American Bonds: How Credit Markets Shaped a Nation by Sarah Quinn

The committee is delighted to announce that the 2020 Alice Amsden Book Award of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics goes to sociologist Sarah Quinn for her book American Bonds: How Credit Markets Shaped a Nation (Princeton University Press).


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The committee writes: Thoroughly researched and documented (with over 60 pages of endnotes), and written in an illuminating and engaging prose, this book examines the evolution of securitization and federal credit programs over the period of almost 200 years of American history, from the early post-Revolutionary years to the 1960s. The federal government relied on securitization and credit as tools of domestic statecraft in order to provide widespread economic opportunities but to avoid overt market intervention or redistribution of wealth. Under Sarah Quinn’s magnifying glass, the highly technical world of finance is seen as a complex social, political and moral landscape. In the end, the book arrives at a surprising conclusion that the US after all has an underappreciated developmental state, where government officials creatively turn to financial markets to manage America’s complex fractured political divides, and to determine what Americans owe one another. The book’s interdisciplinary engagement -- it draws on insights from economic sociology, political science, history, and economics -- would be of great interest to a broad spectrum of SASE scholars, and its focus on the developmental state is a wonderful tribute to Alice Amsden’s own work on state-led economic development of Asian economies.


Honorable Mention

In the Red: The Politics of Public Debt Accumulation in Developed Countries by Zsofia Barta

The committee has also decided to award an Honorable Mention to political scientist Zsofia Barta for her book In the Red: The Politics of Public Debt Accumulation in Developed Countries (University of Michigan Press).



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The committee writes: The book asks a timely and relevant question: why do some countries accumulate so much debt in times of peace and prosperity that they expose themselves to the risk of default, while others manage to keep their debt under control? Drawing on data on five countries (Italy, Belgium, Ireland, Greece, and Japan) and examining debt accumulation and fiscal adjustment policies over a period of forty years (from the 1970s to the early 2000s), this ambitious book presents a concise and convincing answer: Persistent borrowing is not a result of recklessness on the part of political elites who want to myopically trade cash flow for short-term goals. In fact, policymakers everywhere try to initiate measures to reduce public debt, but the success of fiscal adjustments depends on state-society relations and the presence of social support for spending cuts and tax increases. Barta explains that gaining this support is extremely difficult in countries where the expected burden of fiscal adjustment will disproportionately affect some particular groups (she calls this criterion fiscal polarization), and where large parts of society are insulated from the negative economic effects of fiscal imbalance (a result of how open the country is to international markets). An erudite and highly readable account, this book offers broad theoretical contributions to comparative political economy, public finance, institutional change, state-society relations and fiscal policy, and it will greatly resonate with many scholars in the SASE community.