zsófia Barta interviewed for the Rhodes Center podcast Link | 5/15/2019