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Before the Deluge

Public Debt, Inequality, and the Intellectual Origins of the French Revolution

Michael Sonenscher

Ever since the French Revolution, Madame de Pompadour's comment, "Après moi, le déluge" (after me, the deluge), has looked like a callous if accurate prophecy of the political cataclysms that began in 1789. But decades before the Bastille fell, French writers had used the phrase to describe a different kind of selfish recklessness--not toward the flood of revolution but, rather, toward the flood of public debt. In Before the Deluge, Michael Sonenscher examines these fears and the responses to them, and the result is nothing less than a new way of thinking about the intellectual origins of the French Revolution.

In this nightmare vision of the future, many prerevolutionary observers predicted that the pressures generated by modern war finance would set off a chain of debt defaults that would either destroy established political orders or cause a sudden lurch into despotic rule. Nor was it clear that constitutional government could keep this possibility at bay. Constitutional government might make public credit more secure, but public credit might undermine constitutional government itself.

Before the Deluge examines how this predicament gave rise to a widespread eighteenth-century interest in figuring out how to establish and maintain representative governments able to realize the promise of public credit while avoiding its peril. By doing so, the book throws new light on a neglected aspect of modern political thought and on the French Revolution.

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Behavioral Public Finance

Behavioral economics questions the basic underpinnings of economic theory, showing that people often do not act consistently in their own self-interest when making economic decisions. While these findings have important theoretical implications, they also provide a new lens for examining public policies, such as taxation, public spending, and the provision of adequate pensions. How can people be encouraged to save adequately for retirement when evidence shows that they tend to spend their money as soon as they can? Would closer monitoring of income tax returns lead to more honest taxpayers or a more distrustful, uncooperative citizenry? Behavioral Public Finance, edited by Edward McCaffery and Joel Slemrod, applies the principles of behavioral economics to government's role in constructing economic and social policies of these kinds and suggests that programs crafted with rational participants in mind may require redesign. Behavioral Public Finance looks at several facets of economic life and asks how behavioral research can increase public welfare. Deborah A. Small, George Loewenstein, and Jeff Strnad note that public support for a tax often depends not only on who bears its burdens, but also on how the tax is framed. For example, people tend to prefer corporate taxes over sales taxes, even though the cost of both is eventually extracted from the consumer. James J. Choi, David Laibson, Brigitte C. Madrian, and Andrew Metrick assess the impact of several different features of 401(k) plans on employee savings behavior. They find that when employees are automatically enrolled in a retirement savings plan, they overwhelmingly accept the status quo and continue participating, while employees without automatic enrollment typically take over a year to join the saving plan. Behavioral Public Finance also looks at taxpayer compliance. While the classic economic model suggests that the low rate of IRS audits means far fewer people should voluntarily pay their taxes than actually do, John Cullis, Philip Jones, and Alan Lewis present new research showing that many people do not underreport their incomes even when the probability of getting caught is a mere one percent. Human beings are not always rational, utility-maximizing economic agents. Behavioral economics has shown how human behavior departs from the assumptions made by generations of economists. Now, Behavioral Public Finance brings the insights of behavioral economics to analysis of policies that affect us all.

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Behavioral Science & Policy

Vol. 1 (2015) through current issue

Behavioral Science & Policy is an international, peer-reviewed journal that features short, accessible articles describing actionable policy applications of behavioral scientific research that serves the public interest. Articles submitted to BSP undergo a dual-review process. Leading Scholars from specific disciplinary areas review articles to assess their scientific rigor; at the same time, experts in relevant policy areas evaluate them for relevance and feasibility of implementation. Manuscripts that pass this dual-review are edited to ensure their accessibility to scientists, policy makers, and lay readers. BSP is not limited to a particular point of view or political ideology.

BSP is a publication of the Behavioral Science & Policy Association and the Brookings Institution Press.

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Behavioral Sciences and the Mass Media

Presents papers which were discussed at the Arden House Conference—a conference held to establish a working relationship between sociologists at the Russell Sage Foundation and journalists of the Graduate School of Journalism of Columbia University. Both behavioral science and journalism have for a long time been concerned with some of the same major national social problems—juvenile delinquency, urban problems, race and minority group relations, international tensions, and labor relations. These papers touch on some of the barriers to communication and point to possible ways of breaking through those barriers.

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The Best System Money Can Buy

Corruption in the European Union

As the European Union moved in the 1990s to a unified market and stronger common institutions, most observers assumed that the changes would reduce corruption. Aspects of the stronger EU promised to preclude-or at least reduce-malfeasance: regulatory harmonization, freer trade, and privatization of publicly owned enterprises. Market efficiencies would render corrupt practices more visible and less common.

