Unsustainable American State

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The complexity of the American economy and polity has grown at an explosive rate in our era of globalization. Yet as the 2008 financial crisis revealed, the evolution of the American state has not proceeded apace. The crisis exposed the system's manifold political and economic dysfunctionalities.

Featuring a cast of leading scholars working at the intersection of political science and American history, The Unsustainable American State is a historically informed account of the American state's development from the nineteenth century to the present. It focuses in particular on the state-produced inequalities and administrative incoherence that became so apparent in the post-1970s era. Collectively, the book offers an unsettling account of the growth of racial and economic inequality, the ossification of the state, the gradual erosion of democracy, and the problems deriving from imperial overreach. Utilizing the framework of sustainability, a concept that is currently informing some of the best work on governance and development, the contributors show how the USA's current trajectory does not imply an impending collapse, but rather a gradual erosion of capacity and legitimacy. That is a more appropriate theoretical framework, they contend, because for all of its manifest flaws, the American state is durable. That durability, however, does not preclude a long relative decline.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A searing critique of the American state's failure to contain growing economic inequality and to respond effectively to the recent financial meltdown and economic collapse as well as an impressive effort to tap scholarship on American political development for insights into prospects for that state's sustainability and legitimacy."--Thomas E. Mann W. Averell Harriman Chair and Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution

"The scope, intelligence, and bracing qualities of the essays that compose this uncommonly thoughtful volume remedy neglect, highlight fundamental themes, and situate today's pressing circumstances in historical context. By offering empirically rich and analytically illuminating interpretations that provoke as they inform, the authors productively advance conversations about the past, present, and future of the national state."--Ira Katznelson, author of When Affirmative

"This book represents the very best work being done in the American Political Development tradition. The essays here give us a broad overview of recent changes in American governing structures, and they probe the significance of those changes with a keen sense of the urgency, even precariousness, of the current period for the future of American government."--Frances Fox Piven, author of Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195392135
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/2/2009
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Lawrence Jacobs is the Walter F. and Joan Mondale Chair for Political Studies and director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and the Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota.

Desmond King is the Andrew Mellon Professor of American Government and Professorial Fellow of Nuffield College at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the British Academy.

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Table of Contents

List of Contributors
Part 1: The Strains of Governance
1. The Political Crisis of the American State: The Unsustainable State in a Time of Unraveling, Lawrence Jacobs and Desmond King
2. Is Inequality a Threat to Democracy?, John Ferejohn
Part 2: From Nineteenth CenturyLegacies to Twentieth Century Orthodoxy
3. The Resilient Power of the States Across the Long Nineteenth Century: An Inquiry into a Pattern of American Governance, Gary Gerstle
4. The First New Federalism and the Development of the Modern American State: Patchwork, Reconstitution or Transition?, Kimberley S Johnson
5. The Missing State in Postwar American Political Thought, Desmond King and Marc Stears
Part 3: The Modern American State
6. No Class War: Economic Inequality and the American Public, Benjamin Page and Lawrence Jacobs
7. Economic Inequality and Political Representation, Larry Bartels
8. Promoting Inequality: The Politics of Higher Education Policy in an Era of Conservative Governance, Suzanne Mettler
9. Moving Feminist Activists Inside the American State: The Rise of a State Movement Intersection and its Effects on State Policy, Lee Ann Banaszak
10. From Kanye West to Barack Obama: Black Youth, the State and Political Alienation, Cathy J. Cohen
Part 4: The Inherited State Moving Forward
11. American State Building: The Theoretical Challenge, Desmond King and Robert Lieberman
12. A Historian's Reflection on the Unsustainable American State, Liz Cohen
13. Taking Stock, Stephen Skowronek

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