The Great Degeneration: Book summary and reviews of The Great Degeneration by Niall Ferguson

The Great Degeneration

How Institutions Decay and Economies Die

By Niall Ferguson

The Great Degeneration
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  • Published in USA  Jun 2013,
    192 pages.

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Book Summary

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 over-complex 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.

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Media Reviews

"A major statement from a much-discussed, controversial historian." - Barnes and Noble

"Historians often get it wrong when they turn to the present and the future, but Degeneration, based on the author's Reith Lectures, is a compelling and cogently argued work." - Times Higher Education

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Author Information

Niall Ferguson Author Biography

Niall Ferguson MA, D.Phil., is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Born in Glasgow in 1964, he graduated with First Class Honors from Magdalen College, Oxford. His books include The Pity of War, The House of Rothschild, The Cash Nexus, Empire and Colossus .

A prolific commentator on contemporary politics and economics, Ferguson writes and reviews regularly for the British and American press. He is a contributing editor for the Financial Times and a regular contributor to Newsweek. In 2004, Time named him as one of the world’s hundred ...

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