PROJECT M
Barry Eichengreen
Q&A

Barry Eichengreen

Barry Eichengreen is a professor of economics and political science at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Hall of Mirrors. He discusses his latest book on the Great Depression, Great Recession and the uses – and misuses – of history

© Berto Martinez
Barry Eichengreen

Barry Eichengreen

Barry Eichengreen is a professor of economics and political science at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Hall of Mirrors. He discusses his latest book on the Great Depression, Great Recession and the uses – and misuses – of history

Galbraith’s The Great Crash, 1929, is the classic on the Great Depression. Do you believe you have written the classic on the Great Recession?

History has a lesson. Is it: bunk, as Ford said; a farcical repetition, as believed by Marx; or, as Cervantes claimed, the sum total of things that should be avoided?

If all authors have an agenda, what is yours?

I’d like to think that I’m concerned to understand better how earlier experiences inform and shape the perceptions of people today, and how that in turn influences how they respond to events.

There are parallels between the 1930s and our own financial crisis. Do you think modern officials applied the right understanding of events?

While the parallels are remarkable, it’s also remarkable that we weren’t more aware of them and the implications while they were unfolding. Before our crisis, enough people didn’t draw the obvious conclusions that it could all end badly. I think the big mistakes were the decisions made before the crisis.

There are important lessons in your book Hall Of Mirrors. What are they?

Pushing back, as I said earlier, I think history doesn’t have lessons, but the past can inform our understanding of current dilemmas – like how, in the present case, success was the mother of failure. We’ve avoided a depression like that of the 1930s, but we’ve ended up doing too little to stimulate recovery and too little in terms of financial reform to prevent another crisis. So that’s not a lesson of history, but it is an illustration of how the past can be used to better understand the situation we are in today.

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