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Fear City: New York's ...
Kimberly Phillips-Fein
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Fear City: New York's Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  345 ratings  ·  64 reviews
An epic and riveting history of New York City on the edge of disaster--and an anatomy of the politics of austerity that continues to shape the world today

When the news broke in 1975 that New York City was on the brink of fiscal collapse, few believed it was possible: how could the capital of the financial world go bankrupt? And yet the city was billions of dollars--maybe t
ebook, 320 pages
Published April 18th 2017 by Metropolitan Books (first published August 16th 2016)
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4.18  · 
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 ·  345 ratings  ·  64 reviews

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Apr 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For decades, New York City had run a generous municipal welfare system that marked the left-most edge of New Deal politics. In addition to fire and police departments, to public schools and public transportation, the city ran a network of child care centers, senior centers and municipal hospitals. The flagship of this system, for both supporters and detractors, was the tuition-free CUNY system, which offered higher education to any NYC high school graduate regardless of income level. Then, in 19 ...more
Anand Gopal
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Between 1945 and 1975, New York City functioned like an island of social democracy in the United States: free universal higher education, accessible health care, free or affordable day care. Due to deindustrialization, suburbanization, and economic crisis, though, by the mid 70s the city faced declining tax revenue and increasing expenditures, and was forced to borrow extensively from banks. This effectively ended the city's social democracy, putting bankers in charge to write the most important ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
The financial crisis of New York City in the mid-seventies was a microcosm of the crisis of postwar liberalism (Europeans read Social Democracy). New York city was on the verge of bankruptcy and state and federal government including the Ford Administration decided not to bail NYC out and left the city to sort out its problems of a declining tax base fleeing to suburbs and large pockets of poverty. This was a moment when austerity became the default pattern for the city. The now all too familiar ...more
Mar 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Naomi Klein has said that when her book “The Shock Doctrine” came out, that one place many have said she left out, was what happened in New York City during the 70s. She refers to this work in her latest book and insisting that this does a fine job of telling the story and she isn’t wrong.

Phillips-Fein traces the origins of the crisis back to the 60s. Between the late 60s and the mid-70s, half a million jobs disappeared from the city, meaning that more people were in need of the city services. G
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Do you ever wonder why our pundits blather endlessly about deficits? Has it ever vexed you how Amazon can pay zero federal taxes while receiving offers from dozens of municipalities worth billions? Or perhaps you are curious why in New York, one of the wealthiest locales on earth, thousands of people live without homes?

This book is an ideal place to begin an education on these matters. It charts the development and agonizing consequences of New York's fiscal crisis of the 1970s. But more than t
CBW Librarian
If balancing municipal budgets isn't your thing, then you can probably skip this one.
Good telling of the events that created the NYC fiscal crisis in 1970s and the austerity policies that followed and their consequences to the city.

The important thing to realize is that while the budget cuts improved the city's revenue and credit standings, they did not improve the lives of the people living in the city. The outcomes would go against the very rhetoric that was used to push the budget cuts: things like poverty, sickness, unemployment, and crime all increased, not decreased, show
Stephen Straub
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not only an amazing read on a specific and important era in New York's history, but also an important reminder for the Left to see how far we've fallen. This represents the decline of the New Deal and the rise of Neo-Liberalism that we have to reckon with now.
Mar 02, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was interesting, but a little too focused on the small-ball aspects of new York's 1970s fiscal crisis. Maybe I just wish this had been part of a larger fabric of the 60s/70s urban crises and the subsequent conservative insurgency.
Mike Zickar
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, politics
An enjoyable analysis of the financial problems that NYC faced during the 1970s as it went to the cliff of bankruptcy. This historical tackles deep economic assumptions and lessons learned from the crises, avoiding blame on any single cause (unlike the politicians of the time, who searched for easy scapegoats).

This is a human story, and economic story, and a political story. . . Good stuff!
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The author is less neutral than I prefer in history books, but aside from that, it was good. Covers an interesting period with a lot of primary sources, but from enough distance to have some insight.
May 03, 2017 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I just heard a great interview of the author on "Your Call" with Rose Aguilar on KALW radio.
Charlie Rosenthal
Jun 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good NYC history, full of infuriating anecdotes about cutting education and health funding. Also, Ed Koch seems like a pretty big jerk.
Dec 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is so good she turned fiscal policy into a political thriller.
Fear City is a fascinating look at New York City's fiscal crisis in the 1970s. Phillips-Fein is a great storyteller who synthesized a vast amount of data to generate an exceptionally well-organized and written documentary. The detail may be a bit excessive. But every chapter and subsection flows smoothly. She has a liberal bias. Although she is subtle in focusing on the crisis, her views mean that Republicans, including Donald Trump, emerge from the pages as villains. The story of the crisis the ...more
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Books about financial crises shouldn’t be this exciting. Books about financial crises that happened 40 years shouldn’t be this exciting. But, somehow, Kim Phillips-Fein has achieved the impossible. One would think a book dealing with such a serious and complicated subject would read like dry homework, but Phillips-Fein has managed to tell the story in a riveting way. I don’t want to say that I couldn’t wait to put this book down, but it most definitely is a page turner.

