A century of fiscal squeeze politics: 100 years of austerity, politics, and bureaucracy in Britain

Date01 March 2018
Published date01 March 2018
A century of fiscal squeeze politics: 100 years of
austerity, politics, and bureaucracy in Britain
Christopher Hood | Rozana Himaz
Oxford University Press, 2017, 272 pp., £55.00 (hb), ISBN: 9780198779612
Since the start of the financial crisis in 2008, scholarship on cutback management, fiscal consolidation, and austerity
politics is once again on the rise in public administration research. While many articles and books aim to compare
austerity and cutbacks across countries, Christopher Hood and Rozana Himazs book on austerity politics is the first
and most comprehensive account of austerity politics in a single country over time.
Building on earlier comparative work (see Hood et al. 2015), this book concentrates on Britain and compares
fiscal squeeze over time, focusing on different episodes of austerity politics between 1916 and 2016. Another origi-
nal feature of the book is the combination of a quantitative and qualitative analysis. The result is a well-structured
volume in which the quantitative analysis presented in chapter two is used to define the episodes of fiscal squeeze
that are qualitatively assessed in eight subsequent chapters that are presented in chronological order.
The book is centred around three key political choices that are unavoidable during fiscal squeeze. First of all,
the book questions whether tax hikes (revenue squeezes) or spending cuts are used. Second, the authors analyse
whether a surgery without anestheticsapproach (the use of short, sharp shocks) or a boiling frogstactic (more
gradual shocks over a longer period) is used to deliver the pain. Third, Hood and Himaz focus onhow blame is han-
dled by the political incumbents.
To identify the episodes of fiscal squeeze and to assess whether the emphasis lies on spending cuts or revenue
squeezes, the second chapter analyses historical financial outcome statistics from the UK Office of National Statis-
tics. Episodes of squeeze are characterized as hard or soft based on the calculation of both changes in revenue and
expenditure relative to the Gross Domestic Product (the ratio-method) and in constant prices (the levels-method).
When spending falls or revenue rises on both indicators, the authors define the episode as hard. The results of the
quantitative analysis show that hard revenue squeezes, in particular, seem to have vanished over the last 30 years
and that there has been a shift from short and sharp cuts to long and shallow cuts.
The qualitative chapters of the book provide rich descriptions which introduce necessary contextual informa-
tion on the different political and economic settings that accompany the different episodes of fiscal squeeze. The
aim of these chapters to look behind the data as reported in chapter two, draws upon earlier published studies, doc-
ument analysis, and some interviews. Each of these chapters ends with an analysis of the three different political
choices. The chapters show how each of the episodes of fiscal squeeze is distinctive, and how contextual factors
(such as economic crises of post-war politics) triggered certain types of austerity responses. When it comes to
blame politics, the authors argue that hard or high-effort squeezes seem to have been toxic for incumbents in sub-
sequent elections(p. 220), yet some exceptions can be found of parties not punished for their austerity politics.
Second, the book suggests that when a coalition government imposes cuts, that coalition has not so much been
about sharing the subsequent blame as a zero-sum competition for post-squeeze blame and credit among the
incumbent parties(p. 220). Furthermore, the likelihood of losing office after spending cuts is higher when hard
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12380
234 © 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/padm Public Administration. 2018;96:234235.

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