In the Red

The Politics of Public Debt Accumulation in Developed Countries
Zsófia Barta
Insightful study that identifies the underlying factors contributing to countries continually accumulating immense debt


Why do rich countries flirt with fiscal disaster? Between the 1970s and the 2000s, during times of peace and prosperity, affluent countries—like Belgium, Greece, Italy, and Japan—accumulated so much debt that they became vulnerable and exposed themselves to the risk of default. In the past three decades, an extensive scholarly consensus emerged that these problems were created by fiscal indiscipline, the lack of sufficient concern for budgetary constraints from policy makers as they try to please voters. This approach formed the foundation for the fiscal surveillance system that attempted to bring borrowing in European countries under control via a set of fiscal rules. In the Red demonstrates that the problem of sustained, large-scale debt accumulation is an adjustment issue rather than a governance failure. Irrespective of whether the original impetus for borrowing arose from exogenous changes or irresponsible decision making, policy makers invariably initiate spending cuts and/or tax increases when debt grows at an alarming rate for several years in a row. Zsófia Barta argues that explaining why some countries accumulate substantial amounts of debt for decades hinges on understanding the conditions required to allow policy makers to successfully put into place painful adjustment measures.

Cover: Red Light by XoMEoX

“This book is timely. It’s one of those books that when you read it, you think, ‘I can’t believe someone hasn’t done this before.’ But in fact, no one has. . . . Its topic is intellectually challenging and substantively important.”
—Pepper Culpepper, University of Oxford

In the Red will convince other scholars that fiscal polarization and international exposure are important factors to incorporate in any systematic attempt to understand processes of fiscal adjustment.” 
—Deborah Mabbett, Birbeck, University of London
Zsófia Barta is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany SUNY.

Praise / Awards

  • "The book’s framework, laid out in a clear and accessible way, is an open invitation for researchers to take it and run with it ... In the Red has broad and sturdy shoulders on which future scholarship will comfortably stand."
    --EUSA Review of Books
  • "In the Red deserves to be read by a wide audience, and its readers will learn a great deal from it."
    --Perspectives on Politics
  • "In the Red provides an innovative approach to our understanding of exces-
    sive debt accumulation in advanced market economies ... A must read for any political economist interested in the politics of indebtedness."
    --Journal of Common Market Studies
  • Winner: American Political Science Association (APSA) 2018 European Politics and Society Section Book Award
  • Honorable Mention: International Studies Association (ISA) 2019 International Political Economy Best Book Award
  • Honorable Mention: Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) 2020 Alice Amsden Best Book Award

News, Reviews, Interviews

Listen: Zsófia Barta interviewed for the Rhodes Center podcast Link | 5/15/2019

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 224pp.
  • 5 tables, 5 charts.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2018
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-13064-1

Add to Cart
  • $54.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2018
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90092-3

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  • Public debt; political economy; political sociology; comparative; redistribution; fiscal adjustment; fiscal reform; fiscal policy; taxation; fiscal; public spending; social coalitions