In The Best System Money Can Buy, Carolyn M. Warner systematically and often entertainingly gives the lie to these assumptions and provides a framework for understanding the persistence of corruption in the Western states of the EU. In compelling case studies, she shows that under certain conditions, politicians and firms across Europe, chose to counter the increased competition they faced due to liberal markets and political reforms by resorting to corruption. More elections have made ever-larger funding demands on political parties; privatization has proved to be a theme park for economic crime and party profit; firms and politicians collude in many areas where EU harmonization has resulted in a net reduction in law-enforcement powers; and state-led "export promotion" efforts, especially in the armaments, infrastructure, and energy sectors, have virtually institutionalized bribery.

The assumptions that corruption and modernity are incompatible-or that Western Europe is somehow immune to corruption-simply do not hold, as Warner conveys through colorful analyses of scandals in which large corporations, politicians, and bureaucrats engage in criminal activity in order to facilitate mergers and block competition, and in which officials accept private payments for public services rendered. At the same time, the book shows the extent to which corruption is driven by the very economic and political reforms thought to decrease it.

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Better Doctors, Better Patients, Better Decisions

Envisioning Health Care 2020

edited by Gerd Gigerenzer and J.A. Muir Gray

How eliminating “risk illiteracy” among doctors and patients will lead to better health care decision making.

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Betting on Biotech

Innovation and the Limits of Asia's Developmental State

After World War II, several late-developing countries registered astonishingly high growth rates under strong state direction, making use of smart investment strategies, turnkey factories, and reverse-engineering, and taking advantage of the postwar global economic boom. Among these economic miracles were postwar Japan and, in the 1960s and 1970s, the so-called Asian Tigers-Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan-whose experiences epitomized the analytic category of the "developmental state."

In Betting on Biotech, Joseph Wong examines the emerging biotechnology sector in each of these three industrial dynamos. They have invested billions of dollars in biotech industries since the 1990s, but commercial blockbusters and commensurate profits have not followed. Industrial upgrading at the cutting edge of technological innovation is vastly different from the dynamics of earlier practices in established industries.

The profound uncertainties of life-science-based industries such as biotech have forced these nations to confront a new logic of industry development, one in which past strategies of picking and making winners have given way to a new strategy of throwing resources at what remain very long shots. Betting on Biotech illuminates a new political economy of industrial technology innovation in places where one would reasonably expect tremendous potential-yet where billion-dollar bets in biotech continue to teeter on the brink of spectacular failure.

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Between Dictatorship and Democracy

Russian Post-Communist Political Reform

Michael McFaul, Nikolai Petrov, and Andrei Ryabov

For hundreds of years, dictators have ruled Russia. Do they still? In the late 1980s, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev launched a series of political reforms that eventually allowed for competitive elections, the emergence of an independent press, the formation of political parties, and the sprouting of civil society. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, these proto-democratic institutions endured in an independent Russia. But did the processes unleashed by Gorbachev and continued under Russian President Boris Yeltsin lead eventually to liberal democracy in Russia? If not, what kind of political regime did take hold in post-Soviet Russia? And how has Vladimir Putin's rise to power influenced the course of democratic consolidation or the lack thereof? Between Dictatorship and Democracy seeks to give a comprehensive answer to these fundamental questions about the nature of Russian politics.

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Between Preservation and Exploitation

Transnational Advocacy Networks and Conservation in Developing Countries

Kemi Fuentes-George

In the late 2000s, ordinary citizens in Jamaica and Mexico demanded that government put a stop to lucrative but environmentally harmful economic development activities -- bauxite mining in Jamaica and large-scale tourism and overfishing on the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. In each case, the catalyst for the campaign was information gathered and disseminated by transnational advocacy networks (TANs) of researchers, academics, and activists. Both campaigns were successful despite opposition from industry supporters. Meanwhile, simultaneous campaigns to manage land in another part of the Yucatán and to conserve migratory birds in Egypt had far less success. In this book, Kemi Fuentes-George uses these four cases to analyze factors that determine the success or failure of efforts by TANs to persuade policymakers and private sector actors in developing countries to change environmental behavior. Fuentes-George argues that in order to influence the design and implementation of policy, TANs must generate a scientific consensus, create social relationships with local actors, and advocate for biodiversity in a way that promotes local environmental justice. Environmentally just policies would allow local populations access to their lands provided they use natural resources sustainably. Justice claims are also more likely to generate needed support among local groups for conservation projects.In their conservation efforts, Jamaica, Mexico, and Egypt were attempting to meet their obligations under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and other regional agreements. Fuentes-George's innovative analysis shows the importance of local environmental justice for the implementation of international environmental treaties.

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Beyond Civil Rights

The Moynihan Report and Its Legacy

By Daniel Geary

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