An Interview with Author Andrew Yarrow

Posted: June 24, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Andrew Yarrow, PhD History ’06, teaches U.S. history at American University and is vice president and director of the Washington, D.C., office of Public Agenda, a nonpartisan think tank. A former New York Times reporter, Yarrow is the author of two books: “Latecomers: Children of Parents Over 35” (Free Press, 1991), and most recently “Forgive Us Our Debts: The Intergenerational Dangers of Fiscal Irresponsibility” (Yale University Press, 2008). His third book, “The Measure of America: The Rise of Economic Thinking and Changing Ideas about America in the Post-World War II Era,” which began as his dissertation, is due out from Yale University Press later this year.

He has published widely in academic journals, newspapers, and popular magazines. In addition to his Mason degree, he earned an MPA from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, an MA in history from Princeton University and a BA in history from the University of California, Los Angeles.

andrew yarrow

In “Forgive Us Our Debts,” he discusses the short-term and long-term repercussions of the national debt in an accessible way and offers solutions to the situation. He will discuss the book at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, June 29, at 5 p.m.

For the average American, the national debt is hard to fathom, along the lines of quantum physics. Do you think this is part of the problem? What would you like readers to take away from reading this book?

Yes. Part of the problem is that the national debt seems like such a complex, overwhelming issue involving unimaginably large dollar amounts. Yet, there are several key ways to simplify it.

One, nations – like individuals – should not and cannot live beyond their means forever. Two, it is as much a moral as an economic issue: We should not be passing our debt–in the form of future higher taxes, benefit and other spending cuts, higher interest rates, lower living standards and constrained future political choices–onto our children and grandchildren. Three, the biggest issues are reforming and bringing Medicare and Social Security spending under control reforming our tax system and holding our political leaders more accountable.

You are a former New York Times reporter. What prompted your move to seek a PhD and enter academia?

As for the PhD, I had started one when I was 22, put it on hold for 15 years, but always wanted to complete it. Thus, I was enormously lucky to be able to do so at George Mason between 2000 and 2006, while working full time.

Do you have any favorite former faculty here?

My advisor, the late Roy Rosenzweig, was a wonderful scholar and a prince of a man. So, too, was the late Larry Levine. Hugh Heclo was a great teacher and friend. Rosie Zagarri was particularly a great teacher and very helpful.

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