This book is an exercise in mixing and bridging, since it brings together politics and economics, the past and the present, quantitative and qualitative analysis.
It brings together politics and economics because we set out to produce a book that would concentrate on the political analysis of what we here call fiscal squeeze (for reasons we explain in Chapter 1), but still engage seriously with the voluminous literature on political economy. It brings together the past and the present because, at a time when dramatic fiscal pressures were central to politics in many countries in the aftermath of the great financial crash of 2008, we wanted to analyse past cases of fiscal squeeze in different places to see what, if anything, they had in common. And it brings together quantitative and qualitative analysis because, at a time when there are plenty of books of essays on the general subject of the politics of austerity, we wanted to focus more specifically on fiscal squeeze. This book combines systematic analytic comparison with a set of descriptive case studies and thereby engages carefully with the available published numbers while exploring what lies behind them.
The bridging and mixing took all of us to the edge of our intellectual comfort zones if not beyond, but the aim of the book was to produce jointly what we could not have achieved on our own, namely a pooling of expertise in the history and fiscal politics of different countries, a combination of disciplinary backgrounds (in economics, public finance accounting and political science), and also a mixing of different academic generations.
The ancient Goths are said to have discussed all important matters twice, once drunk and once sober. All of our discussions were of course conducted with the utmost sobriety, but we have discussed the underlying issues of this book much more than twice, and the thousand-plus emails we exchanged as all the chapters went through successive drafts are only part of the deliberation that went into this book. The central ideas of the book were successively refined as a result of discussion in two conferences a year apart (one a backroom affair in Oxford in the wet and cold April of 2012, the other a large-scale conference in central London in the hottest week of 2013), plus numerous online and face-to-face editorial discussions.
Nietzsche said all theory is autobiography, and certainly this book has taken shape against a period of several years in which the politics of fiscal (p.xvi) squeeze was seldom out of the headlines, with endless debates over matters such as who should suffer how much ‘austerity’, whether unelected economists should rule the world, and whether the neo-liberalism of recent decades was a busted flush in a new world of severe fiscal pressure. We tried to maintain a measure of academic distance in order to put the present and the recent past into perspective, but the politics of fiscal squeeze was happening all around us as we talked academic concepts beneath the Gothic pinnacles of All Souls College, Oxford and the classical columns and scrolls of the British Academy’s building in London’s Carlton House Terrace.
This project has been a long time in the making and we have many debts to acknowledge—institutional and personal, intellectual and material. The project would have been impossible without the financial support provided by the Economic and Social Research Council that paid for the time we needed to develop and refine the concepts, bring the participating scholars together, and carry out the detailed comparative analysis and one of the case studies. It would have been very much more difficult without the generosity of All Souls College, Oxford, in hosting a vital ‘backroom event’ to discuss cases and concepts at an early stage in the spring of 2012. And the project was helped enormously by the support it received from the British Academy, whose Events and Prizes Committee accepted a proposal from us for a British Academy conference in the summer of 2013 to present and discuss drafts of the papers that became the chapters for this book, and whose Publications Committee later accepted the collected volume for publication in this series.
Vital as such institutional support is, a project like this needs help from specific individuals too, and we are particularly grateful to James Rivington of the British Academy for helpful advice and encouragement throughout the process, to Angela Pusey and Penny Collins for so capably organising the British Academy conference that led up to this book, and to Brigid Hamilton-Jones for helping us develop and present the book for publication. More specifically, we wish to thank: Emma Anderson for event organisation, pulling the typescript together and preparing the index; Janet English for project-managing the book’s production; and Susan Milligan for her meticulous copy-editing.
But a book like this needs more than financial and logistical help, important as that is. We have had a great deal of intellectual guidance, not only from the insights and advice we gained from the contributors (without them there would have been no book) but also from those who helped us to shape this analysis before, during and after the British Academy conference, including Lucy Barnes, Sir Christopher Foster, Maura Francese, Andrew Gamble, Patrick Le Galès, Lord (Gus) O’Donnell, Christopher Pollitt, Rt Hon. John Redwood MP, Rt Hon. Peter Riddell, Lord (Nick) Stern and Daniel Tarschys. (p.xvii) We are deeply grateful also to three anonymous referees for the British Academy who assessed the draft of each chapter for the book and made helpful suggestions for improvement, and to the many participants in the British Academy conference who offered valuable suggestions and comments.
Christopher Hood, David Heald and Rozana Himaz