Adam Tooze, who is now a professor at Columbia University in New York, has published two brilliant books of 20th-century economic history. The first, The Wages of Destruction, a highly influential analysis of the economics of Nazi Germany, revealed in particular the impact of raw material shortages on the German war strategy and highlighted the innovative efforts of German industry to overcome them. The second, The Deluge, focused on the reconstruction of Europe after the cataclysm of the First World War, and especially the remarkable role played by the United States, in spite of the retreat of its leaders from multilateralism.
Now, perhaps influenced by his move to New York, he has turned his gaze on more recent events: specifically, the financial crisis that began in 2007, the effects of which remain painfully with us today. While most banks have recovered, and are far better capitalised than before, growth remains subdued, in spite of historically low interest rates, and there is little sign that Western economies, particularly those in Europe, can recover the output lost in the crisis. Indeed, there are signs that we may have settled into a new equilibrium, with output growth heavily dependent on ever-higher indebtedness, which in turn may be planting the seeds of the next downturn.
It may be, too, that the growth of populism on both sides of the Atlantic is traceable, at least in part, to public disquiet at the excesses of the financial system and at the extravagant enrichment of the top 1 per cent of the population, many of whose members are