By W. Carl Biven. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. 346 pp.
Economist W. Carl Biven has written an interesting case study of economic policy making in the presidency, specifically the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Readers will be rewarded for their effort. Although Biven's central substantive claim is hardly novel (that Carter's presidency was damaged by a faltering economy marked mostly by simultaneously high levels of unemployment and inflation), he does reconstruct Carter's policy-making apparatus and the major players, intertwined with decision analysis, to make for an informative case study.
Biven begins by tracing Carter's own reasons for his unsuccessful bid for reelection, namely, the hostage crisis, the division in the Democratic Party led by Senator Ted Kennedy, and the condition of the economy. Biven then focuses on economic policy making, with special emphasis on fiscal policy, though the specter of monetary policy looms and is studied systematically near the end of the book. As to the structure of the book, it is written in the spirit of Roger Porter's (1980) insider/academic account of the Ford White House (Presidential Decision Making: The Economic Policy Board). Even though Biven was not in the Carter administration, he makes good use of his proximity to the Carter Library (he is professor emeritus at Georgia Tech), using oral histories, White House documents, and interviews with the key players to create a sense of an "insider" feeling.
What is interesting to a political scientist is that the analysis takes on a different flavor than those we are normally used to reading. While political scientists are drawn to political generalizations (if possible) and insights derived from case studies, Biven offers economic analysis. His generalizations are economic ones, and this makes for fun reading for political scientists and historians, who are left to take Biven's economic insights and draw their own political and historical conclusions.
Biven's analysis is well grounded and balanced. A bit credulous toward Carter, he nevertheless explores a clearly problematic policy area for the president in a comprehensive way. He looks at the process of economic policy making (chap. 3); specific proposals (e.g., the stimulus package); and strategic development for inflation, oil, and unemployment. A separate chapter examines how government policy affected inflation. Although Carter (or by extension any president) had policy...