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States, Debt, and Power

‘Saints’ and ‘Sinners’ in European History and Integration


Author: Kenneth Dyson
: Oxford University Press
pp: 771
ISBN: 9780198714071
Price: £85.00

States, Debt, and Power argues for the importance of situating our contextually influenced thinking about European states and debt within a commitment to historically informed and critical analysis. It teases out certain broad historical patterns. The book also examines the inescapably difficult and contentious judgements about ‘bad’ and ‘good’ debt; about what constitutes sustainable debt; and about distributive justice at times of sovereign debt crisis. These judgements offer insight into the nature of power and the contingent nature of sovereign creditworthiness. Three themes weave through the book: the significance of creditor-debtor state relations in defining asymmetry of power; the context-specific and constructed character of debt, above all in relation to war; and the limitations of formal economic reasoning in the face of radical uncertainty. Part I examines case studies from Ancient Greece to the modern Euro Area and brings together a wealth of historical data that cast fresh light on how sovereign debt problems are debated and addressed. Part II looks at the conditioning and constraining framework of law, culture, and ideology and their relationship to the use of policy instruments. Part III shows how the problems of matching the assumption of liability with the exercise of control are rooted in external trade and financial imbalances and external debt; in financial markets and vulnerability to banking crisis; in the character of the ‘private governance of public debt’; in who has power over indicators of sustainability; in domestic institutional and political arrangements; and in sub-national fiscal governance. Part IV looks at how the problems of mismatch between liability and control take on an acute form within the historical context of European monetary union, above all in Euro Area debt crises.


Table of contents


Prologue: The Perils of Sleepwalking

1. Contextualizing Debt: History, Morality, and the Triple Structural Dimension
2. The Nature of Sovereign Creditworthiness: Hierarchy, Sovereignty, and Responsibility
3. Moralizing Credit: Bad Debt, Good Debt, and the Troubled Conscience

Part I: Debt and Political Rule in European History

4. The Evolution of Public Debt
5. Financial Repression, Debasement, and the Historic Arc of Default
6. Theological Traces and Social Contexts
7. The Dynamics of Public Debt in Historical Perspective: The Limitations of Economic Reasoning

Part II: Law, Culture, and Statecraft
8. Law, Public Debt, and the Paradoxes of Power
9. Economic Cultures, Ideologies of Debt, and State Virtue
10. Space, Time, and Statecraft: Saints, Fallen Angels, False Prophets, Redeemers, and Sinners

Part III: State Liability and Territorial Control
11. States and Financial Markets: The Imbalance of Power
12. Professional Consensus, Political Silence, and Sovereign Creditworthiness
13. The Dynamics of External Imbalances and Debt
14. Which Truth? The Power of Indicators and Probabilistic Reasoning about Public Debt
15. Public Debt Dynamics: Political Will and State Capacity
16. Public Debt and Multi-Level Statehood: Sub-National Fiscal Governance, Structural Imbalances, and 'Stand-Alone' Fiscal Capacity
Part IV. Sovereign Creditworthiness and European Integration
17. Still the 'Old' Europe? Historical Legacies and Long-Term Political Challenges
18. The Achilles Heel of Post-War European Integration: Endogenous Preference Formation and the Boundaries of Creditor-State Power

Epilogue: History as Oracle


About the Author

Kenneth Dyson is a Fellow of the British Academy; an Academician of the Social Sciences; a Founding Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales; a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society; and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He was twice chair of the Research Assessment Exercise Panel for European Studies; chair of the Association for the Study of German Politics, as well as of the Standing Conference of Heads of European Studies. He has held various British Academy, ESRC, and EU research grants. He was adviser for the BBC2 series 'The Money Changers'. He is Research Professor in the School of Law and Politics at Cardiff University.


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