The way Phillips-Fein pull
Andrew Fairweather
'Fear City' is a thorough overview of a significant turning point in the history of New York City and the United States, and the West, in general—the rise of austerity politics. The decade of the 1970s saw moves away from the Great Society model of government (which, abstractly, emphasized the responsibility of the government to provide services to its citizens that promoted equity) to the vision of government that is so familiar to us today, that of a limited government whose role it is to keep ...more
Jul 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read Kim Phillips-Fein's "Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal" several years ago, and "Fear City" is a perfect complement that likewise enriches our understanding of the collapse of the social democratic consensus and the rise of neoliberalism. In both books, she astutely observes the build-up of causes, reordering of power, and individual and collective actions that, over time, effect a shift in economic paradigm. As "Invisible Hands" tracked the evolution of conse ...more
Patrick DiJusto
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Between the 1930s and the late 1960s, the people and elected officials of New York City created the nearest thing to St. Augustine's City of God on Earth -- a city where everyone could get an education from kindergarden through PhD without cost, not as a charity but as a right. A city where municipal hospitals and clinics ensured that people could get affordable medical care -- not free, but not bankrupting either. A city where day care was available, immediate, and inexpensive, freeing up thous ...more
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an important book that tells a story that must be remembered. In the mid-1970s, New York came close to bankruptcy as a consequence partly from poor financial decisions on the part of city government, but largely because postwar government policies and racist attitudes subsidized and drove the move of industry and the middle class to the suburbs, decimating the city's tax base. Yes, it had a lot of obligations from its social policies, which included tuition-free colleges, good schools, f ...more
Jul 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We’re far enough from New York’s 1970s financial crisis that you can read Kim Phillips-Fein’s Pulitzer-winning history of it and then look around you and see in glass and steel the permanent transformations the crisis wrought. It’s a done deal.
Her argument is the financial crisis created the opening that forced New York’s Neoliberal turn. It voided the egalitarian social contract that had guided the city through its golden age from the 30s to the late 60s. The new arrangement took shape slowly b
Leanne Ellis
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent account of the 1970s fiscal crisis in New York. Tragic how the belief in government in the 50s and 60s to solve social issues, coupled with emerging social justice movements, were hollowed out by industry leaving NYC. Just as minority groups were gaining some parity with whites, the money was pulled out from under them under the guise of austerity. Having quality health care, access to education and decent paying jobs are not privileged demands; they are rights. The rich couch economic ...more
Jun 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Prior to the fiscal crisis, New York City had a very broad and generous social welfare system, from a robust network of municipal hospitals and clinics, free college education within the CUNY system, free/subsidized day care, etc. While imperfect, it was perhaps the closest a city came to bringing the ideals of the Great Society to life. To my knowledge, this book is easily the best history on the rolling back of these ideals and the programs that were put in place in an attempt to make these id ...more
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Over time, this aggressive use of debt meant postponing more than just taxes: it meant delaying conflict, putting off political fights about New York City's welfare state." (44)

"As a child, [Mayor Beame] he earned money by knocking on the doors of neighbors who were too poor to own a timepiece to wake them up for work. Starting at age thirteen, he labored at the paper factory with his father from 4 p.m. until midnight. (He saved money by rollerskating to and from school rather than taking publi
Dec 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2018
This is a magnificent book, one of the best I read this year. If I told you it was a history of New York City's descent into fiscal hell, and its attempts to avoid bankruptcy in the 1970s, you might logically respond, "Um, no thanks. Are you insane?" Instead, it's a clear, steady retelling of what turns out to be something of a thrilling ride. Phillips-Fein turns a story based essentially on municipal bonds, budget-cutting, and inter-government wrangling into something akin to a page-turner.

John Ihor Campagna
A good chronicle of the nyc fiscal crisis and what it felt like to be in the city in 1975. The biggest weakness is the book's clear left wing, and mostly unconvincing, tilt as pre-crisis nyc is painted a triumph of post-war liberalism with the crisis simply being a means for a group of neoliberal elites to crush the order. The underlying causes of the crisis are somewhat shortchanged as the author largely blames outside forces eg the failure of state and federal governments to give support or al ...more
The fiscal crisis of the 1970s is one of those stories that was all consuming and then quickly forgotten. Kim Phillips-Fein does a good job telling us the story but is too focused on the political aspects than the human ones. There are several great anecdotes about the human aspects but when we're about to get into them we're dashed off to something the mayor is doing or something in DC.

I enjoyed reading about how the city got to its point of collapse and how the crisis was botched but after the
victor harris
Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even with all the intricate finance and budget talk that was introduced to save the city, the author keeps the narrative moving. That is no small feat as New York jumped through some complicated economic hoops to keep the city solvent. The political backdrop is interesting as it was a marker for the conservative ideological wave that would soon sweep the country. With the likes of Rumsfeld, Simon, Greenspan et al in the Gerald Ford camp, the intent was to strike a blow against liberalism. And al ...more
Fear City is a thorough account of the near-bankruptcy of New York City in 1975, how the city was on the forefront of expanding health care, education, and other opportunities to lower class citizens following WWII, how overspending (relative to revenue) in the '60s led to banks not wanting to buy NYC bonds, and, crucially, how the Ford Administration (including characters like Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Alan Greenspan) saw the crisis as an opportunity to force the city to close hospitals ...more
Sandy Grant
May 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ny-history
I bought this book because this covers the three years that I lived in NYC. I lived in the West Village and worked at The Improv at 44th and 9th and a recording studio on 57th Street. I didn't have kids in public school, didn't work for the city or go to the city college or need a city hospital, and didn't live in the boroughs, so the fiscal crisis didn't affect me personally, as it's described in the book.

The author explains very clearly and with very engaging prose how New York got to the poin
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